A gentleman called me about his father-in-laws stamp collection. It was in a cigar box. He knew nothing about stamps. He bought a catalog but couldnít identify all of them. Would I be willing to look at it? I agreed.

He brought the stamps over. It was the usual mix of damaged material torn from envelopes over time. It took me 5 minutes to determine that the 1000 or so stamps had no value. I advised him to pass it on to others in the family for sentimental value. The monetary value was a dollar or two at best.

He asked how I could determine so quickly that there were no stamps of value in this accumulation. He insisted that a valuable stamp could be lurking in the mix if only I would take the time to find it. I explained to him that for certain stamps that look alike, the chances of having the valuable variety are almost zero. Thatís why they are valuable. He still insisted that I needed to check every stamp to determine value. I was unwilling to do that.

Doing so is a gamble. If the accumulation looks like itís worth a few dollars, Iím not willing to spend 20+ hours watermarking stamps and checking perforations to find that the collection is still only worth a few dollars. No dealer will do that because the odds of finding a valuable stamp in an otherwise ordinary looking mixture are too low.

Yes, discoveries are still made. The philatelic press occasionally reports about a collector finding a valuable stamp in a cheap mixture. What about the thousands or millions of cheap mixtures that collectors pour though only to find that they still have a cheap mixture? You never hear those stories. You have a better chance at hitting the lottery than you do in finding a valuable stamp in a cheap mixture of common looking stamps.

If youíre the type of collector that likes hunting through mixtures, I wish you the best and I hope you have lots of fun. That is your reward. If youíre hoping to find a valuable stamp, chances are youíre going to be sadly disappointed.

If you have more valuable material in your collection, make note of it somewhere. Let your heirs know about it. When itís time to sell the collection, a dealer will find that information very helpful in evaluating the purchase price of your collection.

If your collection is unassembled in a cigar box, shoe box, or some other container, the value is typically going to be miniscule at best. You should not expect a dealer to spend large amounts of time to examine every stamp you have. That just wonít happen.