What to do about the vile people who might want to steal your collection

-or just borrow it for a long time.



Obligatory Statistics:

Articles such as this are all but required to start out with crime statistics.  You may well have heard or read these before, but they are worth repeating:


So what to do?  Basically it comes down to sending the bad-guys to your neighbor’s house because your house is too hard to get into.  Not impossible, just harder.  You know the story of the two guys walking in the forest and talking about bears?  One said he would run away but he doubted he could out-run a bear.  The other guy said he had similar doubts, but noted he didn’t have to out-run a bear –he only had to out-run the other guy.  I’m not at all sure about the morality of either outrunning the other guy, nor contributing –in some small way- to your neighbor’s house being burgled, but nor am I going to lose any sleep over it.
Here is the advice –from Brinks Home Security no less:



While all of the above home-protection ideas are useful to collectors, there is one DON’T and one very important DO:

DON’T engrave your driver’s license number on every item in your collection. (Duh !?1)

DO photograph & log every item in your collection.  This is no more then what a serious collector does just for the fun of it.  Or he or she does it to keep track of what needs to be added to complete the collection.  Store the list in your workplace or somewhere away from your home in case of fire.  Update it every quarter or so.  If it is a sufficiently large collection, update it every month.  There is actually software for some collectibles (coins and stamps for example) that makes this easy.  It’s is also essential when filing insurance claims.  More on insurance anon.

The one statistic I couldn’t find was what portion of how many thefts are committed by people the victim knows.  I suspect it’s higher then we might expect. You protect your home from the bad guys –the burglars and drug addicts, but what about the people who would never think to break into your home and steal your plasma TV? 

Not your kids surely, but what about their little friends?  Your housekeeper?  Perhaps not her –she’s been with you for years, right?  But her boy-friend drops her off & picks her up -and waits around if she isn’t quite done? What about the guy who also collects X and was referred to you by that guy who knew the other guy who you met at the last show.  You going to get together and talk about your mutual interest in X?  You going to show him your best items?  What if the phone rings while you have your X’s proudly spread all out?  Is your mom-in-law is a kook?  Your roommate besotted in love with just exactly the wrong person?  And so it goes.  If you were to think about it for awhile, you undoubtedly could come up with your own list of doubtful visitors.

If any of these people were to take a single item from the back of the bottom drawer, how long would it be before you were to notice it was missing?  And even if you did notice it right away, how would you go about getting it back?  The police?  You had best have a good friend either on the police force or the town council, ‘cause the police are too busy writing tickets for wrong left turns.  (That portion of municipality’s budgets coming from traffic tickets has –on average- doubled in the last 20 years while the portion of crimes against citizens that are solved –or are even investigated- has dropped by more then half!)

So what to do about “friendly” theft?  Lock it up!  As I have said elsewhere in my site, locks may only keep the honest people out, but it is a good start.  Someone from the list above who steals from you is not honest –but nor are they habitual criminals like the guy who breaks into your home while you are at work.  A lock on a drawer case may be easily defeated with nothing more then a big screwdriver, and a hammer will get you through the glass or plastic of a display-case, but it will make noise and there is no doubt that the perpetrator is stealing –not “borrowing”.  Might be enough to keep your stuff where you think it belongs.  Additionally, let’s suppose that it is valuable only in your mind –your spouse has some doubt as to this fact.  Lock it up and it becomes clear that it is –BY-GOSH- valuable.  Most of the stuff that I make can be made with a lock.  Wall and floor safes for the home come in every shape and size.  I have built more then one elegant drawer case to fit into a wall safe.  Got a really BIG collection? Check out gun safes.  Such a thing would hold a LOT of coins or stamps. 


Ever read the fine print on an insurance contract?  Do so and it seems that they exclude everything from coverage EXCEPT –maybe- theft by Mongol horde of left-handed horseman stealing your stuff after the roof of your house was torn off by an inland tidal wave, in Kansas, on Thursdays, in months with an ‘R’ in them… or something.  Talk to your insurance agent about your collection.  It may be that all you need to do is to disclose to him or her –or the company- that you have a valuable collection in your home.   Likely that you might find that upping your coverage –and your bill- is a good idea –at least in your agent’s mind. 

Try this –send a return-receipt letter advising the company of the fact that you have a collection of X and ask what to do. Likely you will be ignored.  Hold on to a copy of this letter and the delivery receipt and you might have a better’n average snow-ball’s-chance-in-hell of collecting on your loss.  But you MUST have documentation –note the above. 

Here is what I learned when talking to a couple of experts in the field –and I must stress that just because this is how most insurance companies work, your's may have completely different policies and practices!  Remember how your agent tried to sell you the more expensive policy and you went with the cheap one?  It may turn out that this decision comes to bite you in the ass if you are robbed.  TALK TO YOUR AGENT!

Home-owner’s policies –or renter’s policies for that matter, cover you from a variety of risks –usually fire, theft, and storm.  BUT it turns out that ‘storm’ may include the above mentioned tidal wave in Kansas but exclude tornadoes there.  Conversely, it may include avalanche hazards in New Orleans, but exclude hurricanes.  Also, ‘theft’ may OR MAY NOT include vandalism.  Be hard to ruin a rock collection through vandalism –not so hard if it was a collection of porcelain figurines.  Usually, and this applies more to home-owner’s policies, there is a total amount of coverage and some percent of this amount for ‘personal property”  Remember you HS business class?  real property involves land and buildings in some way, while you can take your  personal property and go home.  BUT –and don’cha love these buts- if you are in the business of buying, selling, and / or trading your collection, it is business property and is excluded

BUT for items of more than about $3000, you had better have pretty good proof that you actually owned it, and it was indeed worth $3000+.  Gets us back to listing, indexing, cross-referencing, and cataloging.  An appraisal might be necessary.  “I saw one just like it on “Antiques Road-Show” and the guy said it was worth $X00, 000.” ain’t going to get it done. 

Gathering prices, without hiring your own Antiques-Road-Show type wank, may take some imagination.  For instance, there is Replacements Limited that stands ready to sell you a single plate to match great-gramma’s china what got broken.  They also do crystal and silver.  They will provide a “third-party” price so it doesn’t come down to you and the insurance company arguing as two opposing parties. Another possibility is an interesting company that acts as a clearing-house for stolen valuables.  It’s not clear if it serves in America , but Swift-Find it has excellent suggestions for both valuation / documentation and security. 

Moving up a level –and moving up in cost, there is “named article” coverage.  What it comes down to is that you can insure anything if you want to pay for it.* Such policies can cover all manner of risks –from your klutz of a nephew playing with his new golf-club next to your Waterford crystal collection to a meteorite turning your sugar-packet collection into a smoking hole in the ground.  But notice the “named article” part of the title.  The need to name AND DOCUMENT the items is rather the whole point. 



One old boy I spoke to said that jewelry boxes do a really good job of telling the burglars (or acquisitive “friends”) where the valuable stuff is.  Keeps it all in one convenient place for him.  If the box is on the small side, it even makes a convenient way to carry it all out to the back of their van.  And I make jewelry boxes!  Where do I get off on telling you they are not a good idea?  I just do. I have also made more then a few pieces with hidden compartments.   Have a look at my CUSTOMER’S SCRAPBOOK for some of both the safe and not-so- safe stuff I have built for small valuables.

Then there is the matter of alarms.  The kind expert that explained insurance to me points out that while alarm systems may be good things, you become a slave to the silly alarm and its keyboard & password.  This from her own experience and for a hugely valuable china set her great gram’ma owned.  Got to be too much of a pain to hurry to the keyboard and enter the password.  Once a family pet –who ordinarily slouched around on the floor –was frightened by a lightening storm, jumped up on a couch and tripped the alarm.  As is predictable –and in contradiction to my comments about the police above –this time they showed up –three cars worth of them. 

On the other hand, there is a town in northern California – Fremont- that made news for itself a few years ago.  They decided that responding to home alarms was taking too much time away from traffic-ticket-writing and they were not going to respond anymore –unless the alarm companies paid then $20 or so to do so.  Gives you a warm fuzzy feeling about our boys in blue, don’t it?  

©Bill Harvey October 2006 

*True story –though it sounds like an urban legend- 20th Century-Fox had Betty Grable's legs insured with Lloyd's of London for the whopping sum of $1.25 million.  When you stop and think about it though, this is likely more of a publicity stunt then anything else.  She is going to misplace her legs?  Perhaps they get vandalized?  Or lost at sea in a storm?  Betty is still here –alive and kicking, (well, perhaps not kicking) but her legs are gone?  Or her cleavage is somehow inoperative, but they could still make movies with her?  (Things were different then –perhaps it’s more important for women stars to have cleavage now-a-days.)  For this they make life insurance and lots of people have insurable interests in other people who are not moms and dads.  What do you suppose the value of them two quarterbacks is to the NFL in the weeks between the playoffs and super-bowl?  Or for that matter, what is the value of a single throwing-arm to a single beer company?  Staggers the mind.