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Questions and Answers

Who found the share certificate?
Ruben Schalk, 25 years old, University of Utrecht, studying History with a focus on cities, states and citizenship, is the person who found the share certificate. Ruben sifted through different documents in the West Frisian Archives for his Master’s thesis about company financing by the people of Enkhuizen during the  Golden Age. During his search, he stumbled upon a copy of the oldest share certificate in the world.

What makes the share certificate so special?
It is the oldest known share certificate in the world. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was the first company in the world to be financed by freely negotiable shares. This type of trade formed the beginnings of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the oldest stock exchange in the world.
The share certificate that was found is three weeks older than the previous one, which dates back to 27 September 1606 and originates from the Amsterdam City Archives. What makes this newly found document so special is that it contains detailed descriptions of the dividend distributions up to 1650. The notes found on other share certificates do not cover nearly such a long time period. 

Who did the share certificate originally belong to?

The share certificate is registered to ‘Pieter Hermansz boode’. His city of residence is not mentioned. Research clearly shows that he is from Enkhuizen, and that his real name is Pieter Harmensz. The suffix ‘boode’ (messenger) is not a surname; this suffix indicates the type of job the person fulfilled. Pieter Harmensz served as a messenger to the mayor. After his death, the share certificate ended up in a file in the Enkhuizen Archives.  The file is kept in the West Frisian Archives in Hoorn.

What other information did the discovery of the share certificate lead to?
Thanks to the discovery of the share certificate and the study conducted by the University of Utrecht, it has become clear that the Dutch East India Company (VOC) had a lot less money than we originally thought, and that the company’s operations did not run smoothly. Besides issuing shares, the VOC took out loans from private parties and others to finance their venture costs. Since the VOC was not doing well financially, the organisation did not distribute any dividends in the beginning.  Only once the share certificate holders retaliated, did they receive their first share distribution in 1610, in the form of cash and goods. Share certificate holders had no say in the company’s operations. This does not match the image we have had up until now that VOC was the first modern “open” company.

How much is the share certificate worth?

The share certificate’s nominal value is 150 Dutch Guilders. The municipality of Enkhuizen, the owner of the document, cannot and does not want to sell it. Therefore, the monetary value is irrelevant. Apart from that, the document has a significant historic value.

Where can the share certificate be viewed?
On 10 September, the share certificate will be the centre of attention at the VOC exhibition in the West Frisian Museum in Hoorn. The exhibition will also feature the VOC Enkhuizen Chamber’s ledger. This ledger contains the registration of Pieter Harmensz. The Charter (the memorandum of association) of the VOC dated 20 March 1602, has been brought over to this exhibition especially from the National Archives. The exhibition is open through 21 November 2010. The West Frisian Museum is located at Roode Steen 1 in Hoorn. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm.

You can also view the share certificate at www.worldsoldestshare.com. The website contains a transcription along with details about the text.

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