PROTECTING YOUR TREASURES
Advice from our Art Theft Expert
you collect art? Dolls? Antiques? Pottery?
Coins? Stamps? Other collectible items? Consider
this: more than half of these thefts are from
private homes. We talked with Bonnie Magness-Gardiner,
an archaeologist who served 7 years with the
U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational
and Cultural Affairs and who now manages the
Art Theft program at FBI Headquarters, on
how to protect your treasures.
If you're a collector, why be concerned about
Bonnie: Because art is an investment-and
not just the financial kind. A beautiful work
of art enlivens your home and enriches your
life every day. It becomes like a member of
your family, something you cherish. I'd say
that certainly makes it worth protecting.
What specific steps would you recommend?
Bonnie: Art and other collectibles don't
have serial numbers like cell phones or stereos.
So keep an inventory with detailed descriptions
of the itemsthe type of object, title,
artist, date or period, materials used, measurements,
inscriptions and markings, and any other distinguishing
features. Also, take photos of each item in
your collectionif an object is stolen
a photo will help prove it belongs to you.
One quick way to do that is to lay out your
collection and film it with a video camera.
Just be sure to take still shots that show
the unique characteristics of each work. Then,
keep the inventory and photos in a safety
deposit box or some other separate location.
If your home is damaged by fire or flood,
you don't want to lose your collection and
What about physical security?
Bonnie: There are a few things I'd suggest.
First, take a look at your overall security
measures, look for potential holes, and then
work to fix them. Second, if you have people
working in or around your home, check their
references. Finally, if your collection is
displayed in your home or housed in an accessible
storage area, check it regularly to make sure
everything is still there.
What should collectors do if something is
Bonnie: Call the police immediately and
make sure no one disturbs the crime scene.
Then contact your insurance company and file
a claim. If the stolen item is uniquely identifiable,
has historical significance, and is valued
at more than $2,000, ask the police to add
it to the National
Stolen Art File, a computerized database
of stolen art and cultural property maintained
at FBI Headquarters.
How about the reverse situation: how can you
keep from buying stolen art?
Bonnie: My advice is this: if you're looking
to buy antiques or artwork, stick with reputable
dealers and auction houses that perform "due
diligence" information. Make sure that
the sellers will guarantee that the artwork
has not been stolen and that they have researched
the artwork's "provenance" or chain
of ownership. Caveat emptor: if you don't
buy from someone who can ensure a good title,
you'll be putting yourself at risk of buying
stolen property. If you do and law enforcement
comes calling one day, you'll lose your artwork
and the time and money you invested in it.
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