After Benjamin Jordan> and his colleagues at Lehman Brothers got word last year that the 158-year-old investment bank was insolvent, they watched as their office was progressively dismantled.
Many remnants of the company went home with employees, says Jordan, a former senior vice president in the firm s fixed income department. As they cleaned out their offices, workers found leftover paraphernalia, including company letterhead, briefcases and golf clubs engraved for clients to commemorate deals.
All I can remember is that everything ended up on eBay pretty quickly after that, says Jordan.
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Here are a few questions to ask when seeking out corporate collectibles:
How many did the company make?
The rarer an item, the more likely it is to become valuable, experts say. A Merrill Lynch trading jacket, once the uniform of an elite club, sold for $575 in May on Bullmarketgifts.com, says Michael Oaklief, the site s founder, but three Bear Stearns teddy bears, which the brokerage had handed out to clients for years, have fetched just $60 a piece since March. Other limited edition items at Bullmarketgifts.com include a humidor with the name and logo of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities ($150) and an engraved Lehman desk clock commemorating the firm s initial public offering ($175).
Mark Anderson, the president of the Society of Paper Money Collectors and a collector of corporate artifacts, says that it s too early to predict how much these items will appreciate because it s still unclear how many of them exist.
People will think something is rare and pay a high price for it, and then someone will find a steamer trunk full of them, he says.
How hard did the company fall?
Branded items from notorious companies with spectacular endings or famous leaders tend to be more highly sought after by collectors.
Years before Lehman s demise, the 2001 collapse of energy giant Enron helped rekindle interest in corporate collecting. Enron memorabilia is still popular: Oaklief currently is selling a framed Enron Code of Ethics book (with a forward by former chief executive and convicted criminal Kenneth Lay) for $225, up from $175 six months ago. As Oaklief s firm sells more copies of the document, he raises the price a bit, he says.
The more time that goes by [since the Enron bankruptcy], the more end up in the dumpster, he says. That makes each remaining book more valuable.
Anderson, who collects old stock certificates, says the same is true of the few Enron stock certificates produced before the company switched to book entry.
Today, anything with Bernard Madoff s signature likely would hold the same appeal, Anderson says. It s beginning to look like he didn t ever have a single share of stock that was truly registered, he says, so if a collector got a hold of the two or three he really did own, it could be worth something.
Bob Kerstein, founder of Scripophily.net, a site that sells old stock certificates, says some of his most valuable items are from iconic companies that burnt out brilliantly. Old Lehman Brothers certificates sold for $300 right away, he says. Some of the last certificates issued by General Motors are priced at $100 each on Kerstein s site. (The shares those certificates represented were trading under $2 a piece during the months before the firm s bankruptcy.)
Real signatures on stock certificates can also lift their long-term upside, Kerstein says. He is asking for $395 for an 1897 Hoboken Ferry Company certificate bearing the signature of then-president Emanuel Lehman, one of the three brothers for which the brokerage was named. Now that Lehman is bankrupt, the certificate will be worth more to some collectors, Kerstein says.
Are you collecting for fun or as an investment?
Some sellers appear to be targeting buyers looking more for nostalgia than monetary appreciation. An eBay user named thelehmanstore is selling unused Lehman tote bags ($35), passport cases ($20), ties ($35), a green and gold wooden serving tray ($20) and a silver-plated Lehman baby rattle ($20), among other things.
Jordan, the former Lehman executive, took home a stash that included notepads, pens and a bag given to him during his induction to the firm, he says. But he is not looking to turn his mementos around for a big profit.
I ve got my Lehman Brothers baseball cap, which I wear to mow the lawn, he says.