Documenting valuables

Documenting valuables

Maybe the only antiques you own are Grandmother's brooch or Great-Grandpa Jack's handmade fly rods. Or maybe you are a collector with a house full of antiques.

In either case, how would you prove the worth of your belongings if something happened to them?

"There are so many dangers," says Marcia Brown, board member of the Southern Oregon Antiques and Collectibles Club. "There's always the possibility of theft or fire or flood. That's why you need to document your antiques. Even if nothing happens, you should have something to alert your heirs of the value of things."

With digital video cameras so cheap and easy to operate, many people use them to document their belongings. If you choose that way, make sure to photograph each piece from several angles, with close-ups of any tags or signature marks.

You can do the same with still cameras. Many people now put their photos on a compact disc or "thumb" drive, but Brown has some reservations about this habit.

"Technology changes so fast," she says. "How do you know when you need it, there will still be something around that can read a CD? I don't think you can beat written documentation as backup."

She suggests getting a book and listing each item, complete with attached photos and receipts. Don't keep it in the house. Secure it in a safe-deposit box or with a close relative. And keep it up to date as you add to your collections.

Then there is the issue of valuing the pieces. If something happens, and you have to file an insurance claim, you don't want to get into an argument with the insurance company.

"You need everything appraised for accurate value," says Doris Cearley, co-owner of Main Antique Mall in Medford. "For insurance, you need a certified appraiser whose appraisal will stand up in court."

That is the ideal answer, but appraisers charge between $75 and $150 per hour. For a few antiques that are fairly common, that could be a bargain. But if any items are unusual or of foreign origin, they could require a lot of research.

"It's best to record as you buy," says Brown. Ask to have the known history of the piece recorded on the bill of sale, she explains.

"A reputable dealer will give you information on the age and condition on the bill of sale if you ask for it," says Brown. "If he won't put it in writing, then ... you are buying 'as is.' But if you have original documentation, you don't need an appraisal."

In the absence of documentation or the funds for a professional appraisal, there is another way to safeguard one's investment.

"The Jackson County Library system has the largest collectibles and antiques section in the U.S. due to donations by SOACC," notes Brown. "For each item, you should list and cite the book name and date published, the author's name and the page where you found the price. But your item must be identical to the one in the book, not similar. It takes a little homework."

Documentation will prove invaluable if the worst happens. But Brown warns people not to be disappointed if the values aren't what they expect.

"Something old isn't always valuable," she says. "Rarity and fashion are what are important. Take cameos. Almost every 30 years, they become valuable, then the fad dies down, their value goes down, then they become popular and collectible again."

Brown recommends joining an antiques club to keep up with what is in fashion and to learn how to tell real collectibles from the reproductions that flood the market.

"Reproductions have been around a long time," says Brown. "Even Grandma's or Grandpa's heirlooms could be old reproductions."

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