Even though there are a great many companies that advertise themselves as insurance specialists for collectors, when you visit their sites you find there is precious little specific information provided that would serve as guidance for those interested in coverage for rare books.
Earlier this year a thread on the Ex-Libris listserve went into some detail about the particular needs individuals, companies and institutions have in this area. At that time the name of the Michals Insurance Agency in Watertown, MA was mentioned by several of the writers as a firm with a good reputation and a specialized knowledge in this field. RBH contacted Susan Michals, the Vice President of Operations for the company, and asked her to go over some of the basics.
“Our agency has been specializing in insuring fine art collections and businesses since we opened our doors in 1964,” she wrote in email answers to a series of questions. “For many years, we were located in Boston’s Back Bay area, right in the hub of businesses that are in this industry. Clients come to us seeking insurance and risk management advice for their collections and businesses.
“Most of our clients come to us looking to insure their business or private collections for inventory, transit, and show coverage. Many of them come through referrals, including members of the ABAA. We have an exceptional relationship with the ABAA. We have private collectors who rely on our expertise when it comes to shipping irreplaceable objects. We have dealers who look to us to ensure that they have liability coverage before attending a book fair.
“The main questions of concern," she continued, "are on how collectors/dealers can protect their inventory from all types of risks including fire, theft, vandalism and shipments. We are able to offer a comprehensive type of specialty insurance that includes all of these type of perils. We pride ourselves on our prompt service and depth of knowledge in this niche market. We use only companies that specialize in this type of business."
In her comments she stressed the need for accurate documentation: “It is important to make sure the collector and/or dealer has an inventory in place and knows what they have. For owned items, document both the cost and selling price. For consigned items, have consignment agreements in place. Electronic inventory is ideal because it can be backed up. This documentation will be needed to confirm the inventory in the event of a claim and it also will guarantee that the dealer/collector is getting the correct insurance limits to protect their valuables in the event of a loss. The collector/dealer should maintain accurate records showing purchases and sales. Photographs are helpful but not imperative. This is important because when there is an actual loss, the claim process goes more smoothly when the records are clear.”
“For private collections,” she said, “we recommend that items be listed as a schedule with descriptions and values. The total schedule can be insured for the total value of the collection. The collection may be separated by type of items: rare books, fine arts, jewelry, antiques, etc. because different pricing may apply to each category.
“Depending on the type of policy, we recommend that the dealer/collector either have a scheduled policy or a policy with general aggregate. Many book dealers have a general policy without a schedule. Another option is to purchase an insurance policy called “blanket policy limit.” Usually, there is a per item limit with this type of policy. The difficulty here is when there is a claim, there is no specific value to reference. The process to settle a claim with this policy takes longer; however, it is another way to insure collections. A client would need umbrella coverage if they wish to protect themselves or their business from any possible liability.
"When it comes to determining value she said, “We ask our insureds to keep up-to-date appraisals for the most valuable items as well as including the market condition for rare books.
“Appraisers often will look at comparable sales in order to determine value, so it is important to know the details and have a record about the books including publication year, edition, author. In order to determine value of whole collections or libraries, we need to have an understanding of the inventory – which is why it is important to know what you have.
“We would use the scheduled values based on appraisals for the individual items, and, if the collection has a specific focus, there could be an overall collection value due to the unique nature of the collection. Usually, in the collection world, the parts are greater than the whole but if it is a rare collection, it could go the other way.
“We prefer to focus on insuring businesses within the US. Our fine art insurance policies include worldwide coverage, including exhibitions and transit. As for rates, she said, “In most cases, rates are based on a per $100 of replacement value.”
"Insuring items in transit whether for loan, exhibit or sale is something that needs to be understood and carefully considered, especially when materials of high value are involved.
“If transit coverage is included in the policy,” Michals said, “it is recommended that items be professionally packed for shipment and a reputable, specialty shipper be used. When on exhibit and/on loan, it is important to understand the contractual liabilities, meaning who is responsible—for example, on consigned items, the insured should always have a written consignment agreement in place. Make sure the values are listed on agreements and that they are accurate.
“When packing for shipping,” she continued, “it is best to wrap each book in acid-free tissue and place it between two archival boards so that the books do not shift in transit. Each book can then be wrapped in a material such a bubble wrap for extra protection. It is best to ship books upright as if they were sitting on the shelf, whenever possible. When packing books in a box, fill any voids with a material such as bubble wrap to limit movement. We suggest double boxing the books for added protection and do not pack multiple books so that they are heavier than one person could lift.
What is the procedure in the event of loss or damage?
“When an insured has a loss," Michals said, "we notify the insurance company immediately. We ask the insured to provide us with full details, documents, and photos, if possible. We recommend that they contain the loss to the best of their capabilities, and keep all receipts for cleanups or emergency repairs until the claim adjuster is in touch with them.
“The claim adjuster will either look at pictures of damaged items or, depending on the size of the loss, visit the loss location to better understand what caused the loss. The claim adjuster will want to see price listings, receipts for owned items, and consignment agreements for consigned items. The adjuster also may ask the insured to clarify the condition of the books before the loss. If an item damaged is not a total loss, a loss depreciation can be negotiated, or if there is disagreement, an appraiser may be able to assist in determining the loss in value. We only use reputable insurers that specialize in insuring these items. There are times when insurers call in outside appraisers. This is usually a process that takes some time but the goal for all insurers, especially the companies we use, is to settle claims fairly.
As for the claims timeline: “Some claims can be settled within a day or two. Others, depending on the type of loss and what is needed to settle the claim, can be settled within 30 days. If you have accurate paperwork and receipts showing your cost for owned items or consignment agreements for consigned works, the process will move much faster. This is why we recommend having a complete inventory.
Michals declined to comment on other companies offering similar services, but added, “Competitive quotes are obtained by completing an application, providing complete details of the risk/business, prior insurance company information, and loss information. By providing the insurance company with this information, the insurance company is able to assess the risk and provide the best rate and coverage."
Her own opinion is: “We recommend only using specialty brokers and insurance companies for insuring rare books and fine art collections. Claims in this arena can be complex with loss in value and repairs. A collector does not want to find out after a claim that the insurance company has no idea what it is doing. We only work with insurance companies with specific knowledge of fine art risks and have expert claims staff to assess losses.
"As they say, 'you only need insurance when you do.' Do not find out when it is too late that you are with the wrong insurance broker and company.”
Contact info for Susan Michals: VP Operation
Michals Insurance Agency
85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472
General Phone: (617) 924 1100 General Fax: (617) 926 2162
Links Selected links on the general topic of insurance for collectibles:
Some advice posted by ABEBOOKS.com adapted or a piece that originally appeared in Fine Books and Collecting Magazine: www.abebooks.com/books/rarebooks/Avid-Collector/Dec06/book-insurance.shtml
This is the website for American Collectors Insurance which offers policies for a wide variety of collectibles including books and maps, but not fine arts: americancollectors.com/plans/collectibles/faq/
Website for Bernard Fleischer & Sons, which offers a wide variety of coverage for collectibles: artinsurancenow.com/blog/category/collectables/books-and-maps/
Huntington Block is a long established firm specializing in fine arts insurance: www.huntingtontblock.com/Coverages/Fine-Art-Insurance
A brochure for collectors from Collectibles Insurance Service: collectinsure.com/CollectInsure/media/Documents/CollectorBrochure_Agents.pdf?ext=.pdf
NB: This article provides general information we hope our readers will find useful in assessing their needs. It is not intended as an endorsement of one particular company or companies and their service(s). We urge readers to review the information provided, ask questions that apply to their own situation, and obtain comparative quotes.