How to Prepare. What if Something Happens?
Around September, 2015, I got the phone call you never expect or desire. As soon as I was introduced to the voice on the line, I knew what happened before she told me. Charlie was gone. It was Charlie's wife, whom I had never spoken to and she was distraught. But she said I was supposed to know what to do.
It hits you so quickly. You feel helpless for a moment then you pull your boots up and try and deal with a delicate situation. I really didn't know Charlie incredibly well, but we had met a few times over the years. But we did speak often and I was always there to answer his questions over the last 25 years, and there were many. A year or two before he passed he told me that when he was gone I was going to get a call from his wife and that I would know what to do with the collection. I would get a very small percentage of the total sales which was fine with Charlie as there was a ton of work involved. I always said, "Let's not talk about that," but he insisted and hence the last call. But you never want to see a friend leave and not return. I would have done it for free.
Charlie's wife told me that Charlie trusted me and I would treat the family right. She said she had no idea whether the collection was worth $6,000 or $60,000 but that I would sell it and take care of the rest. I felt bad that someone could really have taken advantage of her and the family but assured her the collection was quite valuable and I would get all I could for her. We picked up the collection. She told me she had 100 gas globes. When we got there, there were 200 gas globes. She had no idea what was going on. It took me and my friend, Lonnie Hop one year and three months to sell every last piece. The collection netted about $85,000. She was so surprised it was worth that much and was surprised the money just kept coming in. In fact the last check I was to send her which was a decent sum she told me to donate it to a local animal shelter which we shared as a common goal!
Charlie had a decent plan but he was lucky. It was a plan that worked this time, but would not work every time. What if something had happened to me? What if, simply enough, she lost my number? You ever lost a phone number? Of course you have, everyone has! What if something had happened to her about the same time? She didn't really know one person in the hobby, not even an auctioneer she could call.
These are situations you try not to think about, you try not to confront and always figure you can deal with it later.
Ironically as my wife and I were recently discussing some changed health and life insurance plans, I was exposed to the same question. She asked me what do I do with all your gas globes if something happens to you! I sort of laughed and said that's easy, call Lonnie Hop! Here's his number and that was that! If he's not available call Dan Matthews with Morphy Auctions. Obviously these are people I trust. That's what Charlie did…My plan is not much better than Charlie's was but I have faith in it!
But seriously what should you do right now? The first thing everyone needs to do right now is to know what their collection is worth. At least have a rough idea. Is it worth $10,000, $50,000 or two million dollars? You would be amazed how quickly a collection's value goes up! Years go by like days and suddenly your little hobby is now a collection that fills your garage worth $200,000. Get it appraised or do your research and figure that out and get it all documented so your heirs know what they are dealing with. Have a couple friends they can call or a couple auction companies you trust so they can implement plan A, B or C if and when something happens. Then get this in a safe place where your family has access to it, just in case.
Get your collection insured! I cannot stress this enough. God forbid a fire, tornado or something happens to you AND your collection. Once it's gone you cannot go back and collect a dime if it's not insured. If you are gone, too then your heirs really have a problem! Companies like State Farm, Allstate, etc., will insure part of your collection as part of your home owners policy but you need every piece appraised and documented because you know darn well they will fight you tooth and nail when a piece is destroyed. Also, most of these companies have limits and will not insure a collection worth $100,000 or higher. I insure my house of course and buffer a little extra on the contents of the home for my collection. But the bulk of my collection is insured through Collectibles Insurance. They specialize in collectibles and know what's going on. There are many such companies out there which cover private collections of antiques and you need to get connected up with one, know their policies on claims and get your collection insured. You know how you have your cars covered? There are many companies that specialize in antique or special cars that offer cheaper insurance or insurance for these type of cars. Well it's the same here. Just find a company that will cover your collectibles. Again, have all this documentation kept in a safe place and make sure your family knows where this data is too.
Photos are also a must. If a collectible's value needs to be determined after the fact, only a photo will accomplish that. Descriptions are too vague. I think the gas globe said, “Sinclair H-C gasoline?” I have about 17 different Sinclair H-C gasoline globes in my Sinclair collection with values from $250 to over $10,000 each. Good luck figuring that one out! Sadly, after your gone the knowledge of your collection gets lost quickly. In all due respect ask anyone in your family what your Texaco sign might be worth let alone outside your family. Most would have no idea. A photo sorts this out right away or a detailed appraisal of each item. A smart phone can capture group shots of your whole collection in minutes. Focus in on the more important or rare ones. Then you can email these to yourself and now they are permanently in your computer. If you don't have a smart phone or know how to use one ask any 10 year old... At least get the more valuable items appraised. No need to appraise your collection of 200 five dollar oil cans if that's all they are worth. But write down somewhere that your cans are worth about $5.00 each. You cans may be worth $500 each. So those need appraised and listed. There is no guarantee what I, someone else or an auction company could get for your collection. But at least you and your family will know where you stand.
If you have a computer, here is what I do: I keep an ongoing list of each item I have and an estimated value. If I sell or add an item, which for me happens a lot, I take about 10 minutes every couple weeks to keep it updated. If you are buying and selling that is a different issue as those pieces won't be around very long. But the ones you are keeping for now are the ones being discussed here.
So again, if you have a computer it won't take too long to create a document and start a list and put a value on it. If you don't know the value ask someone, or get on one of the countless web sites or Face Book pages and start your list. Add to it and keep it updated. It really takes little time once the base is there. Take just a couple minutes every couple weeks to check it out. If you don't have a computer write it down or have it typed up. You must start somewhere and go the same route for values and photos.
Have a plan, then have a backup plan and then have plan C. It's just a few minutes of your time, a couple phone numbers for your family to call and really, for you, right now, it's not a big deal. But it's a big deal for your family later.