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Understanding price guides for collectibles

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It's old, it's cool, but is it valuable?
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Is it a treasure or trash? Learning to read the price books can help!

We all dream of those Antique Road Show moments. You know the one-- that magical instant when your flea market find or family heirloom is valued somewhere in the stratosphere. 

Unfortunately, most of us don't have the experts from the show on hand when we're trying to decide what to sell or buy, or what it's really worth. That's where understanding price guides for your type of collectibles comes in oh-so-handy. 

Here are some tips from veteran collectors and dealers on using print and online pricing guides to value your sports cards, coins, antiques or other popular collectibles. 

Make sure it's current

One of the most common mistakes people make when using pricing catalogs is to rely on outdated sources. That pricing book from 1986 might have great pictures and an accurate description of your great-grandmother's broach, but the values listed are completely useless.

And it happens fast. Even a year or two old book can't accurately provide values for any collectibles. Trends as well as supply and demand fluctuate quickly, and prices move to match them. 

Online guides can have the advantage of showing the most recent values, but only if they're updated on a regular basis.

Make sure it's written by experts

There are tons of price catalogs and websites out there that look good on the surface. But when you research the writers or editors, you find that their last three books were about lawn care, starting a babysitting business and dog walking. When you see that, what you have is a book from a how-to specialist, not a collectibles expert. 

Sometimes these are good books to use, but odds are you're better off with a collectibles directory written (or at least edited) by a recognized dealer, collector or buyer. 

For online guides, either opt for a speciality site (for instance, one that values only die-cast cars and trucks) or a larger site that used experts for each type of item to keep information accurate. 

Consider your location

There are lots of benefits to living in a small town, but when it comes to selling collectibles, you'll probably get higher sale prices in a major urban area. Conversely, more rural areas are wonderful places to stock up on vintage items and antiques, especially if you want to sell them in more populated regions. 

That being said, few price guides offer prices based on an area's population density or urban character. So when you see that price in a guide, take the time to place it in context of where you're buying or selling. 

Remember condition

It doesn't matter that you have a vintage 1942 toy firetruck that the price guide says is worth upwards of $5,000 if your version is dented, scratched, rusted or missing something critical. When it comes to antiques and collectibles, condition counts. 

In many price guides, the value listed assumes mint or near mint. You'll need to develop skills at evaluating your item's condition before you compare it to the published value. 

Understand that guides are just, well guides

You should never rely on a price guide as a set-in-stone statement. At best, it's an idea of value. At worst, it's a misleading bit of information that only beginners take as truth. 

Considering the age of the guide, the freshness of online refresh rates, the condition, rarity, demand, location and supply of an item will allow you to more accurately evaluate an item for purchase, sale or even insurance. Even without the Antiques Roadshow

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