Common causes of damages

The risk of accidental or environmental damage and vulnerability to water, fire and theft comes with owning any valuable object.

Insurance is there to pick up the pieces should the worst happen. But there are a few constructive steps we can take to minimize the possibility. The first step in caring for works of art and other treasured personal possessions is to keep them in optimal conditions.

We have over 50 years of experience in how best to care for different types of valuable objects in just about every imaginable scenario. And while everyone’s circumstances are different, the following guidance is good practice for anyone who wishes to enjoy their precious possessions with proper peace-of-mind.

Water

Whether in the form of floods, burst pipes or overflowing gutters, water is one of the most frequent causes of damage and loss.

  • Clear all gutters annually (or more regularly if your property is close to trees).
  • Regularly check and maintain plumbing and heating systems.
  • Turn water off and drain tanks if the property is unoccupied during winter periods.
  • Inspect water tanks regularly for corrosion and aging. A leak located in the roof can cause catastrophic damage to art and furnishings on every floor.
  • During heavy rain, overloaded mains sewage and water systems can back up, resulting in the flow of waste materials into your home. You can prevent this by fitting non-return valves to your drains.
  • Do not dispose of cooking oil down your sink. This can clog drains and result in water backing up into your home.

Fire

Fire and smoke can have devastating effects on people, buildings, contents and collections.

  • Keep important documents and photographic treasures in a fire safe box.
  • Never leave candles or open fires unattended. Check fireplaces before each winter season, to ensure that chimneys are clear.
  • Equip kitchens (especially those with gas range cookers) with fire extinguishers and blankets for smothering fires.
  • Consider fitting fire doors to isolate higher-risk areas.
  • Because electrical installations deteriorate, equipment and circuitry should be inspected periodically for signs of overload, risk of shock or fire, and inadequate earthing or bonding.
  • In the event of any fire, always put your own safety first and evacuate the property to avoid danger. Close but do not lock doors as you leave. Smoke can damage to your collection significantly.

Theft

If you suspect a break-in, never act on your own. Alert the police at once.

  • Put your own safety first and evacuate the property if possible to avoid any danger.
  • Burglars are less likely to target your property if it appears to be occupied, even if only by pets such as dogs.
  • If a property is left empty, use timers to switch lights on and off.
  • Fit all accessible windows with key-operated window locks. Consider fitting internal bars and grilles to basement windows.
  • Keep good records, including photographs, of your artworks. Should any be lost or stolen, these records will be essential for their recovery.

Accidental damage

Whilst most accidental damage cannot be foreseen, simple housekeeping can often help mitigate loss.

  • Advise cleaners or household staff if any artworks are fragile, require specialist cleaning or shouldn’t be touched. (Spraying glass cleaner onto an unglazed picture can be disastrous, as can dusting photographic prints.)
  • Think carefully about where you place fragile artworks. Try to avoid placing ceramics near stairwells or where they might be knocked over.
  • Don’t over-water plants located on furniture.
  • If employing workmen, move any fragile or vulnerable artworks away from the area of work and access routes. A dropped drill can easily pierce or tear a painting.

Prevention & Advice

In recent years AXA ART has invested and researched heavily into the best ways to manage the storage, display and general safe-keeping of valuable and fragile works of art.

From this research, we recommend a few simple steps you can take to protect your collectibles from the worst effects of aging and decay.

Please note that these are general points of guidance only. For more specific advice, always consult a professional conservator. If you need any further advice on specific areas of preventive and active conservation, AXA ART’s in-house art experts will be happy to assist you.

Works on paper & photography

  • Make sure that there is enough space between the work, the frame and the glass.
  • Do not exhibit in direct sunlight, as damage from light is irreversible.
  • If possible use UV-filtered glazing and rotate works on display.
  • Handle photographs with clean or gloved hands to avoid leaving permanently disfiguring residues such as oils and salts.
  • Backing and mounting should always be composed of high quality conservation materials that do not harm artworks (for instance, acid-free paper and boards).
  • When cleaning glass use a soft cloth.
  • Never spray cleaning agent directly onto glass, as it can seep under the frame.

Works on canvas and wood

  • Avoid direct sunlight and use UV-absorbent laminated glass.
  • Store light-sensitive paintings in a dark environment, but not less than 5 LUX to avoid blackening or “fallout” of some ancient types of paint.
  • If illuminating paintings with spotlights or picture lights, only use bulbs that do not emit heat, such as LEDs.
  • Have paintings cleaned by experts. Any surface dust may be removed with a fine, very soft brush.
  • Avoid touching paintings with your fingers (natural skin oils can damage the work).
  • Avoid using pesticides, air fresheners, or furniture sprays near any artworks.
  • Avoid storing paintings in basements, garages or attics, unless temperature and humidity can be properly regulated.

Glass and ceramics

  • Glass and ceramic objects are fragile and can crack or break on impact. Lift objects with both hands and not by their handles or spouts, which may not be secure.
  • When stacking items for storage, place a cushion of soft material between each piece.
  • Do not store or display where extreme or rapid changes in temperature and humidity are likely.
  • Be cautious using cleaning cloths, as they can snag on rough surfaces or poorly attached decoration.

Plastic objects

  • Aged plastic objects often look more robust than they actually are. Handle carefully.
  • Never expose a plastic object to direct sunlight. Over time, UV light increases brittleness.
  • Always locate plastic objects in a room with balanced climate and low humidity. Even a little moisture can cause permanent damage.
  • Store plastic objects in dark rooms. Inflatable objects are best stored pumped up.
  • Do not place any stickers on plastic objects, as adhesives contain plasticizers which migrate into the plastic.

Furniture

  • Avoid placing antique furniture directly on under-floor heating.
  • To prevent furniture from drying out, either use a humidifier or put a glass of water inside or underneath a cabinet or chest.
  • Avoid placing objects in direct sunlight as this can lead to discoloring and shrinkage.
  • Check regularly for traces of woodworm. Mustard powder-like dust underneath furniture can be a sign of infestation.
  • Isolate infested furniture immediately. Seal it in a large bag and seek professional treatment.
  • Once a year, use a coating of good paste wax to ‘feed’ and polish your furniture.
  • Dry dust with a soft cloth for routine cleaning.
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations to stop antiques developing loose joints.

Jewelry

  • Always return your jewelry to a safe after wearing.
  • Regularly examine the condition of each piece. Check for loose claw settings and (with strands of pearls or beads) for worn strings.
  • Have any weaknesses or damages repaired; one loose claw setting is all it takes to lose a diamond.
  • Have your jewelry professionally cleaned. Keep all of your purchase invoices together in one file.
  • Have your jewelry re-appraised on a regular basis, as both market value and the retail replacement costs can be volatile.
  • Have your watches serviced regularly.

Bronze sculptures

  • Always remember that the most delicate part of bronze is its patina.
  • For cleaning, use a soft shoe brush or duster.
  • For heavy cleaning, use neutral soap with water and soft cloth.
  • Wipe clean, dry with a rag and then allow sculpture to air completely dry.
  • Never use any abrasive cleanser or solvent. These can remove patina and scratch surfaces.
  • If your sculpture is suited for waxing, you can generally use a light furniture wax.

Books

  • Store books out of direct sunlight to prevent bleached spines and paper.
  • Dust books regularly. Try to maintain a constant room temperature and humidity, and ensure regular air circulation.
  • Handle books carefully when removing from shelves.
  • Reach over the spine and pull a book towards you from its furthest point.
  • Do not pack books too tightly or covers will be damaged on removal from the shelves.
  • Do not try to repair books yourself as this might damage them further.
  • Wherever possible, try to maintain room temperature between 16 – 19°C (60 – 66°F), and relative humidity between 45 % – 60%.

Wine

  • Store all wines away from light, especially direct sunlight and florescent lighting. UV rays can penetrate even dark bottles, giving wine an unpleasant smell.
  • Store corked wine bottles on their sides. If stored upright, the corks will eventually dry out and admit air, which will spoil the contents.
  • Storing bottles label-side-up makes it easier to spot sediment.
  • Ensure a constant temperature. For extended aging (over one year), refrigeration is usually essential; even a cellar is not cool enough.
  • Storage temperature should never exceed 24°C (75°F) for very long, as this will cause oxidization.
  • An ideal temperature for a varied wine collection is 12.2°C (54°F). This should never fluctuate by more than 1.6°C (3°F) a day and 2.7°C (5°F) a year (especially when storing red wines, which are more vulnerable to temperature-related problems).
  • Don’t move wine. If possible, store bottles where they won’t be disturbed. Vibrations from heavy traffic, motors, or generators may affect condition.
  • Maintain humidity at 60 – 75%. Because wine ‘breathes’ it should never be stored near anything with a strong smell, as this can permeate the cork and taint the wine.

Coins

  • Coins should be held with clean hands or while wearing soft, clean cotton or latex gloves.
  • Always handle coins over a soft surface for protection in the event of an accidental drop.
  • Always hold a coin by its edge, using your thumb and forefinger. Fingerprints and natural oils can be corrosive and leave lasting marks.
  • Never use metal cleaners. Cleaning coins can reduce their value significantly.
  • Coins should be stored in a consistently cool and dry place. Changes in temperature and moisture can promote tarnish, thus devaluing the pieces.
  • Consider keeping large or valuable collections in a home safe or safety deposit box.
  • Whenever possible, keep coins in their original holders.
  • Modern commemoratives and sets should be bought and sold in their original capsules and cases.
  • Plastic tubes are ideal for rolls of coins. Hard plastic holders such as flips and slabs are best.

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