Dear Mr. Berko: My dad died several years ago, and I found 72 individual share certificates for a land deed company called Klondike Big Inch Land Co. Inc., dated 1955. Our broker says the stock is worthless and thinks the company went bankrupt over 30 years ago. But I recall that you wrote several columns about old certificates, and before I toss these, I thought I'd contact you. — HD, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Dear HD: Your dad must have enjoyed eating Quaker Oats Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat.
One of my favorite radio programs in the 1950s was "Challenge of the Yukon," which chronicled the adventures of Sgt. Preston and his dog, Yukon King. Many of those delightful old programs are available on Sirius XM's Radio Classics. The plots wound around the 1890s gold rush while our heroes fought the bad guys and rescued the proverbial damsel in distress.
Well, in 1954, Quaker Oats wrote a check for $1,000 and purchased a 19.11-acre piece of ground about a klick northwest of Dawson City, Yukon, which was the heart of the Klondike gold rush territory. Quaker Oats divided that property into 21 million 1-square-inch plots and then had a deed of land printed for each plot.
These deeds were official in appearance, individually numbered, handsomely lettered and imprinted with the regal seal of the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. And I'm speaking from experience. Way back then, in 1955, I collected 144 of them because I wanted to own 1 square foot of Canadian land. Quaker management wanted to mail the deeds to consumers in exchange for Quaker Oats box tops. But the simple-minded and witless fops at the Ohio Securities Commission insisted that exchanging the deeds for cereal box tops required that Quaker Oats have a license to sell foreign land. (It's little wonder that Ohio's pension fund is hugely underfunded.) So management decided to put those deeds inside boxes of Quaker Oats Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice. The program was so popular that within a month, I couldn't find a single box of Puffed Wheat or Puffed Rice in any of Kroger's stores. They sold out like wildflowers!
However, nobody at Quaker Oats could have anticipated the mass idiocy of American consumers. One guy had over 10,000 deeds and wanted to convert them into one single piece of property that would be a little less than a quarter-acre. And Quaker received thousands of letters from consumers who wanted to mine their 1 square inch for gold. However, mineral rights were not included in the deeds, and if gold would have been discovered, it would not have accrued to the deed holders. And management never paid the fee to record and register the deeds; just imagine the cost of recording 21 million deeds.
But those deeds look like real stock certificates. "Deed of Land" is centered on the top of the creamy-colored certificates, bordered in green curlicues. And about 2 inches lower, in slightly larger letters, is the name "Klondike Big Inch Land Co. Inc." Below the name is a blank parallel line for a name to denote ownership. A red official-looking certificate number is below that line, as well as a description of the land. And an orange map on half of the deed shows the trail and river running south from Whitehorse and north to Dawson City. Frankly, it looks and feels like the real thing.
And those certificates do have value for collectors. A mint-condition deed — with no tears, bent corners, stains or creases — is worth between $25 and $45. So those 72 deeds could be worth $1,800 or more. I'd be very angry that your broker provided such a cavalier response and failed to give you an informed answer. You should tell him, and frankly, I wouldn't trust him for future financial advice. Quaker Oats dissolved the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. in 1965, and the land reverted back to Canada. Then, in 2001, Quaker Oats was bought out by PepsiCo. But those deeds have good value.
Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at [email protected] To find out more about Malcolm Berko and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Anthony DeLorenzo