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Beau Nash: insuring the uninsurable

Words by Duncan Campbell
Antique silver specialist

A top tip on insurance

For as long as anyone can remember, antiques dealers have tended to value their customers’ treasures “for insurance purposes” all the more so if their fee is a percentage of the total. The figure given is, by convention, twice what the item would be likely to make at auction. The principal being that, if the worst happened, the payout would allow for replacement in a quality retail shop.

There is an assumption built into this arrangement that is often plain wrong. For many, the value of their heirloom is vested in its sentimental associations. Most antiques are not unique to the extent that a similar item couldn’t be found, but clearly, unlike new goods, an actual replacement is simply not available.

If the TV explodes or the dining table collapses, replacement insurance is very helpful. However, if Great Uncle Percy’s war medals go missing, there’s not much that can be done. The same might be said about anything that is kept for sentimental reasons.

I recently catalogued an institutional collection of silver that included various very generous gifts, received over many years and mostly inscribed with dedications etc. The only way to replace these things would be to instruct a silversmith and an engraver to produce new facsimiles. This is not only ruinously expensive but also doesn’t really “replace” the original gift, as it will always be a modern pastiche.

After some discussion, we agreed that the insurance figure should be based on the cost of commissioning a new piece of useful silver, not a copy. This was thought to be a much better use of the money and happily meant that the already considerable insurance premium was based on a somewhat smaller number.

It is always worth thinking through the practical aspects of household insurance, particularly where antiques are concerned. The question should be, would you really want to replace them like for like?

Insurance companies benefit enormously from the big premiums on antiques. Your level of cover should suit you and not them.

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