A good friend of mine has collected Disney paraphernalia her entire life. In her home, on display, you can find Disney pins, Disney decorations, Disney movies, and, in one room, a framed Disney stock certificate. It’s a beautiful item, decorated with Disney characters and Walt Disney himself and well worth hanging on the wall, but it’s also a financial asset.
Not too long ago, my friend was trying to assess how much this certificate was actually worth. She didn’t want to sell it, but she was learning about investments and dividends and wanted to understand what the certificate’s value was. She had a sense that it was worth more than the value of a single current share of Disney, but how much? How could she figure this out?
She’s not alone with her Disney stock certificate. Many companies sell novelty stock certificates like this, equal to a single share or 10 shares in a company, but decorated with the intent to be displayed in a fan’s home. What are these certificates actually worth? The easiest answer, of course, is to simply go look up the current share price of a single share of that company, but that’s very likely inaccurate and an understatement of the value of the certificate.
Factors that may affect your stock certificate’s value
One important factor that may adjust the value of your certificate is stock splits. Companies sometimes “split” the shares of their stock, turning a single “old” share of the stock into more than one “new” share of the stock. Companies do this in order to lower the trading value of individual shares, to entice investors to buy in as the stock’s price is more approachable.
Disney’s stock has split several times over the years. The most recent split was in 2007, where the stock split 1,014 for 1,000. This means that for every 1,000 shares of Disney stock owned before the split, that person now owns 1,014 shares — yes, fractional shares are counted, too. Her certificate predated the 2007 split, so it was worth at least 1.014 shares of Disney.
Another important factor to consider is dividends. Dividends are small payments issued by the company to the holder of each share of stock. Thus, as the owner of a share (or multiple shares), you should be the recipient of dividends.
Typically, with novelty stock certificates, dividends are paid into an account in your name managed by the issuing company. However, if the company was unable to locate the person they have on record as owner of the certificate, they may have turned dividends over to the state as unclaimed funds or lost property.
If you have never received dividends for a novelty stock certificate, you should contact the company that issued the stock and make sure that they have correct contact information for you as the owner of record. Thereafter, you should receive dividends from them, or those dividends should be deposited into an account of your choosing. They should also be able to inform you as to how unclaimed dividends were handled. (Be aware that, with a single share of stock, even many years of unclaimed dividends may only add up to a few dollars.)
How to find the value of your certificate
So, how do you figure out exactly how much that certificate is worth? The process isn’t that different from the process you follow with any old stock certificate.
Identify the key information on the certificate
Your stock certificate should include information such as the number of shares that the certificate represents, the date of purchase, and an identification number. They should be easy to find on the certificate, though if it is framed you may need to open the frame and look at the reverse side. You need this information to begin your search.
Along with that, you’ll also need to know information telling you to whom the certificate was issued. What was this person’s legal name at the time, and where did they reside? This information was likely given to the company when it was issued.
Contact the company
The next step is to contact the company directly. Most large companies that issue novelty stock certificates (or have done so in the past) have information on their website for shareholders. For example, Disney offers a portal for shareholders, which is a great starting point. Simply call the number on their website with the information in hand and see what you can find.
When you contact most companies, they’ll easily be able to look up your novelty certificate and help you ensure that it is registered correctly and that any dividends are being sent to the right place, as well as help you locate any old dividends. They also should be able to estimate the current number of shares you actually own and their current value.
If that doesn’t work…
In some situations, the company for which you have a certificate may be unwilling or unable to help in this regard. In that situation, you will need to turn to a reputable brokerage.
Choose a high quality brokerage (here are some of The Simple Dollar’s preferred brokerages) and sign up for an account. Then, contact that brokerage and see what you can find out about your certificate. They also should be able to identify your certificate.
Be aware that some brokerages may charge a fee for these services. It’s often a nominal fee, but in some cases, it can be sizable. Be aware that if you have only a single share of stock, it’s probably not worth anything more than a nominal fee just to find out more.
What if you want to sell?
If you want to sell a novelty stock certificate, almost all brokerages allow you to mail the paper certificate to them, after which it is added to the account. You may be able to get it returned to you in cancelled form for physical display as well. However, be aware that this service usually comes with a nominal fee as well, which may eat up some of the value of the certificate.
What if you want to buy a novelty certificate?
Most companies no longer issue novelty stock certificates directly. For example, Disney no longer sells these types of certificates, but does sell electronically managed shares to the public. If you buy one or more of those shares, you can purchase a certificate commemorating your ownership, but it does not actually represent the shares that you own — it’s just a nice wall decoration.
Outside of the novelty, be careful when using pop culture trends for investing. They’re usually not a good indicator of a good investment.
What happened to the Disney certificate?
My friend simply contacted Disney shareholder services directly and discovered that her certificate originally represented 10 shares and had gone through two stock splits since the original issuing, meaning she now owns a little more than 30 shares of Disney, worth more than $5,000 as of this writing. She was also able to track down the old dividends thanks to their help and now receives dividends directly from Disney. Although the stock itself is worth quite a bit, she is holding onto her old certificate for now, knowing that she could sell it if she so chose.
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