A family member called me on the phone. She wanted me to evaluate her fatherís collection for possible sale. She explained that he has a roomful of material. We discussed the situation and I agreed to travel and do an appraisal.

She asked how long I would be there. I said, ďAt least an hour, probably closer to two hours.Ē She replied, ďHe has over 100 albums. One of the albums is as thick as an encyclopedia. That album alone will take you over an hour.Ē

Hold on! Not so fast!

If a collection has valuable and extraordinary material, yes, an in depth appraisal could take a significant amount of time. Very few collections warrant this kind of analysis.

Some people may feel that the dealer is just trying to give the material a cursory look followed by a cheap offer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Common and ordinary material is a large part of most typical stamp collections. This material is bought and sold either by weight (such as loose stamps) or by count (e.g., 500 First Day Covers in two albums). True, each stamp or cover is different. But all of these kinds of items sell for a general price range.

I can pick up an album. Within a few seconds, I see that there are (say) 100 First Day Covers from the 1950s to 1970s. Nothing looks damaged. The cachets are all the standard black and white commercial cachets. The covers are unaddressed. My analysis is done and I can move on to the next item.

A shoebox of loose stamps will also take a few seconds. I need to know very little about this box. What is the weight? A quick review verifies that the stamps havenít been damaged when removed from the envelope. Using my hand, I rummage through the contents to verify that there arenít any valuable items lurking at the bottom of the box.

Did I overlook something? It is doubtful. When looking at a lot of common material, you just arenít going to find that million dollar stamp in the middle of otherwise common and inexpensive material.

Is there a $10 stamp in the middle of that pile? Maybe. However, the time involved to sort through hundreds or thousands of inexpensive stamp in the hopes of finding that $10 copy isnít worth it. If everything looks common, dealers will buy it cheaply and sell it cheaply. Dealers want to make a profit from a sale and move on. Dealers arenít going to make a profit hunting for that needle in the haystack. A dealer would go broke doing that.

Yes, once in a while in the philatelic press, you read about a collector who bought a common mixture and found a valuable stamp in the mix. That is the story you see in the press. What you donít see are the other 99,999 collectors who bought a common mixture and ended up with a common mixture of inexpensive stamps. Collectors who want to relax and sort through a mixture for recreational purposes and not for profit purposes will sometimes stumble on a valuable item. It is rare, but it happens.

Dealers will give you an appraisal value. If the collection is small (maybe a few albums or less in size), there will probably be a single offer for the entire collection. For larger collections (such as a roomful of material), the dealer may break it down a little bit: $500 for the 4 Canadian albums, $75 for a box of First Day Covers, and so forth.

No dealer is going to list every single stamp you have, itís condition, and price. You are not going to see Scott #968 First Day cover at 10Ę, Scott #969 First Day cover for 8Ę, and so forth. Dealers canít spend hours examining common material in detail.

Even when dealing with moderately valued material, the appraisal isnít overly involved.

For example, suppose you have a collection of used US stamps including many early issues which catalog in the tens or hundreds of dollars each. A dealer will select the highest priced items in the set and examine them. That is where most of the value is at. The cheaper items in the set donít contribute significantly to the overall value.

A dealer will use an average. For example, the high value items are generally F-VF and sound. Catalog value is $20,000. Given condition and centering, the offer is $9000. Donít quote me on the numbers here. Itís just an analogy.

You may have hundreds of more valuable stamps. A dealer will select some subset of items and based on what they see, they set the offer accordingly. Is it possible that a fake item slips in there or that something has better centering? Sure. If a dealer does the job thoroughly though, those few items swing the value a few dollars here and there. In the big picture, those are minor variations in value.

Most appraisals donít take a significant amount of time. Dealers need to quickly evaluate what is there and move on. Dealers donít want to spend all of their time evaluating stamps. Dealers need to spend their time on selling stamps.

At the end of the appraisal, a dealer should be willing to discuss the results with you. They are not going to go over things stamp by stamp and say, ďThis one is $10. That one is 5Ę,Ē and so forth. They will say things such as, ďThese First Day covers are all addressed and have no cachet. Material like this sells for 5% of catalog value in that condition.Ē Dealers will generalize about areas of the collection, both good and bad, and how they reached their final offer.

If you work with a dealer who is a member of the APS and/or ASDA, youíre probably safe that they will do an adequate and fair job in appraising your collection. Donít expect them to be there all day long though preparing a detailed list stamp by stamp!