Every now and then, I get a phone call from an individual or an insurance agent concerning somebody's antiques and collectibles that were lost in a tragic fire, storm or other type of loss. The kind of weather we have been experiencing the last few weeks certainly brings back memories of such incidents.

Sorting out and separating the facts from emotions after a tragic and sudden loss can be especially challenging for an individual or an insurance agent. This is especially true when inadequate or no records have been kept on the destroyed or missing items. When the loss just involves breakage, it is usually easier to establish a true identity, attribution, condition and an appropriate value for the item.

The value of keeping accurate records of one's antiques, collectibles and other household items cannot be overstated. Good record keeping enables both the insurance agent and the appraiser to complete their work in a more timely and accurate manner.

Through the years, I have heard these types of comments more than once after a loss occurred: "It was a gift to me from my precious Aunt Molly. It was real nice, clear glass vase that had some frosted, blue markings on it and it was about 13 inches tall. It seems that it should be relatively easy to decide what its value was."

Although the individual who makes such a statement can be completely sincere, there are some important, heart-rending unknowns here the insurance agent or appraiser must deal with.

In an attempt to avoid making a rather lengthy weighing of many possible variables in this particular situation, I'll share two possible answers concerning the potential value of the above vase. If Aunt Molly purchased that vase from an importer of eye-appealing reproductions, it could have a fair market value of less than $100. If she purchased it from a dealer of Lalique Glass, it was in mint condition, and it had an authentic Lalique signature on the bottom, the fair market value can be well more than $10,000. This type of scenario exists in ceramics, furniture, toys, fine arts paintings and in many, many other categories.

If you don't have accurate, detailed pictures and descriptions of your antiques, collectibles and other items in your household, you are highly advised to do so now, before potential disaster strikes. Knowing two little, too late only brings problems when you don't need more problems. There might be a future article in this column that illustrates serious problems that can arise when one doesn't have adequate records on their personal items. On the East Coast, a so-called professional thief was able to maintain ownership of some Tiffany lamps he had acquired when time ran out for those who had reported their Tiffany lamps had been stolen. In that situation, I'm told the so-called professional thief had pictures with accurate descriptions in his home of specific "reported stolen and missing" lamps whereas those who reported having lamps stolen had no real pictures or proof of ownership.

If you have a good camera and know how to accurately record item descriptions, you can make good set of records. Also, store those records in a safe place where a potential thief can't find them and say, "Oh, wow! I haven't found this item yet." Another option to avoid serious problems is to have a knowledgeable appraiser assist you in taking some pictures and putting together useful information that can save later heartaches.

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.