How do I get any value from these old stock certificates?
June 1, 2023 2:25 AM   Subscribe

A relative used to work for Burroughs Corporation found some old stock certificates worth 20 shares. Burroughs merged with Sperry UNIVAC to become UNISYS in 1986, which is still a publicly traded company. I contacted Computershare, the transfer agent for UNISYS. They said the certificates "are not showing as outstanding in our system. This may be due to a transfer, sale, replacement, exchange or escheatment of the subject shares."

The transfer agent also offered to "conduct research to try to determine what transpired with the certificate(s), we require a non-refundable research fee of $75.00 per certificate."

I'm not sure 20 shares of a defunct company is worth the expense.

They also note: "Please note that if the shares represented by the certificate(s) were sold, transferred, exchanged or escheated more than six years ago, the records pertaining to what transpired with the certificate(s) may no longer be available" and "we suggest inquiring with the unclaimed property department in the state where the shareholder resided."

I went to and took a look.

Is there anything else we can do to extract value from these stock certificates? What are they worth?
posted by Borborygmus to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Many moons ago, I had a summer type job working in the back office of a transfer agent. Research what the exchange rate was when the transaction took place exchanging Burroughs for UNYSIS. Then multiply by 20 and by the price of UNISYS. That is the theoretical value assuming no stock splits since the transaction. If there was a stock split multiply (or divide) by that rate (4 for 1 example)

I don't know how far back the transfer agent's records go. If they go back to the cited transaction, they should have records of what stock certificates (numbers) for which they were exchanged. Then you would trace those numbers for sales, exchanges, etc. It is a tedious process for which an answer may not be known because the records no longer exist.

I would check with the state in which the stock was owned when purchased to see if it was turned over. You could also check with whatever brokerage the stock was purchased through to see if the original certs were replaced as lost or if they were converted to street name.

It is a tedious process that will take hours and hours of your time and of anyone who you might engage to help. I think $75 is a very fair price. Whether you think it is worth it vis a vis its value and the probability it has value is your decision. I think the probability is low.

The alternative is to frame it as art. I also think there is a collectors market for old stock certificates that may provide some value.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:18 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]

I agree on both counts: I have had old paper certificates researched (successfully!), and also that they make great art.

Heck, I love computers. If you decide not to do the research, I would hang one up in a frame if the alternative is the trash! :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 4:17 AM on June 1

From cursory research on publicly available sources it looks like there have been two splits (one split and one reverse split) on Unisys since 1986:
- a 3 for 1 in 1987, meaning that if you held 20 shares of Unisys before the split, you would own 60 shares after the split (this might be related to the merger? I'm not sure)
- a 1 for 10 in 2009, meaning that if you owned 60 shares of Unisys before the reverse split, you would own 6 shares of Unisys after the split.

So, if the Burroughs shares converted 1:1 to Unisys shares before that 3:1 split (which is possible but not definite - it could have been more or less) you own 6 shares of Unisys, which is currently trading at $3.93 a share.

There was also a 2:1 split in 1974 (on Burroughs), so you might own 12 shares of Unisys? And it's possible there's another split or two in there that I've missed, in which case the numbers could off by at least a factor of 10 in either direction. I would guess that your stock is worth somewhere between $0-500, and if I were bidding with Price is Right rules I'd say $23. There probably also should have been some dividends paid out over the years.

(I am not a stock researcher, I am not your stock researcher, this is not financial advice.)

In conclusion, I read some old NYT articles about this merger and I have to share this gem:
To promote the name [Unisys], the company plans to begin an advertising campaign today that features the slogan ''The Power of#2,'' which the company hopes will illustrate the combined strength of Sperry and Burroughs.
The Power of #2!
posted by mskyle at 5:00 AM on June 1 [17 favorites]

Decades ago, I had certificates for shares in some company. They were worth about $20. The company called in the certificates due to a program to reduce the number of tiny shareholders, and I couldn't find them. There was a procedure for that involving a notorized statement and paying for some sort of bond. The price of the bond was more than the $20, and the company said "OK, no bond in your case, here's your $20". I found the certs a year or two later and sent them in. Got no reply as best I remember.

All of which is to say you might easily find out they have no value.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:08 AM on June 1 [3 favorites]

I was working for Burroughs when the company name was changed to Unisys. Shortly after the announcement, I was writing a document which included the new company name. The word processor's spellchecker thoughtfully suggested the correction, "Anuses?"

Regarding the certificates as art: I wonder if there are collectors of old certificates or computer history memorabilia that would want these items? Something to consider.
posted by SPrintF at 6:44 AM on June 1 [6 favorites]

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