World's first share museum opens in Switzerland

The first share of a Charlie Chaplin movie studio - personally signed by the actor. SIS

The biggest museum of shares and stocks in the world has opened in the Swiss town of Olten.

This content was published on July 17, 2003 - 11:15

A selection of more than 7,000 share certificates, some up to 400 years old and from around the world, will be on permanent display.

More than just pieces of paper, the shares reflect the emergence of European colonialism, industrialisation and modern capitalism.

“It’s fascinating. With the help of securities you can actually follow the economic development of a whole continent,” exhibition curator Dagmar Schönig told swissinfo.

Many of the colourful and intricately-designed stock certificates are far removed from today’s increasingly “virtual” computerised versions.

“Some of the shares are so colourful, they’re works of art,” said Schönig.

In the late 19th century, at the height of the art nouveau movement, well-designed share certificates were much sought after.

“With nice shares that were physically delivered to the buyer, you could show them or put then on the wall. A good design was a selling point.”

Sharing the wealth

Apart from generating wealth for investors, shares were also important catalysts for early European economic expansion and trade.

Starting in 1602, trading companies began issuing shares to raise funds for long and often risky ocean voyages to the Far East, in search of highly-valued spices.

“A single merchant couldn’t pay for the cost of ships, which could be on the water for a year,” Schönig said.

“So they founded a company that everyone could participate in. And when the ships came back they distributed the pepper as a dividend in the form of natural goods, which people then sold as profit.

“Later traders paid money, which was easier than handing over pepper.”

The exhibition includes original certificates from railway barons, industrialists such as the Siemens brothers and shares related to the Suez and Panama canals.

Swiss companies are also represented through early shares of Nestlé, Brown Boveri (the forerunners of ABB) and railways such as the “Rigibahn”.

Boom and bust

Schönig has also included shares that echo the boom and bust of past stock market crises - times when investors became fools who backed companies that promised to turn lead into silver, build perpetual motion machines or profitable internet companies.

Other shares, such as those of the South Sea Company and the Mississippi Company, both of which where ultimately revealed as massive frauds, are among the many on display.

“We even have a few Swissair shares,” Schönig notes without apparent irony.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber in Olten

Key facts

The “World of Shares” museum opened on July 15.
The museum is in the headquarters of the SIS Swiss Financial Services Group at 90 Baslerstrasse in Olten.
The SIS building – also known as the “Fort Knox of Switzerland” – houses millions of Swiss shares worth around SFr1.4 billion ($1.16 billion).
SIS purchased its collection of 7,000 rare and old shares from a collector in 2001.
More than 100 countries are represented in the collection, which dates back to 1602.

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