What were the 10 best stocks of the past 10 years, and what could we learn from them? We asked those questions a few months back, and we discovered that the 10 best stocks of the past 10 years were:

  1. Obscure.
  2. Ignored.
  3. Small.

That's all well and good, but then we got to thinking: What were the 10 worst stocks, and what could we learn from them?

Without further ado, here are the 10 worst performers.

Company

Return,
Aug. 29, 1997 - Aug. 29, 2007

Aug. 1997 Market Cap
($mm)

Atari (NASDAQ:ATAR)

(99.6%)

$678

World Heart (NASDAQ:WHRT)

(99.2%)

$3,323

Gilat Satellite Networks

(98.5%)

$352

Protection One (NASDAQ:PONE)

(98.4%)

$241

Technology Solutions

(98.2%)

$571

Danka Business Systems

(98.2%)

$2,649

Revlon (NYSE:REV)

(97.6%)

$2,493

Cytogen

(97.6%)

$214

Milacron

(97.5%)

$1,026

Innovex (NASDAQ:INVX)

(96.5%)

$490

Data provided by Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Please note that past performance does not predict future performance.

Danger! Danger!
There are a few caveats. First, these companies are all still in business and trading on major U.S. exchanges. Many publicly traded companies went bankrupt over the past decade, leaving shareholders with nothing. We also excluded companies that did not have a market cap of more than $200 million 10 years ago, to keep penny stocks out of our results.

Those qualifications aside, here's what we can conclude: The 10 worst stocks of the past 10 years were also small. But this also makes sense: Small companies offer the greatest risk and the greatest reward.

Separate the baggers from the laggards
It can be difficult to determine which small caps will go on to be the best. That's why, at our Motley Fool Hidden Gems small-cap research service, we search for traits such as high insider ownership, free cash flow, and dividends. We think these qualities indicate great long-term investments.

As Paul Elliott noted recently, the risk with small caps may not be with the companies, but with us as investors! Too many of us go chasing after the next big thing at any cost, rather than systematically seeking legitimate small businesses with strong fundamentals, trading at reasonable prices.

Foolish conclusion
The 10 best and 10 worst stocks of the past decade were small caps. But they were very different kinds of small caps.

In our Motley Fool Hidden Gems service, we heed the lessons of the best and worst performers in our quest to find the very best small-cap businesses. Click here to see our 40 favorite small companies with a free 30-day trial.

This article was originally published on June 5, 2006. It has been updated.

Neither Tim Hanson nor Brian Richards owns shares of any company mentioned in this article. No Fool is too cool for disclosure.