Janusz Miliszkiewicz: You have written and published the “Catalogue of Inter-War Polish Joint Stock Companies and of Their Issued Shares”. What, exactly, will readers find in this book?

Leszek Koziorowski: The Catalogue covers all Polish joint stock companies which went into business in Poland between 11 November 1918 and 1 September 1939 within the borders of the Polish state prior to its annexation of the Cieszyn/Tesin district.

In total, these companies number 2,494. The catalogue also identifies 5,044 share documents presently known to collectors, ones which we are in a position to describe on the basis of dependable source materials. It is illustrated with images of 476 shares, generally unique, one-of-their-kind pieces. Approximately 60% of these come from my own collection, and the remainder – from assorted museums, libraries, and the holdings of other collectors. As for the shares described in the catalogue as a whole, my collection includes specimens of half of them.

Every year, collectors unearth new, hereuntil unknown historic share documents.

Only five years ago, roughly 50 new, previously unknown shares appeared on the collectors’ market every year. More recently, such finds have fallen to some 20 to 30 per year.

Are you planning further volumes?

As new share documents come to light, there will be consecutive, more compendious editions. If, in the space of ten years, we find ourselves with 200 or 500 new shares about which we don’t know today, then yes, is will be necessary to duly supplement the Catalogue.

As it is, the Catalogue is a prelude to a generally accessible website presenting a data base about these 2,494 Polish joint stock companies. I hope to use this website as a platform for building up monographic studies of the individual companies, recounting the story of each one – their history, operations, the biographies of their founders, their sources of initial funding, etc. The website will also carry source materials, such as preserved invoices, correspondence, or photographic archives – any surviving photographs of employees or buildings... I would also like this website to, eventually, include documentation of the given company’s products. First and foremost, however, we will start with a full history of each company in the formal and legal aspects.

I envisage a website that anybody can visit and learn that, in her or his town, at such and such an address, there once stood a factory belonging to such and such a company. I plan to launch this website after the summer holidays.

Your Catalogue orders and systematises knowledge about the capital markets.

We’ve seen instances where a company trading as, say, Polski Przemysł Korkowy was rechristened Linoleum practically overnight. Readers of the Catalogue can see that, this unexpected change of name notwithstanding, this was still the same company.

I hope that the Catalogue might become a go-to book for all share collectors, and perhaps also for economic historians.

The reader receives ready, verified information. The Catalogue might also be of use to regional history buffs. If you are interested in, for example, the history of the city of Łódź, starting out with a list of all the companies, you can easily find all those operating in that town. In fact, the Catalogue might serve as an introduction to further inquiries and studies.

The Catalogue was published in a print run of 182 copies only.

This is exactly how many orders I had. Accordingly, the print run has been exhausted, but I might add that I already have new prospective readers – if I can line up, say, 20 new orders, I will commission another print run. Every copy is – and all future copies shall likewise be – inscribed with the name of the specific purchaser. I like to think of this as a facetious analogy to a registered share, and – dare I hope – as a nice piece of memorabilia for the owner.

So why did you take it upon yourself to write this book?

Approximately ten years ago, I decided that the market has gotten to where a catalogue of Polish securities should be in order. A year ago, I began final editing of the materials I had assembled during all those years. An important point, as far as I am concerned, is that – at this stage – there is no danger that the Catalogue might be relied upon in attempts at reactivating old joint stock companies. The laws now in force preclude “rekindling” pre-war companies, so I am confident that we will see no more rouge attempts at claiming assets not due to such “reactivators”. The positive legislative changes to this effect came into force on 1 January 2016.

You are the president of the Association of Historical Securities Documents Collectors, with a membership of 70 people. Why so few?

Our Association assembles those who actively involve themselves in the collectors’ community, which actually numbers some 300 people around the country. Collecting securities is, to call things by their true name, an elite sport – and an expensive one, if you’re in it at a serious level ! The first 300, or maybe 500, historical share documents – the most common, readily available ones – can be had for comparatively low prices, at PLN 20 to 50 apiece. In the space of a year or two, a committed collector can easily assemble a basic body of the 300 least expensive shares, sort of a core collection. Alas, the amounts involved in any subsequent purchases increase exponentially. The next documents for your collection are likely to set you back, on average, between PLN 300 to 600 apiece, and the really rare shares – at least PLN 5,000. There are plenty of these higher priced documents, and in the long run it is these pieces that determine the overall value of a collection, also in emotional terms. Collectors include business owners, managers, lawyers, investors in the financial markets, brokers, and consultants, but we also have people who, in professional terms, have nothing at all to do with the capital markets, or indeed with business. All these people, apart from disposable funds which can they devote to their collections, also need time for searching out new pieces and for continued study. It is this latter element, if anything, which is most important to building up an interesting collection of securities.

Collecting historical share documents became a thing only recently, in the late 1970s.

For some years after that, there wasn’t much going on, and there were only a few collectors. An uptick arrived in the mid-1990s. The Association of Historical Securities Documents Collectors was established in 1999, and brisker development of the collectors’ market began in circa 2005 and continues to this day.

So what happened in 2005?

New platforms for buyers and sellers appeared, Allegro – the Polish eBay – began expanding. As a result, buying and selling of historical share documents emerged from the nooks and crannies it had hereuntil occupied – from antique dealerships and flea markets – and established itself out in the open. All of a sudden, even a casual observer could readily see what sorts of documents are traded, and what kinds of prices they fetch. The internet has brought historical securities, and knowledge about their prices, closer to the general public, fuelling a new interest in this pursuit. And the prices for the most common securities have held steady over the years, at roughly PLN 10, so many people were encouraged by this easy entry.

What do you feel as a collector who has just completed a task which could, conceivably, keep a group of researchers occupied for quite some time?

I’ve got the time, and I’ve got some resources. I want to share something which has always held a fascination for me – economic history. I am describing real stories which continue to affect our reality, which somehow add to Polish identity. These days, as they talk about the economy, people keep name-checking Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski, Władysław Grabski and any number of other politicians, economists, and business people from across the years, but they seem to lack understanding of what they actually did, how, or towards what goals, of what we owe to Leopold Kronenberg or to Jan Gotlib Bloch. Absent such knowledge, it is hard to accurately make such references, or indeed to grasp them and to apply them to current debates.

The history of the economy is studied by academics as well as by collectors. There is nothing to prevent them from helping each other, from mutually supporting each other’s efforts. For five years, collectors have been contributing articles about economic history to our “Securities History Annual”.

What was the level of economic development in Poland in juxtaposition with the rest of Europe?

The truth is, we were a very poor country. The Polish economy was considerably behind Western Europe.

The Catalogue presents a description of what we might call big capital. In Poland, what passed for big capital was very weak in comparison to the European standard. Czechoslovakia, for instance, was a much wealthier country. There were roughly 2,500 joint stock companies in Poland; in Germany, joint stock companies numbered in the tens of thousands. And, of course, the average capital of your typical company in Poland was much lower than in Germany.

The capital base in Poland was rather poor, a lot of the funds fuelling such enterprise as there was came from abroad. Investors from France or Belgium, who seemed most interested in these areas, regarded Poland – and especially its eastern regions, previously ruled by Russia – as a colony of sorts. Given the higher level of risk, foreign investors expected rates of return higher than what would be the norm for similar investments in Western Europe. ©©

— Interview by Janusz Miliszkiewicz