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Protecting fine art and antiques

At a glance

  • Fine art, antiques and collections are often some of clients’ most treasured possessions
  • Their construction, monetary and sentimental value means they require a great level of care
  • We explore how clients can handle, protect and value their fine art and antiques

Art and antiques are some of clients’ most treasured possessions and require a great level of care. They are often seen as good investments, and tend to be sentimental, with many items being passed down for generation to generation.

Assessing the risk

Wide variations in humidity and temperature can damage fine art and antiques. Therefore rooms containing these items should ideally be kept at a constant temperature of 21°C or 70°F, with between 50% and 55% humidity levels. If temperature or humidity levels fluctuate widely, damage may take the form of mould, mildew or surface cracking.

Open fireplaces should be protected with fireguards to prevent expensive rugs and carpets from being damaged by burning embers. Annual chimney sweeping will help ensure items are not damaged by soot fallout. If items do need cleaning, it is important to seek professional advice from specialists such as conservators and restorers. Cleaning should only be undertaken by experienced, skilled professionals and not by domestic cleaning staff.

Special care for paintings

Special care should be taken when hanging paintings; the hooks, cord and wall fixing must be considered suitable for the weight of the picture along with the intended location.

Hanging pictures and paintings over open fireplaces or radiators, could cause damage by heat and smoke. Similarly, paintings hung in direct sunlight would be susceptible to fading, especially watercolours.  It would also be wise not to hang paintings directly under a bathroom, water tank or water cylinder, in case of a water leak or on the inner face of external walls, as water may penetrate through brick and stonework.

Moving fine art and antiques

Professional packing and transportation companies should be considered when moving fine art and antiques. Damage can be avoided by following the below top tips to protect these items during transportation:

  • Ensure that the individuals moving the items are fully aware of the fragile nature and importance of the pieces being moved.
  • Items should be inspected before packing in order to ensure that any inherent weaknesses will not be made worse by moving. Clearly mark containers and crates ‘fragile’, particularly for porcelain and glassware.
  • Label the top of each container and mark directional arrows pointing to the top of the container on the sides.
  • Ensure that pictures are wrapped in thin, non-acidic paper and then covered in non-porous material such as plastic wrapping. Sheets of bubble wrap, cardboard or foam will also provide additional protection.
  • Pictures should be stored vertically when in transit, with the space between items filled with packing material to avoid any unnecessary movement which could cause damage. Never lean works of art against one another.
  • Once the items have arrived at their destination, they should remain packed for at least one day to allow them to acclimatise to their new environment. This will help prevent damage by sudden exposure to any changes in air temperature, which can cause surface cracking and warping.

Security advice

Marking items in a collection of fine art or antiques has proved increasingly popular and several products aid the identification of valuables in this way. SmartWater, which is a non-hazardous combination of chemicals, is a forensic marking system similar in concept to a DNA profile. When dry, SmartWater is virtually impossible to remove. It cannot easily be seen under normal lighting conditions but will glow under ultraviolet light.

Micro-dots containing a unique reference number that are applied to various locations on an item can also be used. There are a number of products on the market that are used in conjunction with stickers to alert the Police to their presence when examining property with UV lamps.

Microchipping is another form of security marking, where a microchip is embedded into the items of fine art. You should check with an expert to ensure no damage is caused. Asset tracking software such as Fortecho, (Art Register Tracking Software), a real-time artwork security system, can be used to protect, track and manage fine art and antiques.  Tags are discretely attached to the item and are in constant radio communication with sensors located out of sight.

Professional valuations and photographs

We recommend that all items of fine art and antiques are revalued every five years to ensure their insurance replacement values are kept in line with current market trends. It is important to remember that items should be valued for insurance purposes using retail replacement values and not auction or probate values.

Documentary evidence of the provenance of an item will assist the valuer and will also be a significant help in the event of a loss. Photographic evidence is a convenient and simple method of recording details of your possessions, and can be of enormous assistance when settling claims. It may be possible for the valuer to simultaneously produce a photographic record during the valuation of the item. Photographs should include all sides of any antiques and photograph the back of all paintings, as well as the main scene.

For more information on Zurich Private Clients or our valuations service, speak to your local Zurich contact.

Image © Getty

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