Q: I have an extensive and rare collection amassed over years of collecting, all related to Judy Garland. I want to sell it all. There are 150 albums, 40 books and countless song sheets, magazines, photos, posters, etc. There has to be someone out there who’d cherish having this rare collection.

A: The reader adds that the collection has been in storage for years. Rather than keeping it in boxes, he thinks the time has come for someone else to enjoy it.

That’s exactly the motivation that drives many people to finally let go of a carefully curated personal collection. Death is another major motivator. Right there, you have the two main reasons why lifetime collections become available.

The dirty little secret of collecting — one of them, anyway — is that entire collections are a very hard sell. Add that 99 percent of sellers balk at breaking up a collection because they think selling as a whole is the way to go, and you can see the problem.

Using this case as example, buyers looking for Garland material probably already have a collection. The fun lies in building a personal collection; collectors thrive on the thrill of the hunt and the high when a special piece, a bargain, or an elusive treasure is captured. That’s what it’s all about.

In short, when it comes to buying, (name your item, including Garland) collectors want only specific items they don’t already have. And those few things tend to be elusive.

Target collectors no doubt already have much of the same material our reader lists. Unless his collection has a lot of items they want, buying a ready-made collection appeals as much as paying beaucoup bucks for a closetful of easily available clothes selected by and for someone else.

And yet, there are exceptions. Noted collections built by discerning collectors, where the collection is often better known than the collector, make news when they sell. At that level, sales involve only the finest and most wanted goods.

Think of the recent Elizabeth Taylor and upcoming Lily Safra jewels sales. Sell-offs of antique toy and sports memorabilia collections are other examples. For a sale involving railroadiana, see “Auction sction.”

But our reader does not have that caliber of collection. One option is to sell chunks of his collection online. We found over 7,500 Garland-related items posted on eBay. Donation is a possibility, but finding an institution willing to take the entirety can be problematic.

Or he can consign the lot to auction. Warning: Auctioneers like to lump items in boxes and sell off box lots. Auction can be devastating for the trusting seller.

Q: How can I get info on my painting? I’ve always been curious about the artist.

A: Checking price databases, there’s no record of the artist having sold. I suspect the street scene painting seen in an image sent was produced as a decorative piece.

I suggest you take a photo of the painting or the art itself to a local gallery that sells paintings, not digital images, and ask for an opinion. Offer to pay for their assessment. It’s only fair.

More: Already serving almost 1,300 auction houses worldwide, liveauctioneers.com provides real-time bidding technology for sales happening live. Now the site has introduced LiveAuctioneers Timed Live, an additional service where auction houses can hold timed auctions, like eBay. The new format allowing both live and absentee bidding, is especially suited to small collections and single-owner auctions.

Auction action

When a lifetime private collection of some 2,000 pieces of prime railroad memorabilia sold recently at A&S Auction in Waco, Texas, collectors snapped up rare lanterns, china and tableware, signs, whiskey crocks (extremely popular) and anything vintage railroad from the late 1800s to about 1920. Metal step stools, used on platforms to help customers board, ranged from $225 for an I.C.R.R. stool to $1,300 for a rarer Cotton Belt step stool.

Collector quiz

Q: Which of these statements about railroad collecting is NOT true?

a. Most collectors focus on major RR lines.

b. Rarest items have the fewest collectors.

c. In the U.S., pre-1920 items are most collectible.

d. Items from the early electric age are not wanted.

e. Timetables are popular collectibles.

f. Memorabilia from smaller companies is popular.

A: The answer is d. Smart collectors know that the era will become collectible, and they’re acquiring now. Source: “Miller’s Collectibles Handbook 2012-2013,” millersguides.com.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to smartcollector@comcast.net or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.