Imported from: Google Blogger site
Original publish date: August 23, 2017

Faked issuance

While it doesn't happen very often, last week I encountered two certificates that had been fictitiously issued. One had been sold on eBay and another had been sent in by a correspondent.

In both cases, they were ordinary unissued certificates that someone had filled in just for fun. Probably children. And probably with no malicious intent.

Nonetheless, both certificates ended up being sold as real issued certificates. And both buyers will probably chalk up their oversights to inexperience. But I look at the question from twenty years down the road. I almost guarantee those spuriously 'issued' certificates be sold again, some time in the future..

Like I said, I do not encounter many of these certificates with faked names and details. Usually only one every two or three years. But they are out there. You will need to look for several telltale signs to avoid purchasing one by accident..

Faked issuances are almost always created by children and most are not recent creations. The handwriting usually looks like it was created by a child. The writing often looks strained and lacks the free flow typical of someone who spent years filling out certificates and working in an office. The slant of the writing typically shifts backs and forth from left to right.

No embossed seal. Very early certificates lack embossed corporate seals, but other details of those kinds of genuine certificates are exceedingly hard to fake. After the 1840s, most stock certificates show embossed corporate seals. Unless someone is an extreme pro, there is no reliable or cheap way to fake embossing. Beware of any certificate lacking that feature! If you can't see an embossed seal in a photograph, and the certificate otherwise appears questionable, simply ask the seller.

All of the handwriting looks the same. Genuine certificates typically show handwriting from two to four people. A clerk usually filled out most of the details (shareholder name, handwritten share value, numeric share value, serial number and date) and then it was signed by a president, a treasurer and sometimes a transfer agent. While some presidents and treasurers signed certificates in advance of legitimate issuance, their signatures never look like they came from the same hand.

The surnames of two to three crucial character names (president, treasurer, shareholder) are commonly the same. Vanity usually leaves evidence.

The entire certificate looks like it was filled out with the same pen. That almost never happened with genuine certificates.

The ink is blue or red. There is no hard and fast rule about ink color, but the vast majority of legitimate issuances were written in black ink by hand using a fountain or quill pen. The older the date on the certificate, the more likely that the original black ink has aged to brown.

Some details are usually missing. Faked issuances commonly lack a serial number, a numeric share value or a date. I have never encountered a faked issuance that lacks names, however. (There's that issue of of vanity again!)

Ball point pens. As I mentioned, most faked issuances capable of tricking collectors are not new. However, some are written in ball point pen and yet dated in the 1800s. (Ball point pens did not become popular until Christmas, 1950.) Be very cautious of any certificate written in ball point pen if it displays any other problems.

Strong preference for stock certificates. To date, I have never encountered a spuriously-issued bond, transfer receipt, subscription form or the like. That is not to say they are not out there, but it is obvious that unissued stock certificate remainders have always been easier to find. Still, the same warnings apply.

Date-related inconsistencies. Children (and even older individuals who haven't grown up) are not normally going to study railroad history in advance of their little games, so their handwritten dates will usually disagree with other known facts. Names will be wrong, of course, but companies were almost always defunct at the time of fictitious dates. You can also compare the serial numbers of questionable certificates with genuine serials recorded in my online database. Unless a professional forger is faking issuance for ill intent, faked serial numbers have little chance of coinciding with known date/serial number combinations.

Finally, check your own vanities and desires at the door. Never think you've seen everything and can't be tricked. Please remember that the more you want something, the easier you can fall for a con. So, step back and try to soften your desires for a minute. Does something not feel right? If so, that is the exact time to take a second look.

Still feel invincible? Then I beg you, in the strongest possible way, to read...

Salamander: the story of the Mormon forgery murders

...available in paperback from Amazon, Alibris, Abe Books, and elsewhere. (ISBN 1560852003). I consider this book a MUST-READ for every collector of paper documents.