National disasters wreak havoc on antiques and collectibles. Irreplaceable family heirlooms are gone. Collection losses, whether large or small, deeply impact the collecting psyche. Few collectors have the courage, determination, and will to start over. The task is too daunting. It is easier to turn away and forget. No matter how strong the memories, they are a poor substitute for seeing, handling, and displaying objects.
Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornados, or “acts of God” offer little or no warning. If a collector lives in an area where these are common occurrences, there are steps that can be taken to reduce potential damage. These steps will be the focus of a future “Rinker on Collectibles” column.
This column deals with natural disasters such as fires, flooding, hurricanes, and winds where forecasters and civil officials can provide an adequate warning that allows collectors to take action. The timeframe varies. It may only be an hour or two. More likely, it will be measured in days.
Only fools fail to heed the warning. During a natural disaster, the news is filled with people who either decided to wait out the threat for the excitement attached to it or are dumb enough to believe in the “it will never happen to me” concept.
Far too many believe that weather forecasters and public officials are over reactive in issuing dire predictions for fires, flooding, hurricanes, and winds. When a prediction fails to produce disastrous results, people “cry wolf” instead of rejoicing. A good dress rehearsal for an actual natural disaster is the worst thing that can happens if the advice of weather forecasters and public officials prove incorrect. The old adage of practice makes perfect applies.
Individuals who live in areas susceptible to fires, flooding, and hurricanes usually have a personal evacuation plan that focuses on safely removing themselves, family, pets, and key family documents. Few evacuation plans consider precious family heirlooms and collections. This is a mistake.
The first step is to determine the likelihood of a natural disaster impacting a residence. Linda’s and my home in Kentwood, Michigan is not in the traditional hurricane pathway. This is the good news. The bad news is that the area is subject to high winds, which occasionally develop into tornados (the closest tornado that struck during the eight and one-half years we have lived in Kentwood was a little over a mile away) and violent storms that produce intense rainfall that can last for hours and create flooding issues. We live halfway up a hill. Although this may seem safe, the drainage from our uphill neighbors flows down to the wetlands immediately behind our house. Thus far, knock on wood, the water has not backed up to the point where it threatens to come into our basement. We have a sump pump to protect against ground water issues but no generator. If flooding threatens our lower level, I have a plan outlining the order in which things will be moved upstairs after the edges of the basement window and patio door are sealed with duct tape.
Our condo in Altamonte Springs, Florida is directly in the path of hurricanes whose pathway cuts across the Orlando area. Our electric power was off for a week after Hurricane Michael struck in October 2018. Although Linda and I had replaced all our windows with current code approved hurricane windows, we still held our collective breath. Florida officials did ask individuals to consider evacuating. Since we were in Kentwood at the time, I suppose it is safe to say we heeded their advice.
Evacuation orders associated with the threat of a natural disaster are becoming more and more common. Every few weeks, another governor or two is requesting that the President declare a state of emergency for a state or portion of the state a natural disaster so residents are eligible for federal relief.
One antiques and collectibles evacuation plan is insufficient. A minimum of three are needed based on the amount of time available to put the plan in operation. The three plans are based on having one to two hours, three of five hours, and one day to implement.
Before deciding what to include in each of the plans, it is necessary to determine how much space is available for antiques and collectibles in the vehicle or vehicles that will be used during the evacuation. Will one or two vehicles be used? What types of vehicles will be available? Space in a sedan is far different than that found in an SUV or pickup truck.
Most individuals assume evacuation means traveling a long distance. While this may be true for personal safety, it may not necessarily apply to antiques and collectibles. Antiques and collectibles only need to be moved to a safe location that will resist the impact of the natural disaster. Collectors should identify buildings, warehouses, and storage facilities in an hour or two drive that can be utilized in case of an emergency evacuation order. Given sufficient time, the collector may be able to make multiple trips to one of these facilities before having to vacate.
More times than I care to remember, reporters interviewing me ask: “If your home was threatened by a fire or disaster, what is the one thing you would save?” Get a life. One thing be damned. I would grab as many things as I could.
This is not a question that should be dealt with at the last minute or when in a state of panic. First, collectors must create a list of the top 10, 25, 50, or more items in his/her collection. The listing must be prioritized. The most prized (note I did not write valued) possessions must be at top of the list.
What seems like a simple task is not. Most collectors can name the top 10 objects in their collections. Ordering the next 15 or 40 is much harder. This task is more than enough to make most collectors give up and take an “I will face the problem if it ever arises” approach. Of course, they assume “ever” will never occur.
Assuming a priority list is created, collectors next need to determine the location of each item and the amount of time it will take to move those objects to a common area and pack them. One thing is certain, collectors are not going to throw their treasures haphazardly into boxes, the back of an SUV, or into a car trunk.
Collectors need to have adequate packing containers available. A long shelf located along one wall of my Kentwood garage is filled with empty boxes ranging in size from archival file boxes or their equivalent to U-Haul medium size cardboard boxes.
If time is of the essence, collectors will not be able to spend much time packing. The answer is towels – wash towels not paper towels. Although using towels will decrease the amount of space available for objects, they provide adequate protection to prevent objects from moving about or banging into each other and breaking.
If the pending natural disaster is fire, there is little that can be done to save objects left behind. No collector I know has a fire-proof, air raid” shelter for his/her collection. Since I do not know every collector, there might be some who do.
If the potential damage is flooding or water damage cause by a hurricane, there are steps that can be taken. Favorite objects can be put in large plastic containers with the edges taped shut. Once again, they need to be wrapped in such a way that movement will not damage them. Layers of plastic sheeting can be wrapped around jewelry cabinets and other pieces of furniture and taped to prevent water from entering.
Depending on the predicted height of a potential flood, objects can be moved to higher ground within the house. In the case of a hurricane, this will not work. More often than not, the water damage occurs because a roof has been torn off or a tree has fallen on the house.
None of the above events has happened to me. I keep my fingers crossed hoping it never will. Our kitchen dining area looks out over a row of tall pine trees immediately behind our house. They are a constant worry when high wind predictions are issued.
Although I have been lucky so far, I have come into contact through my insurance company consultations with collectors and homeowners who have not been so lucky. The end result is not pretty. Not all occurrences were preventable. Some could have been if the collectors had planned ahead.
LANDMARK COLUMN: This is “Rinker on Collectibles” Column #1700. The only reason it is a landmark is its number. The next landmark column is #1716. It will mark the 33rd birthday of “Rinker on Collectibles.”
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Selected letters will be answered in this column. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You also can e-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.