Dear Lee,

Collectors buy antiques to create a unique living space. The excitement begins when the “new” antique is delivered to your home. But this can be a tricky process. We once bought a large Victorian sideboard for a bargain price because we knew the hardware was marked with the initials of a famous maker. When it was delivered, we noticed the decorative gold-plated hardware on a front door was missing a screw. They searched the truck and couldn’t find it, but we finally made a deal to take the piece without the screw and get a gold-plated one made that they would pay for.  

When you get a delivery, check for damaged or missing feet, new scratches, damaged loose shelves, broken glass and replaced parts. When it is packed and shipped to you, be sure to get the paperwork that proves it is insured for the price you paid and keep all the information that was included in the auction catalog about the history of the piece. When you get the delivery, if possible, keep the shipping boxes and the antique until you and the shipper agree there is no missing part or damage.

Once you’ve cleared those hurdles, the fun starts. It is time to decide where to put the piece in your home. Antiques have special display problems. Be sure if you get a large, heavy stained-glass piece, or a heavy metal wall hanging, that it is hung by an expert. The supporting hooks must be inserted through the wall into studs. We had a large window leaning on a wall for years until we added an extra room and put a beam across the roofline to use to hang the window like a picture. It was listed separately on our fine arts insurance, even though it could be considered part of the house. (Tip: Talk to your insurance agent about insuring antiques. Some of the rules are different.)

Be careful not to hang any art or even wooden objects in the sunlight. Old and new prints, lithographed or painted posters will fade after about five years of exposure. Fabrics and photographs fade, too. Rooms should have the proper humidity and heat levels.

With smaller valuable items, find safe storage. My brother saved pennies, nickels, and dimes in the cards used by coin collectors when he was young. Years later, we found the cards in the attic with no coins. Someone had taken all of them. Remember, anything silver or gold can be melted for cash. If you have a larger valuable collection of coins or jewelry, or other medium-size valuables and store them at home rather than in a bank vault, your safe must be bolted to the floor. A small safe can be carried away. 

While you may be tempted to hide valuables in your house, don’t forget to tell a trusted relative or friend where you put things — like the back of pictures, hems of drapes, in the sugar bowl, shoes, stored purses, bed pillows, behind drawers and attic beams. At a house sale near us the family of a woman with no local relatives went through the house locating the good paintings and other known valuables. But they couldn’t find the diamond bracelet they all remembered.  After the sale they found a note explaining the bracelet was hidden in a special bed pillow—and the pillow was sold along with all the sheets and towels to someone who paid cash. It may still be in the pillow.

One last “don’t hide it here” story. I had a 4-foot-high iron Victorian urn by a famous United States maker that was in the center of our front yard. I filled it with flowers each summer. One day, I decided I could hide a house key in the dirt in the urn under the flowers so I wouldn’t get locked out. One morning I got up and noticed a circle of dead grass in the lawn and realized the planter and plants were gone. It must have taken at least two men with a lift truck to take it away. I called every flea market in the area to see if it might be for sale there, but we never found it. I had to pay to rekey all my doors since if anyone ever found the key, they could break into my house.



One response to “Protecting Your Antiques”

  1. Hookman says:

    Excellent stories and even better advice. Thank you so much.

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