Before you incur a loss
First, think about your insurance options.
- Homeowners insurance
- Renter's insurance
- Special collection insurance
Your collection may already be insured, either in whole or in part, by existing insurance. All you need to do is contact your insurance agent and ask. They may want to add a special "rider' to cover your collection if its potential value is above some level. Riders are normally affordable and worth the price to gain additional piece of mind.
Don't be surprised if some normal insurance companies shy away from insuring nebulous collections of unprovable value. In that case, contact the American Numismatic Association for details about its recommended insurer who routinely deals with collections. (If you are not already a member of the ANA, please consider joining.)
I don't believe I know any collectors who relish the thought of insuring collections. However, the moment you let anyone know you collect something, your risk increases. Before you go off half-cocked and think you are risk-free:
- Talk to your insurance company and discover its specific requirements in case of loss.
- Make good photos, photocopies or scans of your certificates. Keep them in a locations separate from your collection. Images do not necessarily need to be secure, but they need to be separate in case of thefts, fires, floods, hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes.
- Keep good records of your certificates, and make notes of the ones you sell.
- Ask your insurance company what proof of ownership it requires. Never assume insurers will be as happy about giving you money after a loss as they are in accepting your premium payments before a loss. The more you prepare for that eventuality, the more likely your insurer will hand over a check.
For insurance purposes, photos, photocopies or scans should, at the minimum be in color and show the entire fronts of certificates. Make sure images are sufficiently good to show serial numbers. Make closeups of important signatures. I doubt insurance companies will care about the backs, but it is a good idea to ask your agent.
Above some level of potential worth, insurers might ask for appraised valuations of your collection. Never ASSUME they won't. Again, a simple phone call will suffice to tell you what their expectations are.
PLAN ON PAYING FOR APPRAISALS
If you are interested in having someone estimate the value of a single certificate or an entire collection, please contact one or more of the many fine international dealers who specialize in collectible stocks and bonds. Some dealers offer appraisals; some don't. Regardless, you should always expect to pay for appraisers' time. Their time will not be free. Make sure you let them know whether you are willing to sell.
I DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, OFFER APPRAISALS
I NEVER estimate prices of certificates listed on eBay or any other auction site before sales close. I will not guess what someone will offer for your certificates at some point in the future.
MY PRICE ESTIMATES ARE STRICTLY ESTIMATES
Please, do not construe any price estimates on this site as appraisals. My estimates represent what I think collectors will need to PAY to acquire certificates from professional dealers in the United States. My estimates do NOT represent what collectors might receive when selling.
I list typical values that collectors have historically paid for celebrity autographs, but appraisers' estimates will differ. They are estimating current or future values, while I am reporting prices actually paid. I have records of thousands upon thousands of prices paid for railroad-related autographs and will tell you, as gently as possible, that prices are all over the place. Prices for autographs from famous, well-documented and enduring first-tier celebrities are the most stable and yet their prices are still widely variable. Prices for second-, third- and fourth-tier celebrities are extremely unpredictable.
APPRAISING AUTOGRAPHS FROM OBSCURE INDIVIDUALS
One final point. If you have a certificate signed by someone you think should be more well known, and therefore, should be more valuable, you are fighting an uphill battle. Do not try to convince an appraiser of imagined value. No matter how deserving of fame such a person may have been, there is a reality. If such a person has remained obscure after several decades, there is little real chance that sales chatter and huckster hype will change that status.