Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stocks, bonds featured job-hopping, near-naked scientist

Long-time followers of this blog know that once in a great while I hearken back to my days as a paper money collector in the 1970s and 1980s, during which period I served two terms as editor of Bank Note Reporter.

I was moved to revisit that genre recently while preparing a group of stock and bond certificates for sale on eBay.

Truth be told, as a collector back in those days I was more active in scripophily (pretentious name for stock/bond collecting) than as a collector of actual paper money. While being relatively much less expensive than contemporary currency, stock and bond certificates share many of the same characteristics that make old currency collectible, and they do so in a format that is much larger than bank notes  (20th Century stock certificates are generally about 12" x 8" in size).

Each stock certificate or bond has an interesting back story to tell about the company or government entity that promulgated it. The signatures of the officers that appear on the certificates (facsimile, rather than hand-penned by the early 20th Century) can also be of historical interest, including titans of industry, scoundrels and other interesting personages.

But for me, it was the vignettes on the certificates that principally drew my interest. Most certificates issued during the 20th Century were embellished with engraved artwork intended to project a positive corporate image. 

The bank note companies and security printers that produced the certificates hired artists and engravers whose output often rivaled that of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

One of the themes that I collected 25-35 years ago was variations of a particular allegorical figure that became familiar to me as I flipped through boxes and albums of dealers' stock/bond offerings at shows around the country.

I never knew the official title of the vignette of the allegorical male figure that appeared from at least the late 1950s through the early 1990s on certificates of the Security-Columbian Banknote Company (also known as Security Bank Note Company and Security-Columbian United States Bank Note Company). I just thought of him as the "near-naked scientist."

The figure is a curly-haired adonis seated -- sometimes alone, sometimes paired with another male or female figure -- facing the viewer's left. He wears a toga or robe over his left shoulder and arm; it drapes to the ground beneath his naked legs. He gazes intently at an item held in his right hand, while holding a different item in his left hand. There can be a variety of subjects in the background, most often including a microscope and a variety of laboratory hardware such as a mortar-and-pestle, glass beakers and test tubes.

My collection of vignette-specific stocks and bonds comprises nine iterations of the "near-naked scientist." on pieces dated between 1959 and 1982. 

The dates cited in this presentation are those printed on the certificates. It is entirely possible that a specific version of the vignette was used on a particular company's fiscal paper prior to and after that date. And, of course, the same vignette can usually be found on different "denominations" of a company's stock, often with different border colors.

Pennsalt Chemicals Corp., 1959
This is the earliest example of the vignette that I have. The scientist holds a test tube in his right hand and a pipette in his right. This is probably the way the vignette was originally engraved. On some other certificates, the glass beakers at the feet of the other figure are shown in closer proximity to the scientist. Examples I've seen are 1958-63.

Studebaker-Packard Corp., 1960
There are many unique elements to this version of the vignette. Most noticeable is that the central figure holds in his right hand an automobile piston. The calipers in his left hand can be seen on other companies' certificates. In the background to the left, the unique elements is a aproned and visored man at work on a machine tool. The smelting operation and the toothed gear can be seen in other versions. The scene at right is unique to the auto company's stocks, showing a man at work at a drafting table. This vignette superseded another allegorical scene on the company's certificates by Nov., 1958, the other vignette being used as late September of that year. The near-naked scientist continued to appear on the company's stock until at least 1963; in 1962 the certificates began to be overprinted in red noting the company's reversion to the Studebaker Corp. name.

Carolina Power & Light Co., 1968
Here the scientist retains the test tube and pipette, but in the background are a turbine and large geared wheel, presumably evocative of the type of equipment to be found in the power company's hydroelectric plant as pictured at center. Examples have been seen dated between 1966-71.

Eversharp, Inc., 1969
Perhaps my personal favorite. With a wide array of lab equipment to both the left and right of the figure, he holds a safety razor in his right hand, and a can of shaving cream in his left. The distilling equipment at right may have been new to this certificate. Examples found with dates 1969-70.

American Dual Vest Fund, 1970
On this certificate the scientist has the pipette in his left hand. In his right is what looks like a railroad spike, but may be a calipers or other instrument. Examples are seen dated between 1967-70.

Thiokol Chemical Corp., 1972
One of the neater versions of the vignette shows the scientist holding some type of tool or instrument in his right hand with a stack of books and a scroll at his elbow. In his left hand he has a calipers or compass. To the right of the scene is a rocket blasting off. Thiokol was originally in the business of manufacturing synthetic rubber and polymer sealants. After World War II they got into the space race manufacturing propulsion systems for various U.S. missiles and rockets. These certificates span at least the range of 1969-72.

Sperry Rand Corp., 1978
For decades this company was a major military contractor, building computerized bomb sights, airborne radar systems and developing the ball turret for World War II bombers. In 1953 they introduced the SPEEDAC electronic computer and later the UNIVAC system. The scientist on these certificates reverts to the test tube and pipette. To the right are the distilling beakers and coils as seen on the Eversharp pieces. At left are the electrical generating pieces from the Carolina Power certificates, and in the background a new -- and so far as I know -- unique scene of a smelting plant. I've seen these pieces dated between 1955-80, with the latter noting via a red overprint the company's name change back to Sperry Corp. in 1978.

Ashland Oil, Inc., 1982
This is not a stock, but a $5,000 8.8% bond. Scientist guy has the familiar test tube and pipette, with a few pieces of lab gear at lower-right. in the background are a pipeline oil derricks and holding tanks. The company used the same vignette circa 1970-73 under the corporate name of Ashland Oil & Refining Co., the new title was in place by 1977. 

RJR Nabisco Holdings Group, Inc., 1990
This is another bond certificate, in the amount of $2,600 maturing in 2007 and earning semi-annual interest, according to the fine print on back, at a floating rate between 12-18%. The scientist has in his right hand a plant, possibly a cocoa plant. The familiar pipette is in his right hand. On the pedestal to his left and at his feet are boxes bearing the Nabisco triangle logo, though specific "brands" of the snacks or cookies are rendered indistinct. It looks like this style of certificate was current 1989-91.

Now that I've put together this presentation, I'm not in such a hurry to dispose of this accumulation. If you have other stock or bond certificates that utilize this vignette, you're invited to submit them to for possible use in a future update.


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