Locations where companies incorporated

It was not at all uncommon for companies to be incorporated in different states with identical names. Therefore, it is often necessary to determine those locations from certificates. Commonly, names of U.S. states and territories were printed somewhere on certificates; usually near company names or in one or more of the borders.

On the other hand, locations are frequently harder to find. And there are a few companies that forgot to even include that information. Here are six tricks you can use.

Locations clearly printed

There are no hard, fast, and dependable rules for where to find print locations. The most obvious places to look for incorporation locations are near company names Older certificate tended to display locations above company names or within one or more borders. Late-date certificates, issued shortly before electronic trading became the standard, tended to print locations in small text directly below company names.

Locations hidden among printed text

Some companies chose not to dedicate much space to their incorporation locations, and merely embedded that information within other text. This was especially true with bonds. While some companies placed location names near the top borders of their bonds, many displayed their locations in the first few lines of text. In this case, the text shows that the Illinois Traction Company was incorporated in Maine.

Locations printed on corporate seals

Another good place to look for clearly-printed location names is in printed corporate seals. Unfortunately, not many corporate seals were printed.

This example shows what I refer to as "faux relief." This was a technique used exclusively by American Bank Note Company to print corporate seals that strongly resembled typical embossed seals.

Locations embossed into corporate seals

A moderate percentage of embossed corporate seals display locations of incorporation. Many embossings were flattened by extended handling or compressed storage. If the wording on embossed seals is hard to read from the front, flip the certificate over and look on the back. In extreme cases, seals may need to be held obliquely to bright lights.

Locations divulged by state seal designs

Engraved vignettes of state seals were sometimes used to show places of incorporation in place of clear wording. When state seals appear on certificates, they are excellent confirmations that companies were incorporated in that, or multiple, states. Unfortunately, less than one percent of identified varieties show state seals and most of those came from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and other northeastern states.

The examples shown above are two versions of Pennsylvania's state coat of arms engraved by American Bank Note Company. The actual state seal is an abbreviated version of the coat of arms and embraces all the illustrated elements except the horses.  No examples of Pennsylvania's state seal are known on railroad certificates to date.

A few collectors might be familiar with their own state seal if they live in a state where that seal is heavily used for promotion — Texas, for instance. Therefore, only a miniscule number of collectors are able to identify many states by their seals. To make the process easier, I have compiled a set of state seals for all fifty U.S. states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. See the complete set at Official seals of U.S. states and territories.

Locations gleaned from wording on state seals

42 of the 52 state seals display one or more words. Since states did not allow engravers to copy their seals exactly, the depictions that appear on certificates may or may not display those words. HOWEVER, if they do, then those words are are proof posiitive of state identification. I have compiled a list of all words and phrases that appear on every state seal. This is by far the easiest way to identify state seals. See Text known on state seals.

This state seal shown at right represents the state of  Illinois.