Protecting art & collectibles in transit

The globalization of the art market and the rise of E-commerce and the internet have made far-flung acquisitions possible. Demand for the rapid transportation of objects from city to city, country to country and continent to continent places an emphasis on sound packing methods and appropriate insurance cover.

Most dealers pack items properly and insure them until they reach you. Auction houses, restorers and other collectors or internet sellers are less likely to insure the items and you may have to make sure your own insurance is adequate and covers items just purchased or being sent to you.

It is possible to get stand alone policies for transits, but many will carry general transport conditions requiring that objects are adequately packed so as to "withstand normal handling during transit".

Some policies go further, stipulating that "insured property is packed and unpacked for transit by professional packers". This type of clause doesn't require every item to be packed to the very highest museum-type standards (though insurers might like this) but it does mean insurers will review the method of transportation used, if a claim is submitted.
If you are sending items, the physical protection of an object through adequate packing and sensible labeling is the most important thing that you can do to save time, money and aggravation.

Good packing impresses and avoids the disappointment of items arriving damaged.

With some objects now being bought speculatively on "hunch" from small 'thumbnail' images, adequate packing avoids the huge disappointment of potentially great finds arriving in pieces. It is far more preferable for a work of art to arrive safely than to have to make a claim under an insurance policy. Also, as those with a passion for art and antiques know, we are the guardians of objects: to be responsible for damage to (or destruction of) an object which has survived for generations is a tragedy.

Consider whether it would be better to use a specialist fine art shipper and packer than to try and pack and send an item yourself. If you are content to forward objects yourself, the following prudent guidelines should help you to meet conditions and avoid disappointment.

Physically protect objects by adequate packing. Bubble-wrap alone, lined with acid-free tissue, might be sufficient for a hand carried journey across a town/city - but would not be adequate for an international transit.

Place small objects in much larger boxes than needed: there is less chance of a larger package getting lost in transit. Ideally, double box items with a layer of foam chipping between.

Ensure that contents are not vulnerable to cutting when they are unwrapped. In particular antiquarian books and canvas paintings should be sturdily wrapped to avoid their being slashed by box-cutters during the opening process.

Always check for damage immediately upon arrival, ideally in front of the delivery service: if this is not possible write "unchecked" or "not inspected" beside the details. It is not good practice to unwrap objects later and try and notify those at fault weeks afterwards.

Do not write the value the goods on the outside of a parcel. If it is essential to state a value for export purposes, ensure that this information is discreetly placed in an envelope on the side of a package.

If packages need to be kept upright etc then ensure that the axis is clearly and correctly indicated.

Avoid labels that emphasis the valuable nature of the goods inside. If you are sending goods to an antique shop or jeweler consider what information is prudent to include.

Avoid the risk of 'signed for' packages being taken-in by neighbors by stating that they are for the "named recipients only".

If using couriers or the post use their monitored/tracked services. Make sure you have established definitively who is responsible for insurance (ideally in writing).

If you are not confident about sending goods to a particular area make sure that all costs go forward and that insurance is the responsibility of the addressee/recipient. You do not want to be told that items have not arrived or have arrived damaged if you have done everything right.

If you are relying on a third party's cover or on the insurance of a shipper and packer, courier or postal service, make certain you have read their Terms & Conditions. They might not cover "unique" items (i.e. works of art), may only pay the cost of the loss or damage (with no "depreciation" cover), or only cover goods under the 'Warsaw Convention' for a small amount of 'Special Drawing Rights' [SDR's] per kilo.

If you are relying on your own insurance policy make sure that you have sufficient cover. If you are using a courier or postal service on higher value objects check whether this is appropriate for the insurance to apply.

If you are undertaking a transit yourself avoid leaving objects in any unattended vehicle. Make certain that you know what the implications are if you do have to do this. (Many policies have an "Unattended Vehicles Clause" excluding cover or stipulating a limit and requiring a vehicle to be locked and alarmed and items to be kept out of view).

If you are "hand-carrying" valuable objects make sure that you have arranged all your transportation in advance and make certain that you are able to keep packages with you as hand luggage. Airport baggage handlers are not museum technicians, the luggage carousel is not suited for the conveying of art and trying to hail cabs with very valuable baggage is perilous.

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