There are many resources available to the experienced antiques and collectibles appraiser. I found one exceedingly valuable research tool while attending an antique appraiser's workshop in Dallas a few years ago.

Several of us attending that appraisal workshop subscribed to the current auction database subscription service.

It turned out to be one of the most informative and practical appraisal tools I've ever found since I started doing antiques and collectibles appraisal work back in the 1970s. It is a great help in knowing how to instantly find out what certain items one has seen locally have been selling for recently across the country.

Today, we will take a brief look at some of the current, fingertip information that is available from just one database. A few interesting and unique characteristics of this particular database are the following:

* Every record in this particular database is accompanied by one or more pictures of the item.

* Every record is compiled by a human editor, not a mass automatic entry method.

* About 50 percent of the records in this database include information pertaining to the specific auction environment at that sale.

* About 87 percent of all information in this database is totally unique to this specific database. Therefore, most of this specific data isn't found elsewhere on the Internet.

It cannot be overemphasized how extremely helpful it is to have instant access at your fingertips that shows current prices recently realized at key auctions across the country for the items you are researching. This database utilizes a general classification of 51 categories of antiques and collectibles that are further divided into several hundred subcategories. I'll share a couple of the broad categories that have many subdivisions.

One broad category is glass. There are 87 subcategories listed under glass. A few illustrative subcategories include art, blown-molded, cut, pattern. Tiffany, Moser, silver deposit and overlay, Waterford, and even a general subcategory that is called unclassified.

Another broad category of recent auction records in this database is called pottery and porcelain, which has 134 subcategories. It really helps to have spent several years researching the various types and makers of pottery and porcelain so that when one looks at a client's item, you instantly know which of the 134 subcategories will have a sample like the one you want to research.

We can illustrate the usefulness of such a database in two situations that I encountered recently. An older couple who might be needing some additional funds to pay for unexpected medical expenses called. They had a couple of toy riding vehicles that they had played with when they were children. They wondered if those toys might still have some value. They requested that I stop by their house and look at the items. Upon examining their toy vehicles, it was obvious that they had been preserved in excellent condition and the brand names were highly collectible.

In checking my main database, I found that essentially identical comparables had recently sold at three key auctions in the last few months and that those particular items had sold for several thousand dollars. The couple was very happy to know that information and have that information available for future use, should the need arise.

Another recent situation I encountered was quite different. In that situation, the research data I found I didn't use because the individual requesting information later called and canceled our appointment.

This was the story: A woman called me and said that she had a silver service set that she thought was likely made of sterling silver and the pieces had some fancy engraving on them. She indicated that she had seen "similar looking items" somewhere on the Internet and thought the silver service set could be quite valuable. I told her if the items were as she thought they might be, then indeed, they could potentially be valuable. One reason is because sterling silver tends to be worth much more than plated silver.

She made an appointment to have me examine the pieces. I really wanted to actually look at the items because if they were indeed sterling with elaborate decorations and made by a very well-known maker, her silver service set could potentially be worth from a few thousand to over $20,000 dollars. Even if her items were only silver plated but had elaborating handmade decorations by some famous maker, her set could still have been worth many hundreds of dollars.

I researched various types of silver service sets and makers, which included using my favorite comprehensive database. Shortly before her appointment, I returned home to find a message on my telephone answering machine. She had called and indicated that other sources had told her that her silver service set probably didn't have much value, so she canceled our appointment.

Granted, some antiques and collectibles are not valuable, but some items can be so-called "sleepers" and can be quite valuable. However, if you do have such an item or items, you want to be the one who realizes that and not some future owner who might acquire significant financial gain from your lack of knowledge about some item that you previously owned. This is especially true in our current difficult financial times for those who are struggling financially to pay their monthly food, housing, transportation and medical expenses.

There are individuals, who by necessity are neglecting items in one or more of those four areas each month so the others can be paid. It seems to me a double tragedy that sometimes an unrealized financial resource has slipped the fingers of some individuals who desperately needed to utilized every cent they have.

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.