Inspired by the glory – and greed – of Antiques Roadshow, we’ve all got one. That one precious item we believe is valuable beyond our wildest dreams. The one that if we chose to sell it would put us, our kids, and future grandkids on Easy Street FOREVER.
It could be that ugly oil painting Grandma bought years ago at a yard sale that now smolders in the attic; or that old coin dear old dad gave you for your ninth birthday, admonishing you to “hold on to this.”
Or it could be, as in my case, a stamp collection.
My collection is really three in one. The first was my Uncle Henry’s. Born in 1921, Henry collected stamps as a little boy. After he was killed in action on Iwo Jima, his collection passed to a cousin and then eventually to me.
The second part of my collection came from my sister-in-law. She wasn’t a zealous collector, but she had an extravagant stepfather known for spur-of-the-moment purchases.
And then there were the thousands of stamps I collected. For more than a decade, I was a serious kid collector, spending hours, magnifying glass in one hand, tongs in the other, identifying and sorting stamps. I didn’t think about the value, but I loved the history of the countries and the stories behind each stamp.
Through those years, the pages of my stamp book so swelled that I eventually needed a bigger book. Then that bigger book so swelled that I split it into two separate binders.
Time Marches On
Time passed. College, boyfriends, work, marriage, children – each becoming more pressing and time-consuming passions. The stamp collection got displaced from a favored spot on my desk to the bookcase, taken out only to dust.
On the rare occasions, I thought about my former hobby I wondered if a time would come when one of my children might be interested in taking it up. But as I watched their computer-centered interests grow, I knew it would never be.
Somewhere along the way, Handsome Hubby and I acquired a new passion. We became hooked on Antiques Roadshow. Like every viewer who watched, I dreamed I owned that as-yet-undiscovered household million-dollar treasure, waiting to be revealed, waiting to transform the lives of us mere middle-class mortals into the Rockefellers, Astors and Vanderbilts we all long to be!
Bills would vanish. The mortgage would be burned. College tuition for the kids would be in the bank, and trips to Europe would be a reality! Ah, Easy Street.
I became so obsessed with this idea that I launched a systematic search through my house, determined to uncover familial Roadshow gold.
As I paced room to room, I eyed household goods with the practiced eye of a Roadshow appraiser. How about that demitasse coffee set Grandma brought back from Europe in 1929? Was that my Willy Wonka-golden ticket?
What about that massive Chinese vase Grandpa converted into an electric lamp? Well, even if the vase had been something special, Grandpa destroyed the value by drilling a hole in it.
Our “old” furniture? Not old enough.
My ’57 dusty-rose, convertible Thunderbird? Decidedly cool, but not rare enough for the big money I sought.
My Mother or Grandmother’s jewelry? Lovely, but “provenance” known. No antique Cartier or Tiffany-design there.
Greed Takes Hold
Then, it hit me. THE STAMP COLLECTION.
Breathless, I gingerly removed the dusty tomes from the bookcase. Gently, I flipped through the pages. So many stamps! Surely something of value was tucked away here.
My visions of riches … and glory … grew. My collection was the find of the century! Not only would I be rich, but also famous. News articles … books would be written about my historic collection.
I just needed an appraiser to put a specific amount to the dollar signs floating before my eyes.
Now if you’re a fan of TV’s Pawn Stars, you might think Las Vegas is awash in experts who can instantly affirm you’ve struck gold, but two decades ago when I was seized with greed, finding a qualified stamp appraiser meant only one place – New York City.
And in those early, hectic days of mom-dom, jumping on a plane for a joyride to NYC was a logistics no go. So was the thought of sending my precious collection by mail, unchaperoned to NYC. How could I possibly trust those Big City appraisers not to pinch one of my precious stamps without me standing guard over their shoulders? No way!
After a year of back and forth phone calls, I finally connected with a Sotheby’s stamp appraiser who was coming to Las Vegas to meet with an unnamed elderly gentleman big stamp collector. The appraiser, a rather snobby-sounding British fellow, said he would allow two hours to “view” my collection. We would meet in the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel.
I Hit It Big … In My Dreams
The night before I was so excited, I had trouble falling asleep. Instead of counting sheep, I counted the appraisal value “what if’s.”
“If I have one historic stamp is worth $5,000, I won’t sell it.”
“If there’s a stamp worth $10,000, I won’t sell it. I’ll keep it. Just like all those sincere people on Antiques Roadshow, I’ll preserve my valuable stamp and collection and pass it down to my family.”
“BUT what if …? What if there’s a stamp worth $25,000? I mean selling one stamp won’t hurt. I could keep the rest of the collection. $25,000, That’s the price of a swimming pool.”
The hours passed. The numbers grew and so did my philately fantasies and fretting.
Morning came and with it, a new worry. What to wear to impress the posh Sotheby’s appraiser with his tony British accent and condescending attitude about a Vegas mom with a stamp collection?
I’d show him. I put on one of my East Coast dress-for-success suits, complete with pearls. Yeah, I’d out pin-stripe him!
And that’s what I did. While everybody else at the hotel-resort was dressed in shorts and tank tops, I showed up in my conservative finery – dark-colored pantyhose, pearl necklace, clutching my très chic Chanel tote bag close to my hip, alert to any potential stamp collection bag snatcher on the loose in a Las Vegas casino!
The Man … and Woman … in Pin-Stripes
The Sotheby’s man was easy to find. He was the only man wearing a pin-striped three-piece suit at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning in a Las Vegas casino.
After searching for a quiet corner in the hotel lobby away from the jangling slot machines, we pin-striped studious two sat down. There, amid the coconut- and cigarette-scented fumes, I solemnly handed him Book I. He slowly turned the pages. After the proverbial “what seemed like an eternity,” he wordlessly returned it to me and grandly gestured for the second volume.
Mid-way through, he finally let loose with an “Ah!”
I was so excited. I practically jumped out of my plush seat.
“Yes, I thought, “that’s it. He’s found the rare something or other. Easy Street here I come. College tuition for two kids acquired. Hooray and Hallelujah.”
Three-quarters of an hour later, he handed me back the book and said gently, “It’s a lovely juvenile collection.”
“Lovely” I liked. “Juvenile” I sensed was not good.
He explained that my books, although overflowing with stamps, were mere starter series, designed for youngsters, not serious, mature collectors. Few of the stamps I so painstakingly gathered through the years were of particular quality or rarity.
I pressed on. Surely my collection had some monetary value.
“For insurance purposes, what should I value the collection at?”
He hemmed. He hawed. He said insurance companies don’t “appreciate” stamp collections.
Finally, reluctantly, he replied: “$100.”
And with that, I gathered up my books, put them in my fancy Chanel bag, shook his hand, and left.
Even without the magic of Antiques Roadshow gold, using just plain old hard work, Handsome Hubby and I sent our children to college, paid off the mortgage, added the swimming pool, traveled to Europe and enjoyed lots of fun adventures.
Yes, I’m older and wiser. Yes, I no longer harbor dreams of get rich quick schemes. Still, I admit – I thrill to the sound of that Antiques Roadshow musical jingle.