One of the most entertaining examples of so-called “reality television” currently on the air is the popular PBS show Antiques Roadshow. Each week on Antiques Roadshow, folks line up with their treasured antiques and collectibles to receive what the industry terms a “verbal approximation of value” from one member of a rotating cast of antique and art dealers, auctioneers, and appraisers. But in the real world, what are the steps to securing legal documentation to insure that Native American blanket that once belonged to your grandfather or your mint condition collection of Action Comics? Here are six necessary steps to take when insuring an antique or collectible.

  1. Figure out what you’ve got

    For taxation purposes, U.S. Customs Service defines an antique as 100 years old or more. Collectibles are generally defined as objects made after 1920, usually in large numbers so as to create a market for the object, that have gained value over time as a result of being collected. By definition, some collectibles may also be antiques. Confused? If you’re not sure what exactly you’ve got, but you suspect it is valuable, visit a few antiques and collectibles stores and dealers to see if the market offers a more precise definition of your treasured item.

  2. Get an appraisal

    When Noel Barrett or the Keno brothers reveal an estimate of the value of an item on Antiques Roadshow, be it a battery-powered robot or a hand-carved roll-top desk, they’re not actually providing an appraisal that can be used for insurance purposes. For that, you need to find a reputable appraiser who can establish and document an antique or collectible’s authenticity, provenance, and other attributes that contribute to its value for the purposes of insurance. Local antique dealers can connect you to a good appraiser. You can also check out the to find an appraiser in your area.

  3. Inventory your antiques and collectibles

    Even before you get your antiques or collectibles appraised, you should document and inventory them for your records. Create a filing system that includes a description of each item, measurements, and relevant history. Photograph each antique or collectible as well. Keep this inventory someplace secure, such as a password protected online server. In the event of a fire or natural disaster, it’s best to not keep this kind of documentation solely in paper form in your house.

  4. Choose an insurance policy

    The average homeowner’s insurance policy generally covers your personal property, but may not cover the replacement value of your antiques and collectibles. Consider adding a rider to your homeowner’s policy or purchasing a separate policy in order to cover the appraised replacement value of your antiques. Some insurance companies do specialize in homeowner’s polices that include coverage for antiques. If you’re buying a new policy, take time to shop around and get several quotes.

  5. Take care of your antiques and collectibles

    The value of an antique or collectible can decrease significantly due to condition issues. And unless your antiques or collectibles are in the care of a museum’s professional staff, it’s going to be your responsibility to maintain the condition of each of your treasured items. When it comes to antique furniture, be sure you know what is safe to use for dusting. If you own a valuable painting, be aware that temperature and humidity can cause damage over time. And all those mint condition copies of Action Comics? Keep them away from the neighborhood kids! Talk to reputable dealers and restorers to determine how to best care for and preserve the value of your collection.

  6. Update your insurance policy as needed


    You should revisit your insurance policy at least once a year since the value of antiques and collectibles changes over time. If you buy new antiques or collectibles, your policy may need to be updated, even though many do cover new purchases for a limited amount of time. If you sell something from your collection, your broker can help you determine if you need to adjust your coverage so that you’re not overinsured.