Selling the Collection

A recurring situation in probate is where the parent had some sort of “collection” and the children want to sell the items. A lot of times, the parent would talk about the collection and raise the children’s expectation of the value of the collection- the children believe that the collection is “valuable”. Frequently, they are disappointed in the value of the collection.
First, the fact is, nearly all items that are mass produced for the “collectible” market aren’t going to be worth any more than what was paid for them, and frequently, considerably less. What do I mean by “mass produced for the collectible market”? I mean items that are made and marketed to collectors. This would include such things as Hummel figures, anything from the Franklin Mint or companies such as that, almost any “commemorative” item, including commemorative firearms, Beanie Babies, and nearly all modern U.S. Mint coin sets. With respect to US mint coin sets, the ‘higher’ grades of sets, i.e., true “Proof” sets may be worth a significant amount of money, but only if they are rare. Most modern proof sets were made by literally hundreds of thousands or millions and the only variations that are truly valuable are those that have errors. And the ‘ordinary’ uncirculated sets are rarely worth what they sold for. If you have such a collection, by all means, check a reliable source for specific values, but generally these things are worth not much more than the face value of the coins.
And, when dealing with collectibles, condition is everything; if a coin set has been taken out of the holder and handled, chances are it is not worth anything beyond face value; other sorts of collectibles, if there is any visible handling or damage, even slight damage, the collectible value has almost certainly been destroyed; in some cases, anything other than “New in Box”, which means just that; just as it came from the store, in the original packaging, with all the original paperwork, is essentially non collectible. I see this particularly with firearms; there are all sorts of “commemorative” firearms, typically with engraving and special gold filling and maybe special packaging; if the gun has been shot, or even visibly handled, the gun is likely worth no more than what a non-commemorative firearm of the same type would be worth. The collector value can be easily destroyed by an heir picking up and handling the firearm.
Additionally, it truly depends on what the item is; in the case of firearms, an older, rarer Winchester or Colt may be worth some money, even if it is in less than pristine condition; a Mossberg 500 shotgun, however, is likely to have only “shooter” value; and an Iver Johnson revolver, even if absolutely pristine, in box, is not likely to be worth much money at all, unless it is truly rare.
Likewise, artwork is very dependent on the item; a Salvador Dali or Picasso or Andy Warhol print may be worth significant money; once again, depending on condition; a Thomas Kinkade print or painting, on the other hand, typically is worth little more than what it originally sold for, unless it was truly a limited edition or very rare item.
And, then there is the problem of selling the item. If the item is taken to a dealer, the rule of thumb is you will be lucky to get around half of the “book” value, or less. Certainly, one can try to sell it directly; Ebay and other sites allow you to reach a truly global market, however it may take time, you may incur costs in selling the item and the same global market that you reach allows anyone else with a similar item to reach the same market and possibly underprice you. If there is a truly significant collection, 50, or 100 items, it may be worth hiring an auctioneer and advertising the items.

My point is, simply be aware that what your parent said was a ‘valuable collection’ may not, in fact, have much monetary value.

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