SAVING STUFF

How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions

by Don Williams, Senior Conservator Smithsonian Institution and Louisa Jagger

a book review

As Don Williams humorously writes in his introduction:

Saving Stuff” is about preserving and maintaining “the museum of you”. This museum is made up of the objects that have special value for you. I can’t stop an earthquake, flood, or alien invasion, but I can share how to prevent most homegrown catastrophes as well as how to go about saving stuff: comic books, wedding dresses, baseball cards, furniture, stamps, papers, film, pictures, records, DVDs, CDs, doll houses, flags, and weird and wacky things like Cousin Cecil’s African water buffalo head or your private collection of sheep’s eyeballs kept by your grandfather in mayonnaise jars. In this book I will show you how to save almost anything you want.”

At the time of publication, the author was the Senior Conservator of the Smithsonian Institution. His years of experience in the conservation and preservation of objects, mark him as an expert in his field.

His writing collaborator, Louisa Jagger, is a “saver of stuff” and the stories she shares revolve around common mistakes she has made in caring for her own collectibles, mistakes she hopes she can help the reader avoid.

According to the author, this book is not meant to be read from cover to cover. It is important to read through Chapters 1 and 2. There the reader will find basic important information about how to care for objects in general.

The following 13 chapters consist of in-depth discussions covering a particular category of collectible as well as how to care for and preserve each object. Since each type of collectible has its own section within the category chapter, the reader can turn to the chapter to find the information he or she is most interested in without having to read through the entire book.

Williams includes a Risk Chart for Collectibles at the end of Chapter 1. Each category of collectible — paper, glass and ceramics, wood and baskets, textiles, metals, photos, paintings, watercolors, pastels, plastics — is listed and across the page are the risks for damage from which the object would be most in danger. The risks, depending on the object, include light, insects and mold, handling and misuse, contaminants, normal use, temperature and moisture.

He also includes puppies and kittens (and children) who “…inflict 90 percent of the damage on collectibles as compared to grown-up pets. As a note of encouragement, pet’s manners often improve with age. Kid’s manners do, too.”

Included in these two chapters are ideas on how to decide what you would like to save.

Williams says, “People save stuff for sentimental as well as for financial reasons. Deciding what is a collectible is all about what is important to you.”

Unless you have unlimited space and resources, you can’t save everything, and so most people are forced to make choices. Once choices are made, don’t feel guilty, because it is okay to sell, give or throw stuff away.

The author stresses the importance of prioritizing to compile a list of objects. Two worksheets for this purpose are included at the end of Chapter 2. On Worksheet 1: Why It Is Important to You and on Worksheet 2: Everything You Know.

 Completing Worksheet 2 is vital because it asks the questions who, what, when, and where.

Who owned it? Who made it? How did you acquire it? Do you plan to leave it to someone?

What is its value?  What did you pay for it and do you have the original bill of sale? What is it made of? What is its condition?

When was the object made and when did you or your family acquire it?

Where did it come from and are there marks to give you clues to its origin or maker?

A list like this would also provide valuable information to family heirs, to appraisers for purposes of valuation, and to insurance adjusters in the event of damage or loss due to earthquake, fire or flood.

Interwoven throughout the chapters are Don’s Tips, where the author shares his vast experience and knowledge of preservation and includes “everything from debunking old wives’ tales to novel uses of everyday materials around the house.” From never wrap your silver in Saran Wrap to never use furniture polish, as well as an interesting comment on the “mythology of cedar chests”, are among the many useful nuggets of information.

He advises when it is necessary to get a second opinion. Williams states: “If you are faced with the unenviable task of sorting through a garage, attic or basement filled with family stuff, you might be wise to have an appraiser take a quick walk-through with you to advise you on what to keep and what is really ready for the dumpster.”

The final section of the book is entitled Resources and contains a complete A to Z list of what the author describes as Your Saving Stuff Tool Kit.  Everything anyone would need to maintain and safely keep every kind of collectible is briefly and clearly described. A list of suppliers where all of these tools can be found is also included.

Saving Stuff, as stated on the back cover of this comprehensive guide, “is for both the serious collector and the sometimes sentimentalist. With step-by-step instructions, detailed illustrations, tips for making the things you use every day last, and stories about how the Smithsonian takes care of our national treasures, Saving Stuff is the only book you need to take care of the stuff you love.”

Source

Saving Stuff: How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions

Don Williams and Louisa Jagger, Fireside Book, Simon & Schuster. New York, 2005, 365 pages, ISBN 9780743264167

Other Sources

 Downsizing the Family Home.  What to Save, What to Let Go

Marni Jameson, Sterling Publishers. 2016

Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand, Downsizing the Home Press. 2004, Kindle Edition. 2013

Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life

Peter Walsh, Rodale Books. 2017

Downsizing the Family Home: What To Do With All the Stuff

Interview with Linda Hetzer and Janet Hulstrand for Next Avenue by Jill Yanish, Forbes Magazine. March 27, 2014

Don Williams retired from the Smithsonian in December of 2012 after 30 years as Senior Furniture Conservator. He purchased a large barn in Illinois, dismantled it and re-assembled it in the rural Virginia mountains. He now resides at the Barn on White Run where he offers classes and workshops. He writes articles and books, researches historical craft and artifacts, and constructs and conserves furniture and decorative arts. He also makes and sells tools and supplies for restoration, conservation and construction.

There Will Be Art – PST: LA/LA

This exploration of Latin American and Latino art, led by the Getty Museum, includes more than 70 exhibitions across Southern California. Art and cultural institutions from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, and from San Diego to Santa Barbara are taking part in “thematically linked exhibitions and program highlighting different aspects of Latin American and Latino art from the ancient world to the present day.”

On the introduction page of a small booklet, billed as a travel guide to the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA experience, is an overview of the exhibition’s purpose: “With topics as varied as luxury arts in the Pre-Colombian Americas, 20th-century Afro-Brazilian art, alternative spaces in Mexico City, the mural tradition, and the boundary-crossing practices of Latino artists, exhibitions range from mono graphic studies of individual artists to broad surveys involving countries throughout Latin America.”

This wide-ranging exhibition opened at the end of September 2017 and dates for closing vary by institution. Some events close at the end of January and others continue on into the spring of 2018.

Ancient Aztec calendar

Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas

Showcasing spectacular luxury arts from the Royal courts of the Maya, Incas and Aztecs.  The Getty Center – through January 28, 2018.

 

Merged Flag of USA and Mexico painted on concrete.

Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico 1915-1985

This is the first exhibition to examine design trends between California and Mexico that shaped the architecture and material culture of each place.  LACMA – until April 1, 2018

 

Mexican mural painting, California

California Mexicana: Missions to Murals 1820-1930

Exploration of how part of Mexico became California and the role of the visual arts in creating distinct pictorial motifs and symbols that helped define the new California.  Laguna Art Museum – until January 14, 2018.

 

Kukuli Velardi – Artist

Personal and confrontational ceramic sculptures based on traditional forms and surface decorations of Pre-Colombian ceramics.  American Museum of Ceramic Art Pomona –  until January 28, 2018.

Kinesthesia Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969

Palm Springs Art Museum – until January 18, 2018.

A Search for Living Architecture: Albert Frey and Lina LoBardi

Explores the visionary building and design of two mid-century architects who shared a belief that architecture is a way to connect people, nature, building and living.  Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center – until January 7, 2018.

Everyone is encouraged to visit familiar as well as new institutions. As the introduction states “Wherever your journey takes you, there will be art.”

The website pacificstandardtime.org has a full and up-to-date list of all the exhibitions, events and locations.

As a result of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, more than 60 new illustrated exhibition catalogues have been published and are available from Southern California bookstores and individual museums. The publications are “…a permanent legacy of the ground-breaking scholarship on Latin American and Latin art generated through more than five years of planning, research and collaborative work among hundreds of curators, artists and scholars.”  A complete list can be viewed at assets.contentful.com. Additional details and descriptions of selected catalogs can be found on the website artfixdaily.com.

As a personal property appraiser, it is important to be aware of major exhibitions.  They may have an impact on the collecting community, influence trends and affect values.

Print Source

There Will Be 70+ Exhibitions Across Southern California.  There Will Be Art.

Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.  Latin American and Latino Art in LA.

Presenting Sponsors:  The Getty Museum and Bank of America

Contains complete list of sites, events and themes including a location map.  Available from the Getty Museum.

 

Art Deco 1925-1940 …. Looking to the Future.

Radio with art deco streamlined styling.

The predominant motif in Art Deco design was the appearance of “Speed”. Streamlined sweeping curves based on aerodynamic principles – a symbol of forward movement.

The pessimism – some critics considered it decadence – that pervaded society at the end of the 19th century was replaced with a sense of optimism and excitement. People looked ahead to the new century witnessing the industrial progress that was giving them hope for an economic and social revival.

The term “Art Deco” derived from the 1925 Paris L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The purpose of the exhibition was to “unite art with industry”. The concept was to embody the ideas of this modern age with a complete break from the past. The work of designers was not to imitate earlier historical periods. They could, however, draw on ancient designs for inspiration, as long as the artisans adapted the designs in the modern style.

Gathering from diverse sources, we see motifs from Mayan and Aztec cultures; Egyptian themes that coincided with the discovery and worldwide interest in King Tut’s tomb, and interest in the striking patterns and colors inherent in African and Japanese art.

Walnut art deco dining table

The cost of fine handcrafted objects was out of the reach of many. Exotic woods, and other expensive materials made this new design form available only to the very wealthy. A need was created for production of machine-made objects in quantity, cost-efficient, modern looking and affordable to all; items that were not only functional, but beautiful in their simplicity.

Streamlined designs were applied to cars, trains, ships, and objects whose purpose was certainly not forward movement. Buildings, gas pumps, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, radios and gramophones, kitchen utensils, toasters, ceramics, pottery and glassware, clocks and wall sconces, and other everyday items all displayed this new form of design. Striking geometric patterns, bold and contrasting use of color, symmetry, lack of frills and of anything faintly romantic defined the style.

Art Deco concepts permeated all things in the 1920s and 1930s – architecture, fine art, cinema, graphics and advertising posters, and in fashion design for both men and women.

Bakelite and other new synthetic materials were particularly well-suited to the mass production of Art Deco jewelry. Now anyone regardless of their social position could afford the trendy and decorative pieces that were now available to all.

Sleek-looking metals, stainless steel, aluminum and chrome appeared in even the most common household items. The cocktail shaker became the symbol of fashionable sophistication in many middle-class homes. If you enjoy the “Thin Man” movies or any movie from the 1930’s, spot the cocktail service that was always present as part of the set decoration.

Walk into a home department at Macy’s, and you will most likely see a display of Fiesta Ware. Still popular with its simple, streamlined forms in brilliant colors, it was introduced by the Homer Laughlin China Co. of West Virginia in 1936.The line was noted for its Art Deco styling which featured concentric circles and a variety of bright colors and shapes. It was discontinued in 1972 due to changing tastes in dinnerware styles, but was reintroduced in 1984 with new glazes and colors. Popular again, Fiesta Ware is considered to be the most collected brand of china in the United States.

An organization devoted to the preservation of Art Deco in all its forms is the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. They are sponsoring a festival aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California from August 18-20. It will be a weekend of total immersion in the Art Deco era. They are also planning their annual Avalon Ball in January in the Casino on Catalina Island. The Catalina Casino on Avalon Bay, built in 1929, is a remarkable example of Art Deco design. Information and many interesting articles on preservation as well as other topics and events can be found on their website.

The theme of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair – “A Century of Progress” sums up the underlying ideas of the period known as Art Deco:  Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts.

Art Deco survived into the early 1940’s when it evolved to mid-century modernism.

One of the most interesting assignments I’ve had was to appraise a large collection of Art Deco period furniture and posters for insurance purposes.   Identifying the exotic veneers was a challenge.

Sources

Definitive Guide to the Decorative Arts of the 1920s and 1930s. Alastair Duncan.

Harry N. Abrams New York, 2009.

Art Deco 1910-1939. Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, Ghislaine Wood, Editors

V & A Publications. London, 2003. (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Art Deco Society of Los Angeles. www.adsla.org

Art Deco. Young Mi Kim. Friedman/Fairfax. Architecture and Design Library

Art Nouveau and Art Deco Jewelry. Lillian Baker. Collector Books Paducah, Kentucky, 1981.

Websites

History of Art Deco. Bryan Mawr College. www. brynmawr.edu

Art Deco. The Art Story – Modern Art Insight. www.theartstory.org

Art Deco. Wikipedia.

Art Deco perfume bottle

Caring For Cut Glass

The American Cut Glass Association has a very informative website.   In addition to membership information there are tips on identifying cut glass, dating and patterns.

There are several free articles from past issues of their journal “The Hobstar”.  Among them are two articles by Vickie Matthews.

The Care and Cleaning of Cut Glass” has tips on handling, washing and displaying.  Since I’m located in an area prone to earthquakes, I especially like the suggestion of using a neutral wax or gel product sold at antique shops, hardware stores or on-line.   These products can be removed without harming the glass or signatures.

Packing and Shipping of Cut Glass” has tips on wrapping, boxing and using various shipping services.  Many of these tips can be used for transportation of glass, china or collectibles in general.

One of the best places to view cut glass in Southern California is the Historical Glass Museum in Redlands.   They have an entire room dedicated to American Cut Glass.  Located in a Victorian house, they have many other types of American made glass; the largest collection West of the Mississippi.  Check their website for upcoming lectures.

Reference: The Collector’s Handbook

The Collector’s Handbook, 10th edition  is written by James Halperin, Gregory Rohan and Mark Predergast in conjunction with Heritage Auctions.  Updated in 2016,  it contains sections on administering, estate planning, evaluating and selling your collection.  There are good references in the appendices as well.  At 181 pages, there is a wealth of information and advice for collectors and their heirs on how to protect their investment.

There are discussions in several chapters about the importance of having your collection appraised for different reasons including insurance, planning, donation, selling, estate tax or division.  It also mentions the importance of using professional and qualified personal property appraisers.

The book is available by free download on the Heritage Auctions website (registration required) or by hard copy for a nominal fee.  I highly recommend taking the time to download and keep a copy of this handy reference book.

Resource:

The Collector’s Handbook,

2016 Revised Edition, Ivy Press, Inc.

 

 

 

Death, Debt, Divorce, Disaster – The 4 D’s

We don’t like to think about it, but there are several situations where our art, antiques and collectibles will be affected in a major way.   Life’s events have a way of separating us from our possessions.

The Canadian Chapter of the International Society of Appraisers recently posted a good article on the subject titled “Not Till Death, Debt, Divorce Do We Part” by Julia McLaren.   It discusses the first three D’s and how proper planning and use of professional appraisers can assist during these times.

I would like add a fourth “D” to the list ….. disaster.  Our beloved objects can be damaged or in the worst case scenario, destroyed.  I discussed this subject in an earlier post titled  “Protecting Your Valuables from a Disaster”.

Protection of your collection and planning for the future is essential.  By having an inventory and professional appraisal, you can make informed decisions regarding insurance, donation, division or liquidation.  At the end of every episode of the TV show “Strange Inheritance” they remind us “you can’t take it with you”.

7 Best Practices for Gifting Art to Museums

Appraisals for Charitable Deductions in Southern California

 

Investment News has a good article titled “The Art of Legacy Planning – 7 Best Practices for Gifting Art to Museums”.  In the article they state that high net worth individuals spend an average of 17% of their wealth on art and antiques, a passion investment.   Part of managing this investment is planning for the future of the collection.  One option is to donate to a non-profit organization such as a museum.  To maximize the benefit from a donation these steps are suggested:

1. Create a plan with your client, legal counsel and an independent art adviser that includes the donor’s close family or other heirs as appropriate. Including family and/or heirs in the process can help clarify a donor’s intent, prevent future conflict and actively aid in preserving the donor’s legacy. The plan should include having the artwork professionally appraised by an accredited appraiser with relevant experience in the type of artwork being donated. The appraisal cannot be made earlier than 60 days before the donation. In cases where donors are concerned about whether the IRS may accept a valuation, such as when there are fluctuating markets for similar artwork, an IRS Statement of Value may be obtained for artwork valued at $50,000 or more to provide the donor with certainty.

2. Try to place artwork in museums that have missions and continuing collection interests that strongly align with your clients’ intent and contents of their collection. Clients often will know of strong prospects. But clients focused and passionate about their collection may not recognize how their collection will best fit with a museum’s broader collection, its goals and its limitations in space and other resources.

3. Consider art museum policies and practices for donors and “deaccessioning” (removing items from museum holdings, usually to sell them). Mr. Welch pointed out that “many museums want to retain the ability to improve their collections through the acquisition of better examples. In such a case, a gifted artwork might be deaccessioned and the proceeds used to acquire a superior work. When that happens, the donor’s name of the original gift typically appears in the newly acquired work’s credit line.”

4. Consider museums that are members of monitoring or regulating associations. For example, the Association of Art Museum Directors requires a written policy for “deaccession principles, procedures and processes”. They also require that “funds received from the disposal of a deaccessioned work shall not be used for operations or capital expenses. Such funds, including any earnings and appreciation thereon, may be used only for the acquisition of works in a manner consistent with the museum’s policy on the use of restricted acquisition funds. In order to account properly for their use, AAMD recommends that such funds, including any earnings and appreciation, be tracked separate from other acquisition funds.”

5. Check the health of organizational finances by looking at Form 990 tax filings and/or charity rating agencies like Charity Navigator. One quick test is to look at total assets and total liabilities. Stable charities — like stable businesses — generally have assets exceeding liabilities.

6. Consider supporting museum operating costs as part of a donor’s commitment to their gift of artwork. Financially supporting the museum is another way of helping to preserve a donor’s legacy and a logical step in a client’s charitable, financial and tax planning.

7. As you draft an agreement for the gift, consider including a “statement of intent” that clearly and personally outlines the desires and expectations of the donor for their donation. Sharing this statement with family (and/or other heirs) and the beneficiary museum can help clarify intent, expectations and address any concerns of heirs or the museum. A statement of intent can also clarify donor intent for future generations and may help prevent legal challenges. Donors who bequeath their art collections to museums share an intimate part of their lives. Advisers can help provide guidance that will preserve and protect their client’s wishes, smooth the process and help establish their client’s legacy for the benefit of future generations.

Source: Investment News The first item on the list includes having your artwork professionally appraised by an accredited appraiser.  Credentials for qualified personal property appraisers are earned with their professional appraisal societies.

About the Author: Kathi Jablonsky, ISA CAPP is a certified appraiser of personal property designated in Antiques and Residential Contents with the International Society of Appraisers. She is based in Southern California and serves the San Diego and Palm Desert regions.

Are Your Prized Possessions Protected?

Insurer USAA posted an article titled “Are Your Prized Possessions Protected?” explaining the basics of homeowners insurance coverage and when valuable personal property insurance might be needed.   Antiques, fine art, silver, jewelry and several additional items can be covered under a specialized policy.   Included in the article is a list of steps to follow to get the most protection:

  • Check your current coverage. Before getting an additional policy, review your homeowners or renters policy and fully understand what the policy covers and what it doesn’t.
  • Update the appraisals. Keep appraisals current (at least every five years), and notify your insurance company if the value changes. Appraisals should be done by a certified professional appraiser with expertise and credentials in the type of item you are insuring.
  • Keep all documentation. Proof of ownership is required when you report a loss, so the more paperwork you have — receipts, appraisals, financing statements, and repair or cleaning bills — the easier it will be if you have to make a claim.
  • Details matter. Provide your insurance company with a full description of each item. For example, if you are insuring a diamond ring, you want to list the cut, clarity, carat, color, number and measurements of the diamonds, and the type of gold — the more detail the better.
  • Do your part. Keep your valuable possessions properly cleaned, maintained and safely stored to avoid damage, loss and theft.

 

An important part of special coverage is to have your valuable items appraised by a qualified appraiser, and updated every 5 years.

Source: USAA website

ESTATE / LIFE PLANNING APPRAISALS

There are many times in a person’s life when they need to make plans regarding their collections and other personal property:

1) Estate planning

2) Downsizing

3) Distribution to family members

4) Donation

5) Tax planning

An essential part of this process is to have your collection appraised so that you can find out current values and make informed decisions.  The appropriate level of value is Fair Market Value.

Remember, it’s important to choose a qualified appraiser with a designation from a professional appraisal society.

It’s about planning for life’s important moments, and the future of your treasured collections and family heirlooms.

 

 

Protecting Your Valuables From A Disaster

 

Fire season is upon us in California and it’s time to be prepared.  As a personal property appraiser, I’d like to offer the following tips on protecting your valuable possessions prior to a disaster:

  • Photograph and inventory the contents of your home.  You can do it yourself or hire a professional home inventory company.
  • Check with your insurer to see what your policy covers, whether you have an Actual Cash Value or Replacement Value policy and what might need to be appraised.  Many items are not covered on standard insurance policies, such as breakage and earthquake damage.  You may need to purchase an extra policy for valuable articles.
  • Antiques, collections, art and other high value personal property should be appraised for replacement value.
  • Select an independent appraiser from a major appraisal society such as the International Society of Appraisers, who has been designated and tested.
  • Keep one copy of the appraisal in a separate location from the home, e.g. safety deposit box, insurance company, relative, on-line storage.
  • Have the appraisal updated approximately every five (5) years.
  • It’s much better to have your items documented in advance, than to try to deal with a loss claim after the fact.

Helpful Articles:

Will Your Homeowners Insurance Cover You If Disaster Hits? , Sandra Block, USA Today

Antique Insurance Coverage: What Antique Collectors Need to Know to SafeGuard Their Treasures, Insurance Information Institute

Is Your Home Fire Safe?, Insurance Information Network of California