As a child, I remember all the family heirlooms we had at our home. There were so many things that were reminders of another era that we cherished. The only problem was, while we knew the “story” behind them, there wasn’t any documentation of whom, what, when and where. And, there wasn’t really a lot of thought given to listing these treasures or keeping track of them. So when things were lost, stolen or destroyed they were gone forever.
You’ve gone through an awful lot of hard work to collect those antique and vintage pieces you own. Now, you need a little primer on just how to keep track of, document and preserve the information on those pieces in the event that you should need to prove their worth if they are lost or damaged.
We look at methods, tools and website information that can work for you in the documentation of your collection.
Antique: any item that is verifiable over 100 years old.
Vintage: any item that seems out of place or not contemporary for the current decade.
Collectible: any item that is less than 100 years old. There are three types:
1) Artistic and historic objects that are less than 100 years’ old;
2) popular mass-produced, popular items; and
3) Objects whose value is tied to its association to a person, place, event, etc. This would also include memorabilia.
Limited Edition: any item that is produced in a limited number so that each piece will increase in value in the future.
Provenance: the ownership record of any antique object that details the original owner, event or actual photographic evidence showing the original owner with the object. Being able to show photographic proof that you’re antique once belonged to Winston Churchill can go a very long way towards increasing its value.
Keeping track of and documenting your antiques and vintage items can be done in a variety of ways. You can also combine some of the methods listed to develop a more complete and comprehensive documentation package that is tailored to meet your specific needs for your antique and/or vintage collections.
Keeping a list of all of your valuable items may appear to be a daunting task requiring a great deal of time and effort. However, if you ever suffer any loss of these items, you will find this list invaluable. So, let’s get started!
A pencil and paper spreadsheet are available in most stationers (still), or use a spreadsheet if your computer has this available.
List your items in the first column and label the other columns for date of purchase or receipt, who gave it to you, the event it relates to, colour of item, dimensions, any kind of markings, serial/model numbers, etc. You might also want to assign each item its own number for tracking or reference purposes later.
For those who are tech-savvy, using your computer and storing your documentation online, in the cloud or on a removable flash drive might be right for you. Of course, you certainly can use the spreadsheet capabilities of your personal computer, laptop or iPad. You can also get a free 45-day trial of Art and Antiques Organiser Deluxe at PrimaSoft PC software before deciding to purchase. Or, you can jump on the old Google machine and look for “antique inventory software” and there you will find a wide variety of free and moderately-priced software.
Keeping a list whether on paper or computer doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have a backup copy stored somewhere. Having a fire/water/tamper-proof safe works, but it’s not always the best idea in an emergency. Have you ever tried running down the street with a fifty pound safe in your pocket? Yikes! Safety deposit boxes at your bank will work as long as your key is safely tucked away somewhere you can access it when needed. Storing your online spreadsheet can be done simply by using DropBox-available in the App store on iOS devices only-free with in-app purchases, Google Drive-a free service available on any Smartphone, tablet or computer, Mozy-offers a free plan as one of its options, or Carbonite-offers three monthly pricing plans as well as a free trial. There are several other sites that offer similar services. Google “cloud file storage” for more detail.
You can always take pictures of your valuable antiques and vintage items. This can be done with any type of camera and doesn’t need to be professional. It just needs to show your items from as clear of an angle as possible and include any tags, names, markings, serial/model numbers, or special pieces or features, etc. You will also want to photograph any original price tags or literature that came with the item. If your photos are printed, you’ll want to store them in a safe place along with your list. You may want to pick up an acid-free scrap or storage box to minimise handling the photos. These can be purchased at any craft or office supply store or online.
Also, if you use the camera application on your phone, make sure to download the picture to your computer device or flash drive so it can be included with your online inventory.
Videotaping your valuable antiques and vintage items is another way to help keep track of the important information you need. It needn’t be professional, but remember, you are really preparing this for an appraiser or insurance adjuster who is not familiar with the valuables you have; so be as clear as possible. This is an ideal instance where you can use your tracking number from your spreadsheet list. Just spend a few seconds on each item, state its number and any other information you want to add, showing your item from the clearest angles possible. Again, if you use your phones’ video application, be sure to download the video to your computer or flash drive. If you use an actual removable video tape, you should consider storing it offsite.
1. Make sure to review and update your documentation whenever you add to your collection. This includes matching pictures with identification numbers (if used), and accurately describing each object you have listed. Also, remove items you no longer have. It might be a good idea to make a note of what happened to items that are no longer on the list, i.e.; sold, given away, destroyed, etc. That way, you’re trying to look for something you don’t have during an emergency.
2. Check with your homeowner’s insurance policy broker to make sure that you have the right amount of coverage you need for your valuables. You may need to add a special “rider” for certain pieces or have other items insured separately.
3. Remember that your everyday items can be valuable and collectable as well. Keep track of your DVDs, first edition videos, books etc. Simple stacking or wall mounted storage units are just the thing to help you organise/find these items. This would be a perfect use of your computer’s template capability. Just print a few blanks and list all the titles. You might just find a hidden treasure!
4. If you have a large amount of artwork, jewellery, original documents or other irreplaceable items, you might want to have them appraised as well as keeping an itemised list. You can use a range of different online sites to check out their wealth of information on antiques and their values.
Many of these sites offer free services as well as lower-priced options for appraisal services.
Money can’t replace that special antique or collectable, but knowing that you have gone a long way to help keep them safe can give you some peace of mind should they be lost.