Gather & Bind:
The Fundamentals of Book Collecting

Part Ten: Protecting My Investment IV – Insurance

DESPITE EVERY EFFORT WE MAKE to protect the books in our collections from harm, sometimes disaster strikes, and they are either severely damaged or lost altogether. These disasters fall into two categories: natural ones, such as flood and fire; and man-made varieties, such as theft and damage or loss during shipment. Like every other major asset, collectables—including books—should be adequately insured.

Most of us tend to think our books are covered under our homeowner’s policies or renter’s insurance. There are provisions in household insurance that cover a fixed dollar amount of loss of possessions other than the house itself, and we blithely believe that the replacement value of our books is included. But, surprisingly enough, this is not the case.

The problem is that with ordinary homeowner’s insurance, the original purchase price of a book is all that will be paid (and that, only reluctantly). For instance, if you happen to own a first edition of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep in dust wrapper in near fine condition, it would easily bring a retail price of $10,000 or more in today’s marketplace. The cover price, however, when Knopf published it in 1939, was $2.00. Guess which amount a claim adjuster will use? Dan Walker of Collectibles Insurance Agency relates the story of a Volume 1, Number 1 copy of Superman comic book that was destroyed in a fire. The homeowner’s insurance company took over a year to pay for the loss, and when they issued a check, it was for the comic’s cover price, five cents.

If a substantial portion of your assets is invested in your collection, then you need to have it covered under an insurance policy that is specifically written to include its replacement value. There are several alternatives for purchasing such a policy. One is to purchase a collectables rider to your basic homeowner’s insurance policy that covers the value of the books. Some companies are capable of doing this; others are not. It is best to check with your insurance agent to discover whether such an option is available under your policy and, if it is, what sort of documentation is required to establish the value of the books, and to maintain your policy. (Keep in mind that these requirements can vary widely. We ran across one company that wanted an updated inventory monthly, complete with pictures and proof of current market value for each book.)

Most companies require a written appraisal from a qualified book appraiser. Even if your company does not, it is best to keep a list of the books in your collection, including descriptions, purchase prices and current market values. Computers are wonderful tools for compiling and maintaining such a list, and a physical copy, either a printout or on disk, should be kept off-site.

The second alternative is to purchase an entirely separate policy from a company that specializes in collectables. There are several advantages in this. First among these is that the company understands collectors and collectables, and are more likely than a usual insurer to settle a claim satisfactorily. Second is that a specialist company is likely to be familiar with the fluid nature of book collections, which change with some regularity. One such company requires only a current list of individual items that have a retail value of $5,000 or more and an estimated total value for the rest of the books in the collection. Once again, however, it is best to maintain a complete list with a copy stored off-site.

The good news is that, since losses are infrequent, insurance rates for collectable books are relatively low. Those of us who love our collections tend to take care of them. If, however, something unforeseen does happen, it is a comfort to know that they are insured.

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