Millionaire for a Minute

Dick Miller   

October 1, 2014. We were sad to learn of the recent death of Dick Miller. May his stories live on.

© Copyright 2013 by  Dick Miller


Photo of a Wyoming based oil company stock certificate.

My ex-wife, Maureen, had been kind enough to store a box of photo albums and such for me when I was forced to sell my house and move out quickly while I recuperated from leg amputation surgery. My current wife, Mega (she and Maureen are great friends) was already overwhelmed with other details of getting the house ready for sale and moving herself, so Maureen’s kind offer was welcome.

Recently, Maureen told us that it was her turn to clean out and, since Mega and I were settled into an apartment of our own, she wanted to bring over the box of photos. Maureen and her husband Larry came over and we spent a pleasant evening chatting and catching up on events of the past few months since we had seen one another. We gave them the grand tour of our new apartment, which has a terrific view overlooking a wetlands with its constantly changing display of natural wonders.

The following day I set to looking through the box. It contained some things I expected, and some surprises. I expected to see the album of photos I took on my summer spent travelling 7,000 miles around Europe in a tent trailer, a couple of yearbooks from the high school in Staten Island where I worked as a physics teacher for about a decade, and another photo album or two. The surprises included a yearbook from the Junior High School where my father, a retired New York City fireman, was teaching wood shop when he dropped dead of a massive stroke as he dressed for work one morning. The book was dedicated to his memory.

But the biggest surprise was an old-fashioned cardboard envelope that contained an assortment of photos, newspaper clippings, and envelopes. It looked like my mom saved everything: photos of the thatched-roof cottage in a little village in southern England where a distant cousin lived; clippings of a local newspaper article announcing my graduation with an M. Ed. degree (two copies, just to be sure); snapshots of godparents and other relatives I remembered only vaguely from my early years; and one curious-looking manila envelope marked “Stock Certificate.”

I recognized my father’s handwriting on the envelope, and I was intrigued. My parents weren’t the kind of people who owned much stock. Dad was a New York City firefighter for most of his life, and mom stayed at home while we kids were little, then took jobs that ensured that she would be there when we got home from school, such as Welcome Wagon representative, or colorist for a local photo portrait studio. As we got still older, she became a school secretary, still allowing her to be home pretty close to the time we got home from school. All in all, we were a solid blue-collar middle-class family. Certainly not the kind you would think of as stockholders.

So, with great anticipation, I opened the envelope. Inside was an official-looking certificate, complete with gold seal, announcing that my maternal grandfather had bought 25 shares in the Anna Bell Wyoming Oil Company in April of 1920 at $1.00 per share.

I was intrigued, to say the least. Thanks to Google and the Internet, I readily found out that the Anna Bell Wyoming Oil Company had incorporated in 1917 with 1 million shares of common stock, of which they sold 50,000 in their initial offering. I also used an inflation calculator to discover that $25 spent in 1920 would be worth in excess of $283 now, even if the stock value had not increased a cent. I was feeling pretty flush.

I then noticed another piece of paper folded up inside the manila envelope. It was on the letterhead of the State of Wyoming, Department of State, and was dated January 13, 1954. The letter was to my mom, apparently the beneficiary of this stock, who had inquired about its value in those pre-Internet days. The gist of the letter was that the Anna Bell Wyoming Oil Company charter was revoked June 13, 1931, “for failure to file the required annual report and to pay the annual license taxes.”

My hopes deflated, I did a little more Internet search and discovered that this company’s oil field was in the same neighborhood as the infamous Teapot Dome field, involved in a scandal in the 1920s, although this company had no connection with that scandal.

Well, I guess the moral of this story is that an old box of pictures is almost always full of treasures: sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s excitement, but it’s almost always memories.

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