A religious institution called me wanting someone to evaluate their collection for insurance purposes. I agreed to help them. Because the institution wants to remain anonymous, the names of people and places Iím about to use are fictional. The events, however, are real.

I talked to Father John on the phone. We agreed on a time and place to meet. He described the collection as a roomful of stamps. Because it was owned by a religious institution, I expected it to be a lot of common, inexpensive stamps. A few minutes, perhaps an hour, and I would be able to say it was a collection with minimal value.

I parked my car and sure enough, Father John was at the arranged meeting point. His wide smile stretched from ear to ear. It was a genuine smile too. Not like that forced smile on the person working the cash register at a department store whose job is to smile no matter what. No, Father Johnís smile was genuine and honest. He was glad to see me.

We traveled through a series of buildings and got to the collection. He has a pain in his leg, so we avoided stairs and took elevators. It was still a long walk, even for someone with perfect legs. Father John never grimaced once. As curator of the stamp collection, itís a trip heís made many times Iím sure.

The room was about 12 feet wide and 20 feet long. There were over 200 albums. And boxes of loose stamps. And file drawers arranged by country and Scott catalog number. This was no ordinary collection.

I worked with Father John to evaluate the collection. It took us two Saturdays to get through it all. I wonít give the exact figure. Letís say it was a sizable collection that the ordinary collector would love to own. You couldnít retire on the value of this collection. But the value was considerable. Yes, there were a lot of common and inexpensive stamps. But there were some more valuable pieces tucked in to the collection. I never knew when an album or file drawer was going to contain more valuable items. I was like a young kid in a candy store!

The monks who lived at this institution collected the stamps. When they passed away, their collections became part of the institution. Some of the stamps they bought. Some of the stamps came from outside donations. They all belonged to the institution now.

A lot of the loose stamps in the boxes had no personality. But the albums! Oh, if only they could talk! The stores they could tell! Yes, there were many collections based on religious themes. But there were country and topical collections too.

Some of the monks collected a little bit and their albums were small. A few of the monks were more serious collectors. Their collections spanned multiple albums and sometimes contained more valuable material.

I didnít charge the institution a dime for my services. Why? For two reasons. First and foremost, itís a religious institution. I donít mind doing occasional charitable work for worthy institutions. Second, I got more out of it than I put into it.

It was fascinating to find a letter written in 1914 from Eugene Klein to one of the monks. There was a card signed by C.H. MeKeel to another monk. Those are two famous names in philately. Yes, I plowed through a lot of ordinary stamps. But I was surprised by some of the material that I ran across. I hope Father John didnít grow tired of my ďWow, did you ever see this?Ē

I walked away with a smile on my face for three reasons. First, Iím glad to have helped out this religious institution. Now their stamp collection will be insured against any loss. I feel that I did a good deed. Second, I got to see a lot of interesting items. It was a collection full of personality and many years of heritage. You donít find that every day. And third, it was a distinct pleasure working with Father John. Philately isnít his main interest. But he knew a lot about stamps and he has been organizing this collection and doing a good job at it. He has a lot of work ahead of him. But I was able to point out interesting parts about the collection and share philatelic stories with him. He related some stores to me too. I feel like I made a friend. Father John is an extraordinary individual in many ways.

Because they were not looking to sell this collection, I didnít buy it. I didnít make a dime for my two days invested. But I had the time of my life and I would do it all over again! You canít put a dollar figure on things like this. Memories and friendships are priceless!