Sitting at the bottom of many dusty filing cabinets and drawers may be a little treasure for the unsuspecting. While your portfolio may have dwindled during the last bear market, your old stock certificates may be worth more than the original shares they once represented.

Old stock certificates have become quite valuable. Electronic record keeping has made the issuance of share certificates by most companies quite rare. And as investors exchange their paper certificates for electronic shares, the transfer agent destroys them more frequently, making their number even fewer.

Older stock certificates can be works of art, often with colorful illustrations, making them unusual and interesting art objects in any business or home. Like many antiques, many vintage stock certificates also tell a unique story that cannot be captured in the electronic shares issued today. As such, they have become sought after by hobbyists, Wall Street collectors, and people looking for unique gifts.

Sports equipment certificates Some of the most sought after

Some of the most sought after and hard-to-find stock certificates on the market today are those for professional sports teams. Very few US professional sports teams have gone public or issued stock certificates. Most sports organizations in the United States operate as franchises with strict ownership rules.

Major professional sports leagues, including the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and the National Football League, have adopted strict rules and regulations that determine whether a team can go public. Needless to say, this is a tight club and they guard the entrance carefully.

The Green Bay Packers are the only publicly owned NFL team to have issued stock. The Packers’ ownership group adhered to the current policy that nearly restricts public ownership. The Green Bay Packers issued shares in 1923, 1935, 1950, and 1997. There are about 112,000 shareholders, who do not have voting rights and cannot exchange shares for cash. Basically, each of these shareholders bought a piece of historical memorabilia. Although these shares had no intrinsic value, they have become highly valuable as collectibles. A 1997 issue can sell for as much as $1,000 in today’s market. Older numbers are very hard to find and are rarely offered for sale.

Other major league sports teams that have issued stock over the years include:

Florida Panthers (NHL) – went public (NASDAQ) in 1996 and was subsequently sold to private investors in 2001. (A certificate sells for around $300 – $500)

Boston Celtics (NBA) – Became the first major sports franchise to go public (NYSE) in 1986 and then privately traded in 2003. (A certificate sells for around $150-$175)

Cleveland Indians (MLB) – Became the first major league baseball team to go public in 1998. They were quickly purchased and went private in 2000. (A certificate sells for around $200-$250 )

Many sports-related stock certificates are also valuable.

While “pure game” sports stock certificates are rare, other items that may interest collectors in this category include the World Wrestling Federation, Madison Square Garden, Broadway Joe’s (former restaurant owned by Joe Namath), and the short-lived XFL. Also, be sure to look for minor league franchises and foreign sports stock certificates. Other countries, such as Canada, have many major league publicly owned sports companies.

Sure, many major league franchises are owned by major corporations, but they’re nothing more than a mere speck on their balance sheet. Which stock certificate would the Dodgers or Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp rather have? So check your filing cabinets and storage units. Those old stock certificates may be worth more than you think.

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