Recently a friend asked why the same item in two price guides had different dollar values. It has been a while since I've addressed this topic, so we will take a look at that topic today.

It is entirely possible that one can find a different dollar value for the same item in even three price guides.

It has also been my observation through the years that some people seem to swear by price guide values while others seem to swear at them.

In the first place, it is important to understand that a price guide is simply what it states -- a price guide.

Also, one needs to realize that a price guide values are stated in buyer's prices. One should not reasonably expect to sell an item that is in a personal collection for the price listed in a price guide.

Reputable dealers often pay about 50 percent of price guide values for items they purchase. This enables them to meet their overhead expenses and stay in business.

An experienced dealer, collector or appraiser knows there are several variables that can significantly effect the value of any one item listed in a price guide. The condition, quality, rarity and eye appeal of those items often vary greatly, and those considerations are often not accounted for in price guides.

One should seek answers to several other questions before deciding whether the stated values in a price guide are valid and reliable for your purposes. Do the stated prices come from actual sales or are they asking prices for items still sitting in antique shop? How old is the price guide? Sometimes price guide values were gathered and compiled from one or two years before the price guide information went to the publisher.

From what primary geographic region of the country were the prices gathered? The same items might be currently selling for different prices on the West Coast, Midwest or the East Coast. Even when using realized prices at auctions, the number of serious bidders present on any given day, and the rationale behind their individual bids (emotional vs. a typical, average value) determines that day's final bid.

One cannot reasonably expect the price guide to always reflect the true worth of items that are very rare and valuable. When you are arriving at a value for a certain item, remember also that there can be considerable difference between a fair market value, estate sale value, specialty auction value, liquidation sale value and insurance replacement value. Fortunately, you can often find which type or types of values are used in a price guide by looking for that information in the front pages of the price guide.

Two bottom line observations:

* A well-researched, current price guide will usually put you in the ballpark for a buyer's value on a typical antique or collectible.

* If you are uncertain about several possible valuable items you own, contacting a knowledgeable, reputable individual, such as an appraiser, will most likely save you both time and money in the long run.

Marvin Mann, Plainville, is an accredited member of the International Society of Appraisers. Send questions to him in care of The Hays Daily News, P.O. Box 857, Hays KS 67601.