How to Protect Your Private Art Collection: Top Risks For Art Collectors and How to Mitigate Them.


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Preserving your art collection takes planning, education, consistent awareness of risks which could damage the collection, and not to be underestimated: common sense.  Incorporating disaster planning and simple conservation methods into collection care are the keys to preserving your property, avoiding costly losses, and helping to protect your investment.

While  collectors typically consider protecting their treasures from destructive catastrophes such as  wind, flood, or fire, often routine exposures such as temperature or humidity fluctuations, sun, or cleaning chemicals can compromise the integrity of a piece or collection.  By taking common sense precautions, like not hanging art where it is exposed to the sun or not hanging a 19th century painting over a fireplace where temperatures can fluctuate, you will protect against deterioration of property over time and preserve the value and integrity of the artwork.

Consistent and repeated exposure to heat or light can affect both the pigment and its adherence to the canvas, causing cracking or flaking that can be challenging to repair. Ongoing exposures such as these are not typically covered by insurance. Similarly, using common sense when cleaning is important, as damage to art can result from exposure to certain chemicals or cleaning methods. It’s best to consult an expert for advice on appropriate cleaning for your collection.

Many art insurance claims happen when art is moved. This may include transit between homes, or if an item is sent on loan, to a museum, or even to an auction house. Collectors should consider the following key steps if transporting art, whether a single piece, or an entire collection:

  1. Arrange for specialized transportation – do the research, ask for recommendations and
    references, and choose a company that specializes in shipping fine art. Oftentimes, special

packaging including crates, art handlers, and even couriers may be involved.

  1. Avoid leaving the piece or collection unattended. This is especially important for higher valued items.
  2. If you are lending out artwork, understand how the gallery or
    museum plans to transport and insure your treasures
    . Ask your broker to review the loan

agreement regarding potential gaps in coverage.

  1. Insist on condition reports. This can assist in understanding how and when damage occurred, particularly if done prior to crating the item, and upon delivery of the item. Unoccupied locations pose greater exposure to damage.

Theft, water, wind and fire are additional risks to be aware of, especially for property owners who leave their homes unoccupied for extended periods of time.    A first line of defense is of course, centrally monitored fire and burglar alarms.  Other ways to prevent loss include having someone you trust check the property regularly.  These walk-throughs can ensure quick response to incidents that occur, and also serve as an opportunity to proactively prepare for encroaching storms, when necessary.

 Theft continues to be a real threat to art collectors.  While art is often targeted in transit, theft can also happen from a home.   If your home will be unoccupied, the property should be properly alarmed. In one case, a thief literally backed up his truck at an unoccupied estate, packed up and stole the owner’s private art collection. The property wasn’t visible from the main road, no caretaker was onsite, and it was not alarmed, so even the theft went undetected for several weeks.

Water, in its many forms, is an ongoing source of fine arts insurance claims, especially if the property is unoccupied.   Any type of moisture, whether from a broken pipe inside a home, steam, or excessive humidity  or even ice damming, may irreparably damage certain types of art. If leaving your home unoccupied for an extended period of time, consider the following precautions:

  1. Turn off main water line to property.
  2. Elevate precious items, keeping them off the floor as storing items in basements directly on the floor may result in items sitting in water for long periods undetected.
  3. Have a trusted person check on the property periodically, so if there is a water issue, it may be promptly addressed.

During storms like Superstorm Sandy, many art collections were damaged due to below-grade storing of collections, resulting in significant damage to prints, paintings, and certain types of sculpture.

When a storm or fire threatens a home, having a “PRIORITY SAVE” list of art, whether sentimental, rare, or of significant value, can help to direct efforts when threat is imminent and time is tight.

Undetected fire can ravage a home, fast. Common sense can go a long way, as often fires begin as “friendly” fires, such as candles, stoves or fireplaces.  We’ve seen several claims from people putting hot ashes from their fireplace into a bag on a wood deck, not realizing they are still highly flammable. The deck catches fire and burns the whole house down.  Be mindful of preventable situations.

To help prevent damage during a fire, alarms are recommended.  That said, have fire extinguishers on hand and consider a fireproof safe to keep smaller sized collections such as manuscripts, rare books, and baseball cards. During one recent California wildfire, a client’s home burned down, taking a valuable collection of artwork with it. Fortunately, the corresponding manuscripts were saved since they were housed in a fireproof safe.

Some weather catastrophes, such as Hurricane Andrew, which devastated southern Florida in the 90s, resulted in more wind protective building codes.  Building code upgrades for wind, fire and earthquake have made buildings safer, and better able to withstand catastrophes.  These improvements in construction, whether installing storm shutters, requiring buildings to be elevated, bolting buildings to foundations, or even sprinklering properties, protect property and improve outcomes for residents, investors, and insurers alike.

Protecting your collection with some common sense precautions, and more in depth and thoughtful planning will go a long way to protect your investment.  Consulting professionals will assure use of best practices for collection maintenance. Should an incident occur, however, collectors should notify a conservator, and if appropriate, their insurer promptly  to help minimize damage and  deterioration of the collection or other property.

Kate Buchanan is a Vice President at Huntington T. Block (HTB) Insurance Agency, the oldest and largest managing general underwriter of Fine Art insurance in the U.S. With more than 23 years of experience in the fine art insurance industry, Kate represents both private and corporate collectors. For more information, please contact Kate at 202.862.5376 or email her at [email protected] 

 HTB has been serving brokers and helping their clients protect treasures for 55 years. Some of the world’s most prestigious museums, symphony orchestras, Fortune 500 companies, art galleries, and professional associations trust HTB to provide customized, competitive insurance solutions that deliver peace of mind.

This article is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide individualized business, insurance or legal advice, You should discuss your individual circumstances thoroughly with your legal and other advisors before taking any action with regard to the subject matter of this article.