How to Manage Collectible Investments For Starters: Make Sure You Aren’t Underinsured

This article was published in The Wall Street Journal and one that I mention on The Collectors Show which will be available Monday, September 29, 2014 on Web Talk Radio (

Updated Sept. 21, 2014 4:57 p.m. ET

Investors can be obsessive about tracking the value of their stocks, bonds and other financial assets, checking their balances every day. But when it comes to the value of their collectibles, many don’t have a clue. And that can lead to all sorts of trouble.

“Often clients don’t view their art, jewelry or antiques in the same way that they view marketable securities,” says Deborah Montaperto, an adviser at Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management in New York.

As a result, she says, she has seen people casually give away valuable collections in divorce settlements, not realizing how much they were worth. Others didn’t consider the fact that the items formed part of their taxable estate, with implications for gifting and estate planning

And many collections are underinsured, leaving their owners vulnerable to significant financial losses, says Kevin M. Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Taking Stock
To get their physical assets in order, investors first need to start with the basics: knowing what they have. They should tally up all those antiques and paintings, record their details and value, and gather together all the related paperwork. Then keep it all somewhere safe.

The next step: making sure they’re properly insured. Many collectors think they’re covered by their regular homeowners policy, says Prof. Lynch. But these policies are usually designed to cover everyday household items, and valuable collectibles can quickly blow through the limit of a policy’s coverage.

“If you have art, if you have collectibles, if you have wine or other specialty items, you’re probably underinsuring them if you rely on a simple homeowners policy,” Prof. Lynch says. Instead, he says, investors need to get their high-value items properly appraised and insure these items for their replacement value.

And then, after no more than five years, investors should do it again. After all, that painting that was insured a few years ago for $20,000 could be worth twice as much today. That’s why experts recommend that collections be reappraised at least every three to five years, and more often if there’s a particular reason why prices could have changed.

Keeping It Safe
Investors should also take basic steps to keep their investments safe, from installing a strong security system to ensuring that they’re not damaging any items by exposing them to things like too much sunlight or humidity.

Bob Courtemanche, chairman of ACE Private Risk Services, a division of insurer ACE Group, knows of one expensive wine collection that survived a hurricane, only to bake in the subsequent heat because the owner hadn’t installed a backup generator.

Some collectors also arrange background checks on staff or contractors who will have access to their collections, Mr. Courtemanche says.

And investors should take particular care when transporting valuable artwork: The No. 1 cause of loss or damage to fine art is the packing and shipping process, Mr. Courtemanche says.

Getting Help
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But help is available.

There are a number of services that let investors store information about each item in their collection, update its value and keep track of its location, and will generate reports for their insurance company. Some examples are Collectify, Art Systems, Collector Systems, Trōv, and Capture My Assets from Virtusoft Solutions.

Investors can also hire a professional collection manager for an hourly fee, to handle things like cataloging a collection, keeping the inventory up-to-date and arranging for appraisals. But Prof. Lynch says a financial adviser should also be involved—to help investors manage their collections as part of their overall investment portfolio and make decisions on estate planning—as well as an insurance agent who can offer advice on the right policy for a particular collection and regularly remind investors to get new appraisals. “Bottom line: If you have an agent who’s not advising you on things like this, get a new agent,” he says.

Mr. Blackman is a writer in Crete. He can be reached at

Rifle reported to be used in Charles Whitman killing spree up for sale

A rifle reportedly used to carry out one of the worst killing sprees in Texas history is up for sale in Dallas by a gun collector.

The rifle used by Charles Whitman pictured here.

The rifle used by Charles Whitman pictured here.

The Remington 700 rifle used by ex-Marine Charles Whitman during his August 1, 1966 reign of terror from the observation deck at the University of Texas in Austin is up on Dallas’ Texas Gun Trader website with a starting price tag of $25,000.

Donald Weiss of Dallas is helping the owner, who declines to be identified, sell the piece which comes from the estate of Whitman, who was killed by police on the observation deck after the shooter spent hours gunning down Austinites who crossed into his line of sight.

The serial number on the pictures of the Remington rifle included on Weiss’ Texas Gun Trader listing matches the serial number found on the Austin Police Department report. In photographs taken at the scene and in the days after, a rifle that looks much like the Remington can be seen among weapons in Whitman’s cache.

The rifle initially went on sale on Sept. 17 but in the days since the listing has been updated with more photos. Gun collectors forums have been discussing the weapon as well.

“There is a pending offer on the rifle of over $25,000 right now,” said Weiss, who is gun collector in his own right. That offer is from a man in Orange, Texas according to Weiss.

He has seen the weapon used at a gun range in North Texas and confirms that it is still in working condition. He has been a friend of the rifle’s owner for some time, he said. He believes the people who would want the rifle would want it for its historical significance, and not for its inherent morbidity.

“I think that people who have an interest in this will be shooters or gun collectors. It will be bought for collector value,” Weiss says.

Weiss says that he has received inquiries on the rifle from all over the state. Some people are willing to hand over cash without seeing documentation he says.

According to a Houston-area gunsmith, Remington no longer makes these rifles in 6mm. Depending on its condition a rifle of that vintage could go from anywhere between $300 to $1,000 on the market.

It’s also a federal offense to tamper with the serial number on a firearm, so if the numbers have been altered to match the Whitman rifle there could be trouble for the owner.

As for the “murderabilia” factor that comes with buying a weapon with such a violent past, Weiss says “to each their own.”

According to a July 1989 report in the Orlando Sentinel, a Dallas-area collector, Wayne Buxton, was trying to sell the seven guns that Whitman used at the tower. Three rifles, one shotgun and three pistols were a part of that sale. It is assumed that the Remington that Weiss is helping sale here in 2014 was one of them.

The guns were acquired in an estate sale after Whitman’s death to settle outstanding debts he had racked up.

Years after the shootings Robert Heard, an Associated Press reporter who was wounded by Whitman that day, said that the sale of weapons didn’t bother him, as he saw the historical value in them.

Weiss says that the rifle came from Whitman’s estate which went on the auction block in 1967. He offered up a Travis County probate case number to trace its lineage. An official with the Travis County clerk’s office said Wednesday that it would take a few days to retrieve files from that time period.

Andy Kahan, Victim’s Advocate for the City of Houston, knows that the mention of the sale will dredge up awful memories for some who were there in Austin that day or have loved ones that were affected by the shootings, even almost 50 years on.

“The value of the weapons is enhanced because of its past, but I wonder why a weapon like this is not in a museum,” Kahan asked.

Listen To This Week’s Show Collecting Napkins!

Due to technical difficulties, this week’s version of The Collectors Show is not yet on Web Talk Radio. So I am posting the MP3 file here for our regular listeners and subscribers. I apologize for the confusion. Enjoy the program.

Collecting Paper Napkins

To Hear The Collectors Show About Collecting Napkins visit or iTunes. 

Who knew there was so much to the paper napkin? Paper napkins aren’t just for wiping food-smudged faces. They are worth collecting, like works of art.

Jacob's very first napkin (shown here from his website) was given to him when he was nine years old.

Jacob’s very first napkin (shown here from his website) was given to him when he was nine years old.

This week on The Collectors Show we meet Jacob Kedzierski. Jacob is an accomplished artist and photographer. He also collects paper napkins. His collection of over 7,500 different napkins started when he was in the 3rd grade. Attending a Christmas party for his class young Jacob was presented with a napkin that had a Santa Claus on it. Jacob liked it, kept it and started his collection. He still has that original piece, but has obviously expanded. To see his collection go to

And Jacob is not alone. There are plenty of napkin collectors listed on line. Over 3,000 for sale on eBay alone!

World Record Collection

Antonia Kozakova, has amassed a collection of 62,500 napkins that could be worth $480,000. It took her 16 years to amass them, and she keeps them piled up in her office. Kozakova has broken her own Guinness World Records’ record three times and now sets the new world record for the Largest collection of napkins, according to the World Record Academy:

Antonia Kozakova holds the Guinness World Record for the largest napkin collection in the world.

Antonia Kozakova holds the Guinness World Record for the largest napkin collection in the world.

Another collector in Albion, Michigan Cathy Campbell has more than 35,000 napkins in her collection. As for the ease of collecting and transport, Campbell reports that, “Napkins don’t weigh anything in a suitcase.” The retired school teacher keeps her cocktail, luncheon and dinner-sized napkins in gallon-size, zipper storage bags separated by size and theme in boxes in her home, as well as at storage facilities. Each box holds a different napkin theme, such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

“I have one box of just autographed napkins: Muhammad Ali, Taylor Swift, many of which I have gotten myself,” Campbell said. Her favorite autographed napkins are in a binder, with the additional napkins — 500 autographed napkins — in a box.

Fun Facts To Know And Tell About Napkins

Textual evidence of paper napkins appears in a description of the possessions of the Yu family, from the city of Hangzhou. The use of paper napkins is documented in ancient China, where paper was invented in 2nd century BC. Paper napkins were known as chih pha, folded in squares, and used for the serving of tea.

There are over 3,000 napkins listed for sale to collectors on eBay, like this one.

There are over 3,000 napkins listed for sale to collectors on eBay, like this one.

Our modern English word “napkin” comes from Middle English, borrowing the French nappe—a cloth covering for a table—and adding -kin, the diminutive suffix. Literally that translates to “little table cover” which seems to make little sense. What was the middle English word for “sloppy mouth wiper offer”? Or, “instead of my sleave”? Hmm.

Classy Stuff To Know And Tell About Napkins

By the sixteenth century, napkins were an accepted refinement of dining, a cloth made in different sizes for various events. The diaper, an English word for napkin, from the Greek word diaspron, was a white cotton or linen fabric woven with a small, repetitious, diamond-shaped pattern. The serviette was a large napkin used at the table. The serviette de collation was a smaller napkin used while standing to eat, similar to the way a cocktail napkin is used today. A touaille was a roller towel draped over a tube of wood or used as a communal towel that hung on the wall. It also meant a length of fabric laid on the altar or table to enclose bread, or a cloth used to protect a pillow or draped decoratively around a lady’s head.

By the seventeenth century, the standard napkin was approximately 35 inches wide by 45 inches long, a capacious size that accommodated people who ate with their fingers. Essentially, napkins were approximately one-third the breadth of the tablecloth. However, when the fork was accepted by royalty in the seventeenth century, the napkin fell from use among the aristocracy and neatness in dining was emphasized. According to Ben Jonson, “Forks arrived in England from Italy ‘to the saving of napkins.'” German-speaking people were reputed to be such neat diners that they seldom used a napkin.

The acceptance of the fork in the eighteenth century by all classes of society brought neatness to dining and reduced the size of the napkin to approximately 30 inches by 36 inches. Today, the napkin is made in a variety of sizes to meet every entertainment need: large for multicourse meals, medium for simple menus, small for afternoon tea and cocktails.

The French court imposed elaborate codes of etiquette on the aristocracy, among them the way to use a napkin, when to use it, and how far to unfold it in the lap. A French treatise dating from 1729 stated that “It is ungentlemanly to use a napkin for wiping the face or scraping the teeth, and a most vulgar error to wipe one’s nose with it.” And a rule of decorum from the same year laid out the protocol:

“The person of highest rank in the company should unfold his napkin first, all others waiting till he has done so before they unfold theirs. When all of those present are social equals, all unfold together, with no ceremony.”

Fashionable men of the time wore stiffly starched ruffled collars, a style protected while dining with a napkin tied around the neck. Hence the expression “to make ends meet.” When shirts with lace fronts came into vogue, napkins were tucked into the neck or buttonhole or were attached with a pin. In 1774, a French treatise declared, “the napkin covered the front of the body down to the knees, starting from below the collar and not tucked into said collar.”

Around 1740, the tablecloth was made with matching napkins. According to Savary des Bruslons, “Twelve napkins, a large tablecloth and a small one, comp

Collectors Show Preview: Napkins, Ashtrays and Vacuum Cleaners!

Do not miss The Collectors Show this week on Web Talk Radio (

This week on The Collectors Show we learn about collecting paper napkins from artist and photographer Jacob Kedzierski. We also learn about the unintended consequences for vacuum cleaner collectors when global warming interferes and a museum for ash trays donated by a dead smoker.

Should You Have Collectibles In Your Investment Portfolio?

collectibles-returns-0914NOTE: there are plenty of people who make money from their collections. In fact, most of the people on The Collectors Show ( make their full time living that way. But most do not as this article explains.

A Barnett Ravenscroft Wealth Management report explains why collectibles are no more than speculation.

As investors search for alternative investments that look more attractive than low-yielding bonds or expensive equities, interest in collectibles (art, wine, classic cars) has gathered momentum. Some collectors luck into windfalls, and if you believe collectible indexes the annualized returns leave normal asset classes in the dust. But once you dig into the details, it’s hard to justify collectibles as anything more than an expensive hobby with the occasional upside.

“It is easy to understand the superficial appeal of investing in collectables, either directly or through some sort of pooled funds,” says a recent white paper from Barnett Ravenscroft Wealth Management. “However, it is important to get behind the headlines of the money pages of the Sunday papers and kick the tyres on these investment opportunities a bit harder.”

Collectibles have a negative future cash flow

The first thing to note about collectibles is that they have a negative expected cash flow: like gold, they don’t produce anything, but you have to pay for storage and insurance. Your investment can only work out if demand pushes the price up faster than storage costs, insurance, and inflation combined.

Transaction costs, not included in the double-digit returns that are so often cited, are also a major problem for investors. If you want to sell an expensive painting, for example, you may have to pay 20% – 25% of the sale price to the auction house or broker. Collectible investment funds, like other hedge funds, typically have a 2/20 fee structure, but they are also much less liquid and five-year lock-ups aren’t out of the question.

Add in the higher potential for fraud since collectibles aren’t regulated in the same way as stocks and bonds, and there is a lot to dissuade investors before we even address price movements.

Collectible prices demand-driven and difficult to estimate

Clearly, collectibles prices are demand driven and a change in taste can cause a particular piece to plummet in value. The BRWM paper illustrates the danger with the example of Van Gogh’s ‘Portrait of Dr Gachet’, sold in 1990 for $82.5 million and eventually resold for about an eighth of that price. Van Gogh’s work is still highly sought, but his various works aren’t fungible and there isn’t much data on any one painting. Determining a fair price involves a lot of estimation, and if no one else reaches the same conclusions when you need to sell you could be forced to take heavy losses.

Collecting Occult Documents

This week on The Collectors Show we once again learn about a new collectible.

Documents, but not just any kind. Occult Documents. Brandon Hodge and Mark Demarest started and maintain the International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals (could you not have picked a shorter name?).They actively collect, catalogue, buy, and curate some of the most rare writings of their kind.

Historical & Cultural Importance
Spiritualism and religion, especially freedom of religion, are ingrained in American culture. While not all religions have the number followers that some do, those worship practices were and are important to those who adhere to them.

Imagine that part of the New Testament were missing for Christians or the parts of the Old Testament written by Moses were lost? As profound as those omissions would be for Christians and Jewish people, they would be similarly experienced by others. Brandon and Marc are making a significant contribution to religion and history with their collection.

Genesis of the Collection
The IAPSOP was formed in late 2009, as it became apparent to the founding group of spiritualist and occult researchers that (a) the repository libraries traditionally expected to retain spiritualist and occult periodicals were in many cases removing these from circulation, or from their collections entirely; (b) that independent students and researchers were in some cases duplicating effort and expense to have materials preserved digitally, largely for their private use; and (c) that digital libraries like Google Books were completely indifferent to the special curatorial problems of periodical literature.

The Organization
The IAPSOP Archives are maintained by IAPSOP — an informal collection of students, academics and researchers with an interest in the periodical literature of Spiritualism and the occult, for the purposes of preserving the substantial body of Spiritualist and occult periodical literature produced between the 1840s and the start of the Second World War.

These materials are provided in curated, digital form, already indexed, suitable for online reading, scholarly use and citation.
As with all such open source archival projects, the IAPSOP provides these materials for their historical value; no endorsement of any position is implied by the provision of particular materials in the Archive, and the IAPSOP makes no warrantees as to the fitness of these materials for any particular purpose other that historical research

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