Everyone knows that moving is the worst, but it gets that much more unbearable with every additional piece you need to carry, especially if they’re delicate or valuable.
Serious collectors or hobbyists face the most difficult moving situation. If you’ve ever spent hours examining the ink patterns and perforations on stamps, restoring an antique chair, or meticulously applying insignia and squadron numbers to 1/72 scale airplane, then you know just how important the tiniest details can be. After you’ve spent so much time and money building such a collection, the thought of placing it on a moving truck can be more than a little nerve-wracking.
Relocating your collections and constructions safely might take more some boxes and bubble wrap. Realistically, you’re going to need to carry out some careful organization and planning to make sure everything arrives intact. You’ll need to consider things like humidity, temperature, chemical interactions, and even think about who’ll be handling your piece – it might be easier to carry the DIY spirit all the way through your move, and just handle it all yourself. To help, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide chockfull of resources to help you carry your collection to your specifications. Considering the tips below will not only help you transport your treasures successfully, but will ease the transition so that, in their new home, they will likely be better organized, more accessible, and easier to enjoy and share with others.
We wrote this piece thinking of hobbies including collections (stamps, coins, memorabilia, autographs) and models (building and collecting model planes, trains, cars, boats, fantasy characters (e.g. Warhammer), etc.).
- Inventory your collection
- Appraise your collection
- Insure your collection
- Pack your collection
- Transport/ship your collection
Inventory Your Collection
If you don’t already have a detailed list of the items in your collection, now is a great time to start one! Beyond just tracking what you own, a catalog can help you preserve the history of how your collection was build, monitor its value, and prevent duplicate purchases.
If you ever want to have your collection appraised – whether for insurance, sales, or even inheritances – you’ll need to know exactly what you have.
- Gather your collection and its associated components into one place to examine it. It’s likely taken time for you to get here. Maybe when you started, you didn’t realize how valuable this hobby would become to you. Maybe it grew beyond the workspace or shelves you’d originally mapped out for it. Whatever the case, ideally you can put it all in one room, or else make a list of all the places in your home where you know you have its elements (as you do this, you’ll likely realize it’s in more spots that you originally thought).
- Consider what to clean, repair, sell, or donate. Maybe you accumulated pieces that you have never actually used, and that someone else could benefit from. Maybe you have items that you forgot about but can use now, or that need a little TLC. This is a very natural occasion to do a little maintenance.
- Photograph your collection. Get out your camera or smartphone and take clear, well-lit, high-quality pictures of your collection. This can help in case of damage (for restoration), theft (for tracking down what was stolen), and insurance (for filing a claim).
- Take pictures from all angles: top, bottom, sides, front, back, and interior.
- Document any unique characteristics, such as serial numbers, markings, signatures, damage, or repairs.
- Use the highest resolution camera you can, ideally 8 megapixels or higher, to capture the maximum visual detail you can.
- Use natural lighting to reduce glare and color distortion.
- Choose a background that doesn’t compete with the object. A good rule of thumb is if the subject matter is light in color, use a dark background; if it’s dark, use a light background.
- If an item is framed with glass or plexiglass, indirect lighting might be best to prevent reflections and glare. Try using a white cardboard or other white surface to “bounce” light.
- Very large items may need to be photographed in sections or quadrants to capture all their detail.
- Choose your cataloguing platform wisely. The key here is to pick what works best for you. Does a notebook or simple spreadsheet on your computer or tablet suffice? Have you looked into software (including specialized programs for things like comics, wine, books, stamps, coins, maps) or an app, preferably specific to your collection type? Many of the latter are connected to informational databases and can pull in additional information for you.
- Save receipts. Proof of purchase, certificates of authenticity, or other ownership documents should be stored alongside your inventory, so be sure to consider these as you decide how to catalogue. Usually these tend to exist as physical copies; we recommend creating electronic copies in parallel.
- Save documents. Frequently your collections have accompanying documents, such as assembly instructions, story contexts, or even mention in periodicals (think magazine articles). These provide critical context for your collection, and must also be gathered.
- Back up your data. Make multiple paper copies, save on USB keys or external hard drives, or even store them as encrypted files on the cloud. Give a copy to a trusted loved one, or even use your safety deposit box, financial planner, attorney, or insurance agent to save a copy.
- Specify what you’d like to track. For example, “team” might be important for trading cards whereas “year” might be critical for an autograph. Make a list of the data fields most important to your collection and fill them in. This is also a great way to help you identify any gaps in your knowledge of your stuff.
Appraise Your Collection
Your appraisal strategy will vary depending on what you collect and why you’re getting it appraised. It might also depend on how volatile the market for your items is, and whether you already have experience selling. The value of pop-culture-related items can fluctuate wildly on auction sites like eBay, while others may have a fairly well-established, indexed value.
- Determine whether you need an expert to examine your collection. This will depend largely on how pricey your items are, how ‘formal’ your hobby’s community is, and whether you want to insure them.
- If you go with an expert, check their reputation. Are they licensed by actual, respectable bodies in the field? Are their certifications up-to-date? What were others’ experiences working with them.
- If your collection is highly specialized, find an appraiser with expertise in that niche. You can search for appraisers by specialty on websites including the Appraisers Association of America, the American Society of Appraisers, or the International Society of Appraisers.
- Fellow collectors can be a great source of advice. Find them by their online sites or even local meet-ups.
- You also might want to ask dealers, museum curators, and hobby associations for recommendations. The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute maintains an extensive list of appraisal resources. Some auction houses host events where you can get free non-binding estimates of item values.
- If you assess value on your own, check your sources. Make sure you are using reliable sources, and try to corroborate your assessments across different sources.
- Don’t have your collection appraised by someone who might want to buy it. Getting an appraisal from a private dealer is risky. There is an inherent conflict of interest, and you could end up with an appraisal that grossly undervalues your collection. If you feel like you don’t have a choice, try to use another reference source – the internet is a good starting place for identifying what this might be – to confirm their findings.
- Be clear about why you’re getting the appraisal. Insurance appraisals are generally higher than appraisals for tax purposes. Estimated resale values may be considerably lower than replacement cost estimates. Discuss your goals with the appraiser to be sure the appraisal methodology meets your needs.
- Discuss the appraisal price and terms in advance. Most appraisers charge a flat fee based on an hourly or daily rate. Be sure to discuss what kind of report they will provide and whether any potential additional charges might incurred for research. Never agree to pay a percentage of the value of your collection. This creates a conflict of interest that can lead to inflated appraisals that cost you more and may not be accepted as valid by insurance companies.
- Provide as much information as you can. The more background you give the appraiser, the more accurate your estimate is likely to be. Helpful items include: purchase receipts, provenance, repair or restoration details, and previous appraisals.
- Make sure the written appraisal report meets industry standards. Appraisals should be itemized, detailed, and thorough. Most professional appraisers follow the format established by the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice.
- Prepare instructions for evaluating and disposing of the collection. If something happened to you, would your family members know what to do with your collection? Your loved ones will appreciate having the contact information of hobby organizations and fellow collectors who can be counted on for advice.
Insure Your Collection
You have two primary paths you can take with insuring your collection. One might be modifying your homeowners’ insurance policy (if you have one) to accommodate your pieces; the other involves taking out specialized insurance for your collectibles.
Path 1 – Modifying homeowners’ insurance
- Customize the category limits on your regular homeowner’s insurance. Many homeowner’s policies let you adjust the amount of coverage for specific types of items, which is a common but useful way to customize your insurance to align with what you specifically own. If you have a small collection, this might be sufficient.
- Beware of “limited coverage” exclusions. Some policies have coverage limitations for items including firearms, jewelry, furs, money, artwork and paintings, collectibles, limited editions, and memorabilia. Be sure to check with your insurance provider to understand your options.
- Add a supplemental rider to your homeowner’s insurance. An insurance rider can be added to most policies to protect things that fall outside of standard coverage parameters. This is an addendum that usually requires a formal appraisal and incurs an extra cost based on the coverage amount.
- Take out a separate policy with your homeowner’s insurance company. If you have a large or rare collection, you might want to have one policy for standard household items and another specifically for your antiques or collectibles.
Path 2 – Taking out specialized insurance
- Take out a separate policy with a specialty insurance company. Some companies specialize in insuring collections and memorabilia. In addition to typical protection against theft or damage, specialty insurance may cover things like title fraud for artwork later discovered to be forged or stolen. Specialty insurance is tailored to the needs of collectors and sometimes costs less than other types of coverage.
- Some of the better known companies include American Collectors, which originally insured classic cars, but now covers a variety of collectibles. Collectibles Insurance Services started with stamps, but now insures a variety of things including toys, comics, firearms, and sports memorabilia. AXA Art Group specializes in artwork of many kinds.
- Protect your collection from depreciation using special features. Choose plans with maximum protection for your value over time.
- Ask about “agreed value” coverage. Typical household policies pay replacement cost, minus depreciation. Speciality policies, on the other hand, are generally based on a value that is mutually agreed upon by you and your insurer. If anything happens to your collectibles, you get the full agreed-upon amount.
- Factor inflation into your insurance costs. As a rule of thumb, you should provide for an annual 5% increase in value for your collection.
- Update your insurance regularly. If you’re an active hobbyist, chances are your collection grows every year. Don’t forget to update your insurance policy on a regular basis to account for new pieces.
- Certain collections qualify. You might have to do some serious sleuthing to find a specialized insurance that covers your collection, particularly in smaller circles. Some of the most common collectibles for which there is insurance includes military memorabilia, sports memorabilia, stamps, coins, and vintage toys. That said, this list is constantly growing.
- Leverage the extent of protection you seek. Many plans are built in standard packages for a particular scope of protection. Discuss with your agent whether you can adjust this to meet the most likely situations you’d encounter (e.g. tsunamis are not particularly in North Dakota, so protection from that sort of natural disaster isn’t needed).
Pack Your Collection
Your priority is to get your collection to your new home, safe and sound. Larger collections might value more from incorporating organization into the packing scheme, which also facilitates an easy assessment of condition when you reach your destination!
- Clean your collection. If your items can withstand some soft air flow, a vacuum hose – never touching your items, but close enough to pull off small debris – along with a soft brush can be used.
- You may want to lightly coat metal parts with a thin layer of oil to prevent rust.
- Never use chemicals or solvents when cleaning a model. The residue can break down and damage paint finishes
- Disassemble larger items, as possible, especially larger models or electronics.
- Label all boxes clearly, both for contents and conditions. Note the contents of the box. Feel free to use some sort of secure code as long as you retain a master list so you can decipher what is in each box; for example, you might call a box “1-20” to denote it’s box 1 of 20, but you have a separate list of what you packed into that box. Use “Fragile” and “This Side Up” stickers to help protect your goods.
- Do not indicate that there is high monetary value inside. “Fragile” is as specific as you really need to go. You want to indicate the minimum amount of information needed in order to protect your items.
- Secure your items in their shipping container. Use textured surfaces, ties, packing peanuts, bubble wrap, unbleached muslin, other space-filling packing materials, etc. to make sure that your items are firmly placed inside of their container.
- For intact models, wrap each one individually, using acid-free tissue to protect the wings, propellers and small pieces. Wrap the entire plane with unbleached muslin to create a padded bundle. For extra protection, you can put the bundles into boxes and cushion them with blankets, pillows, or other soft furnishings.
- If you have any silica packets handy, add them to the box before sealing to absorb moisture.
- Do not use newspaper, bubble wrap, or foam if your models will be packed away for any length of time. These are acidic and can break down, losing their protective properties and releasing harmful gasses – particularly if they are exposed to extreme heat or cold.
- Do you need insulation? If so, styrofoam shippers are a great choice for short-term insulation. Double-walled insulation works really well within a given box size for shipping items of nearly uniform size while also retaining box structural integrity and size.
- Pay attention to the physical properties of your packing material. For example, for some applications, newspaper might be appropriate; however, to ensure ink transfer does not damage your collectibles, newspaper might be a good solution to separate secondary containers housing your items as opposed to the items yourself. Don’t hesitate to invest in your packing materials.
- Try to use the original containers as often as possible. This doesn’t apply to items you built for which there is no original container, but if possible, use manufacturer’s materials. Odds are they designed packaging for maximum protection to avoid having to give too many refunds when their products were damaged during shipping.
Transport/Ship Your Collection
Your transportation and shipping options will vary depending on the size of your load and how far you are traveling. Local moves will almost always be done by truck, but longer distances might involve air freight or shipping by sea, which can take months.
Consider the amount of time your collection will be in transit and what kind of conditions it will be exposed to. Will there be extreme cold, heat, or rapid changes in temperature? You might want to ship sensitive collectibles separately using climate-controlled transportation.
Remember, your collection is worth more than just money for you. Do not skimp out!
- Review your insurances plans to identify what’s covered during a move. Even homeowners’ insurance might provide some coverage. This is yet another reason why the appraisal described earlier is so important. For whatever mode of transport you pick – self, rental van/truck, or shipping – review any possible insurance plans you can by. This is critical! If something were to happen, you’ll be glad you looked into this and were prepared. You’ve put so much time and money into your collection – don’t just let it slide away.
- Decide whether you need climate control. Heat and humidity are just a couple of the most common parameters that often need to be monitored to protect items. Because the shipping options available to individuals in different geographic regions can vary so much (and so some of what’s outlined below might not even be an option for you), knowing whether climate control is a deal-breaker will help you quickly narrow down the shipping options that work for you.
- Consider moving the goods yourself. Depending on the distance you are going to travel and the complexity of the transport, you might find it easier to just do it yourself, particularly if you are worried about mishandling of items or their potential destruction/loss.
- Have a friend follow you in their car. This is a great option to help protect you in case something happens.
- If you get pulled over, remember that you do not have to let a cop search your car if you don’t want to.
- Use a (rental) van or truck rather than your car for larger and/or more valuable collections. You might be tempted to just use your car to save a dime or control the temperature, but you could create bigger issues. Overloading your car increases the risk of a tire blow-out, which could destroy your items (and, aside from your collection, could be extremely dangerous for both yourself and other drivers) as well as risk damaging your car, which is always costly. Limited visibility from an over-stuffed vehicle can also put you at risk. Rental van/truck groups offer many packing and securing options to help make sure your protected items stay put in the vehicle, and these are well worth some additional charges. If you prefer to just do things yourself, this is a great option because it lets you secure your own items as you feel most comfortable.
- Be sure to check out if your rental has any insurance coverage, and what the limitations are. You might need to opt-in or disclose what you’re packing in order to become eligible.
- Flying is an option that many discuss, however there are major limitations in the size of what you can pack in your carry-on (and they might get damaged during the search or even in the cabin), while checking in your items might expose them to serious damage jostling around the plane’s cargo area. You could check with your preferred airline carrier to see what options you have. Odds are, you will miss out on a lot of the protective, insurance, and other advantages that alternative methods could give you.
- Consider using a carrier like UPS or FedEx. Be sure to ask them about their “special handling services.” There are also specialty shipping services – such as for high value art-work – that specialize in dealing with the particular issues that might arise with packaging and shipping in their niche.
- Consider an armored carrier (e.g. Brinks or Loomis) for high-ticket items. It’s a good idea to have them deliver straight to a safety deposit box, so that you do not draw attention to your items – as you might if they showed up at your home or place of employment.
- Registered mail is insured up to $25,000, but you can send multiple shipments. It is considered the most secure way to send anything of value, as items are kept under lock-and-key and anyone handling the items needs to sign and thus be accountable for them.
- In rare cases (e.g. wine), you should check shipping rules with the appropriate authorities. Local alcohol commissions are the best resources in the case of wine. You can reach out to your town government for directions on where exactly to go, since this might change, state-by-state. You might need to pay taxes or some other fee, but you’ll be acting legally. Please note: if you’re crossing state lines it’s best to check with authorities on both sides of the line; if you’re using a carrier, you should also check with them – they might have their own special rules regarding transporting your particular type of item.
- Collections Care: Ten Agents of Deterioration (American Institute for Conservation Wiki)
- Video: Making a Protective Book Box (Family Tree Magazine)
- Website: Saving Your Treasures (Nebraska PBS and Nebraska State Historical Society)
- General Collections Handling Guidelines (South Australian Community History)
- Video: How to Fold Roll Textiles for Storage (Nebraska PBS and Nebraska State Historical Society)
- Video: The Care and Handling of Books (Yale University Library)
- 12 Tips for Preventing Damage to Works of Art (New Bedford Whaling Museum)
- Guides for Taking Care of Your Personal Heritage (American Institute for Conservation)
- Video: How to Move Heavy Objects (Kevin Caron, artist)
- Marking and Labeling Collections (Senior Conservator at Smithsonian Institution Archives)