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Frequently Asked Business Questions

  1. Can you tell me if my old stock certificate has any value?
  2. What is the cost of living today compared with X years ago?
  3. How can I get a sample business plan?
  4. How can I get information on foreign exchange rates?
  5. Where can I find the history of a company?
  6. Where can I find standard industry ratios so I can compare the performance of company X to others in the industry?
  7. What are NAICS and SIC codes?
  8. Where can I find information on starting a small business? I'm particuarly interested in government loans and grants.
  9. I am planning to start a new company and want to be sure the name I choose will be unique and protected nationwide.

  1. Can you tell me if my old stock certificate has any value?

    The Library of Congress does not provide individuals with information on the current market value of old stock certificates. A useful starting point for researching this topic is the web site of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which provides basic information as well as an annotated bibliography of other resources. Additional information on standard resources which may be useful in researching old stock certificates can be found in the Obsolete Securities section of our Guide to Business History Resources.
    In addition, a number of libraries, including the Boston Public Library and the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore have prepared useful web guides on this topic. Although these web guides include information specific to those institutions, the research process will be applicable in many settings, and the resources described are standard ones available in many large libraries. For information on finding a library in your area, see the Library's Finding a Local Library guide.

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  2. What is the cost of living today compared with X years ago?

    There is an excellent group of calculators, along with an explanation of the strengths and weaknesses of various methods of doing such calculations available from Included among the calculators is "Six Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1790 - 2006" and "Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1830 - 2006."
    The University of Michigan has brought together an extensive collection of web resources which address this question in its web page, Statistical Resources on the Web: Cost-of-Living.
    This page offers a brief explanation of the distinction between consumer and producer price indexes and cost of living indicators, and provides links to a cost of living calculator (beginning with 1913 for some items), the Consumer Price Index home page of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and sources for some foreign price indexes.
    Another cost of living calculator is available from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis interactive page, "What is a dollar worth?" Users may specify any two years between 1913 and the present and enter a dollar value for goods and services in one of the years, and the calculator will return an estimated value for those goods and services in the other year. The page also includes an explanation of how the CPI is used to make the calculation, as well as links to CPI and estimated inflation rates from 1800.
    The National Archives of Great Britain offers a currency conversion site, which converts British pounds from 1270 to 2005 (at 10 or 5 year intervals) into the corresponding value in British pounds in today's money. A "Buying Power" option also allows users to specify a figure in British pounds to determine approximately how much wheat or wool that amount would buy during the same range of years. Links from the "Buying Power" pages provide brief overview information on the standard of living, transport, and currency in Britain in each century.
    An annotated listing of Internet and print resources on the current value of old money is available from the University of Exeter web site in the U.K. Included are Internet sites covering the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States, other international sources, historical exchange rates, world GDP, 17th century prices in Southampton and Spain, and prices in Ancient Rome.

    Useful print resources which may be available in a library near you include:

    John McCusker. How much is that in real money? : a historical commodity price index for use as a deflator of money values in the economy of the United States. 2nd ed. rev. and enlarged. Worcester, MA : American Antiquarian Society, c2001.
    LC Call number: HB235.U6.M39 2001 BusRR
    LC Catalog Record: 2001022075

    Scott Derks. The Value of a Dollar : Prices and Incomes in the United States, 1860-2004. 3rd ed. Millerton, NY : Grey House Pub., c2004.
    LC Call number: HB235.U6 V35 2004 BusRR
    LC Catalog Record: 2005270058

    Scott Derks and Tony Smith. The Value of a Dollar : Colonial Era to the Civil War, 1600-1865. 1st ed. Millerton, N.Y. : Grey House Pub., 2005.
    LC Call number: HB235.U6 D47 2005
    LC Catalog Record: 2006275331

    Another useful approach for locating prices and salaries specific to a particular place and time is to consult newspapers advertisements and the classified advertisements for the time period and place in which you are interested.

    Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, "Better Measurements of Worth," Challenge, The Magazine of Economic Affairs. Volume 49. Number 4. July/August 2006. pp. 86-110.

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  3. How can I get a sample business plan?
    The U.S. Small Business Administration provides an excellent set of web pages on starting your own business, which includes a sample business plan. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
    has offers an online subject index to sample business plans for specific types of businesses. Other online sample plans are available from IBP: Interactive business planner/Planificateur d'affaires interactif and! The Business Planning Resource for Small Business. A list of recent books on this topic can be found in the BRS Assist guide, Business plans. Additional Internet resources on the topic are listed in the BRS BEOnline guide, Business Plans, Forms.

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  4. How can I get information on foreign exchange rates?
    The Federal Reserve Bank of New York provides Daily 10 a.m. midpoint and noon foreign exchange rates from the New York interbank market. Weekly data for the last five years, as well as historical data beginning with the 1970's or 1980's, depending on the country, is also available. Additional information on current and historic daily exchange rates and related resources, including analyses and trend projections of the Canadian Dollar, the U.S. Dollar, and the Euro are available from PACIFIC (Policy Analysis Computing and Information Facility in Commerce). Several online calculators are available, including the Currency Converter from and the Universal Currency Converter from Xenon Laboratories.

    Printed resources such as the following titles, available in many large libraries, are also useful for locating historical exchange rates:

    • British historical statistics by B.R. Mitchell. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]. New York Cambridge University Press.1988.
      LC Call Number: HA1134.M58 1988 Bus Ref
      Along with other economic and social statistical data, this title includes British foreign exchange rates for the period 1609-1980 on pages 700-703.
    • Currency conversion tables: a hundred years of change by R. L. Bidwell. London, Rex Collings Ltd., 1970.
      LC Call Number: HG219 .B5 Bus Ref Desk
      Contains tables showing the value of major world currencies by year between 1914 and 1969 in relation to the U.S. dollar and the British pound.
    • International financial statistics yearbook. English ed. Washington, D.C., International Monetary Fund. 1979 - present. Annual.
      LC Call Number: HG61 .I57 Bus Ref Desk
      Includes exchange rates for national currencies from 1972 to the present per SDR (the unit of account for the International Monetary Fund, set in relation to the US dollar).
    • Money and exchange in Europe and America, 1600-1775 : a handbook by John J. McCusker. Chapel Hill, N.C. : Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Va., by the University of North Carolina Press, c1978
      LC Call Number: HG219 .M33 Bus Ref Desk
      Covers exchange rates for the major European countries during the period as well as rates for the British and other New World colonies. Tables show rates by year and month as available.
    • World currency yearbook. Brooklyn, N.Y. : International Currency Analysis, Inc., c1985 - present. Annual.
      LC Call Number: HG219 .P5 Bus Ref Desk
      Begun in 1955 as Pick's Currency Yearbook, the volume contains extensive information on the major world currencies, including official exchange rates per U.S. dollar for the latest 4 years available at time of publication.

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  5. Where can I find the history of a company?
    Researchers seeking historical information about an old company or an extinct firm may have a fair bit of detective work to do. Researchers at the Library of Congress should begin by searching for any works by or about the company in question in the Library of Congress online catalog, in the Main Card Catalog, and in appropriate bibliographies such as those listed in the Guide to Business History. Resources that may be particularly useful include:
    • International directory of company histories (Chicago : St. James Press.)
      LC Call number: HD2721 .I63 Bus Ref
    • United States corporation histories : a bibliography, 1965-1990, 2nd ed. by Wahib Nasrallah. (New York : Garland Pub., 1991.)
      LC Call Number: Z7164.T87 N37 1991 Bus Ref
    • Corporate America : a historical bibliography. (Santa Barbara, Calif. : ABC-Clio Information Services, c1984.)
      LC Call Number: Z7164.T87 C66 1984 Bus Ref
    • "Business and employment records," Kory L Meyerink. In The Source : a guidebook of American genealogy., edited by Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny. (Salt Lake City, Utah : Ancestry Publishing Company. 1984. Chapter 10, pp. 327-383)
      LC Call Number: CS49.S65 1984 LH&G
    • The Business founding date directory: by Etna M. Kelley. -- [1st ed.]. -- (Scarsdale, N.Y. : Morgan & Morgan, [1954])
      LC Call Number: HD2785.K4 Bus Ref
    Corporations which are currently in business and have a company web site may include some information about their corporate history on the company site. You may also wish to consult the Directory of Corporate Archives in the United States and Canada.
    In addition, you may find the guide Made in Buffalo: How To Research Local Companies useful. Although this guide focuses specifically on sources for Buffalo and Western New York, the lists of local sources included in the guide may suggest the types of additional sources that may be available off-line in other localities for this type of research. To locate a library in the area where the company in which you are interested was located, see the Library's Finding a Local Library guide.

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  6. Where can I find information on standard industry ratios so I can compare the performance of company X to other companies in the same industry?
    Standard sources for such ratios include:
    • Almanac of business and industrial financial ratios by Leo Troy. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. : Prentice-Hall. Annual)
      LC Call Number: HF5681.R25 A45 Bus Ref
    • Annual statement studies. ([Philadelphia] RMA. Annual)
      LC Call Number: HF5681.B2 R6 Bus Ref
    • Industry norms and key business ratios. Desk-top ed. ([Murray Hill, N.J.] : Dun & Bradstreet Credit Services. Annual.)
      LC Call Number: HF5681.R25 I53 Bus Ref

    An extensive annotated guide to additional sources entitled Financial and Operating Ratios Guide has been prepared by the The Harvard Business School Baker Library.

    The Foster Businss Library of the University of Washington has created an online Financial Ratios Calculator, based on information from Dun & Bradstreet's Industry Norms and Key Business Ratios and the RMA Annual Statement Studies.
    Additional information about financial ratio analysis can be found at the BizEd web site.

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  7. What are SIC and NAICS codes?

    From the 1930's to the 1990's the official industry classification system for the United States was the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system, based on four digit codes which classified individual establishments according to their primary economic activity. SIC codes have now been replaced by the six digit codes of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), developed in concert with Canada and Mexico to provide comparable statistics for the three countries. Detailed information, including NAICS and SIC Correspondence Tables, is available from the Bureau of the Census North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) page.

    Both the Standard industrial classification manual, 1987. ( LC Call Number: HF1042 .S73 1987 Bus Ref) and the NAICS desk reference : The North American Industry Classification System desk reference 2000. (LC Call Number: HF1041.5 .N35 2000 Bus Ref) are available in the Business Reading Room.

  8. Where can I find information on starting a small business? I'm particuarly interested in government loans and grants.
    The following federal government web sites offer information on startup kits, business plans, grant and loan resources, and federal and state offices providing business assistance.
    • U.S. Small business Administration (SBA)
      The U.S. government agency charged with providing management, technical, and financial assistance to the nation's small businesses.
    • The U.S. Business Advisor
      Designed to provide businesses with one-stop access to federal government information, shareware, resources, financing assistance, and services.
    • Federal Consumer Information Center
      This site includes links to resources on small business which can either be read online, downloaded in .pdf format, or requested in printed form. Most items are available without charge or for a nominal fee.
    • Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA)
      The online equivalent of the printed version by the same name, which provides information on all federal assistance programs. In addition to the printed version of this catalog, many libraries also have a privately produced publication based on the CFDA entitled the Government Assistance Almanac.
    The following publications, available at many public libraries, also provide information on starting and financing a small business.

    • Free money from the federal government for small businesses and entrepreneurs, by Laurie Blum. 2nd ed. (New York : J. Wiley, c1996.)
    • Where to go when the bank says no : alternatives for financing your business by David R. Evanson. 1st ed. (Princeton, NJ : Bloomberg Press, 1998).
    • Entrepreneur magazine's Where's the money? : sure-fire financing solutions for your small business, by Art Beroff and Dwayne Moyers. (Irvine, Calif. : Entrepreneur Media, c1999).
      Includes lists of small-business friendly banks by state, regionally focussed investor networks, and sources for startup assistance.
    • The small business financial resource guide : sources of assistance for small and growing companies. 5th ed. [Reston, Va. : Braddock Communications, c2000].

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  9. I am planning to start a new company and want to be sure the name I choose will be unique and protected nationwide.

    Your company’s name can be protected by registering it as a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. " A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of another." The name that you select for your company must be distinctive to receive trademark protection. Common words or phrases that are not inherently distinctive are not offered trademark protection. Examples of names that would not be eligible for protection are:

    • Joe’s Diner
    • Bob’s Auto
    • Quick Auto Repair
    For information on trademarks and applying for a trademark visit the United States Patent and Trademark office at

    Before finalizing your company name selection, you should conduct a name search, to determine if the name selected is protected or being used by another company. Your search should start with the office of the Secretary of State for the state where the company will be located. (Businesses are generally required to register with the Secretary of State Office in the state where the business will be located.) You may locate the appropriate state office for your state (and the offices of other states) by logging on to and selecting the State Government link. That page will give link you to the state home pages for each state, from which you can search for the various state agencies in that state. Any other state that you will be doing business in should also be searched.

    The yellow pages for major metropolitan areas should also be searched. Check with your local library to see if they have a collection of national yellow pages. Also, while at the library check any trade journals for company names.

    Other sources you maybe interested in include the American Bar Association information pages What's in a Name and Will registering my business name locally get me a trademark?

    Finally, we would suggest that you contact your nearest Small Business Administration Office (SBA) for further advice and assistance in selecting your company name. The SBA was established to assist, aid and protect the interest of small business. Logon to to locate an office near you.

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   October 17, 2008
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