A Dealer's Perspective

Considerations for Protecting your Collection

I recently attended a talk given by Steven Pincus of Marsh & McLennan, the world’s largest risk and insurance service provider. He had some valuable ideas for anyone who has a collection to preserve.

Obviously, your collection ought to be covered by insurance to protect the work from unforeseen disasters. But the main emphasis should be in minimizing known risk factors that can be controlled. For example, the framing needs to be to archival standards. I have seen a number of pieces stained due to the use of ordinary matboard. The beveled edges of their matboards had secreted acid into the artwork. Generally, you can know you have rag matting if the beveled edge is white all the way through. Also, the quality of the backing is important. Often framed Edward Curtis Orotones are backed with corrugated cardboard, and one can easily see where the corrugation lines have “eaten” through the print and are readily visible.

If you live in an earthquake-prone area, you should definitely be using acrylic glazing as opposed to glass. Flood-prone areas have another set of problems, as people discovered in Houston a few years ago. (Here in Dallas, we deal with occasional tornados, and I’m not sure there’s much one can do when 250 mph winds come blasting through the house!) Mr. Pincus suggested contacting a local museum to learn how they deal with problems common to your own area; for example, a web page on the Western Association for Art Conservation’s website discusses earthquake damage control.

If you are lending your artwork for a show or consigning it somewhere to sell (like us for example), thoroughly inspect the work, preferably with help of a professional, and get a “baseline report” on it before it leaves your walls. It’s of interest to note that most losses in museum shows occur during packing and shipping. (Call us anytime if you need shipping suggestions.)

There are other areas of risks besides the ones mentioned above: offsite storage, restoration, terrorism, charitable gifting and inheritance, to name a few. The field can become rather complex, but even if you only own a few photographs (from collectibles to family portraits), you need to apply some of the above procedures. If your insurance company requires a written appraisal, we offer that service for a reasonable fee. The rapid increase in the values of photographs necessitates an appraisal every three to five years.

Also, I strongly recommend a high-quality art database program to keep up with your collection. You should see the lackadaisical records I deal with for appraisals, and systematizing those takes time, costing the client more. Check out Collectify My Stuff. It’s an excellent, highly recommended program at a surprisingly inexpensive price. (May 27, 2004)