Wednesday, December 28, 2011

World's oldest stock certificate found in Dutch Museum's Archive

A stock certificate from the Dutch India Company (its proper name was "Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie" or VOC) and issued in 1606 was discovered in the Netherlands. Its date precedes a stock certificate from the same company issued two weeks later, which is owned by a group of German investors.

archaeology excavations

The stock certificate was discovered buried away in the Westfries Archive and goes on exhibit at the Westfries Museum. The stock certificate, shown above, is dated September 9, 1606.

Ruben Schalk, a history student from Utrecht University, found the world's oldest known 'share' during his thesis research in the Westfries Archive in Hoorn.

The stock certificate is made out to the Enkhuizen inhabitant "Pieter Hermanszoon boode." His name was really Pieter Harmensz and he served as a personal assistant to the Enkhuizen mayors. After his death in 1638 he left the stock certificate to his widow and their daughter Ada. The document ultimately ended up in the Enkhuizen city archives which are kept in the Westfries Archive in Hoorn, the Regional Historic Center for eastern West-Friesland.

History of the VOC

The Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC was the country's biggest trading company during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was the world's first joint-stock limited liability company with freely transferable shares. The public share subscription ended on September 1st 1602, giving everybody the chance to participate in the new venture. Amongst the 538 Enkhuizen subscribers were remarkably numerous craftsmen, small entrepreneurs and citizens like Pieter Harmensz. With 540,000 guilders subscribed the VOC chamber Enkhuizen supplied, after Amsterdam and Middelburg, the third most capital to the company.

While the subscription period ended in September, 1602, Harmensz was making payments of 150 guilders when he made the final payment on September 9, 1606. This amount was entered in the Enkhuizen chamber's ledger. The stock certificate features a long series of notes on the inside of dividend payments up to 1650. Three other VOC stock certificates that are known to exist do not carry as extensive a number of note pages as the one discovered by the student, Ruben Schalk.

Museum questions ownership

The German group is planning to put its stock certificate up for auction. According to the Museum, it had originally been in the Archive up to the early 1980s and how it disappeared and ended up in Germany is unknown, but the German group has not admitted to any thievery and intends to sell its stock certificate for millions. The actual value of the world's oldest stock certificate has not been determined, though the Museum has no intentions of selling it. The Museum says the stock certifcate is 'priceless', refusing to place a value on it.

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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