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Collectors Insure Against Mice, Car Keys, Dog’s Tail

Katja Zigerlig
Katja Zigerlig, Vice President of AIG Private Client Group. The group insures 42,000 collections worth $54.9 billion. Source: via Bloomberg

Daring million-dollar art heists make headlines. But for valuable collections, there are dangers lurking in more mundane places: moving vans, elbows, pooches.

AIG’s Private Client Group insures 42,000 collections valued at $54.9 billion, including Old Masters, cases of fine wine and vintage Ferraris.

Katja Zigerlig is AIG’s vice president of art, wine and jewelry, and we met in her Wall Street office. Wearing a black dress, jacket and gold necklace, she walked me through the basics of insuring a valuable collection.

Tarmy: Who’s your typical client?

Zigerlig: Our clients have homes worth $1 million or more. They often have two or three houses, a few cars, and then a third insurance product, which will usually be a private collection or a yacht.

Tarmy: How valuable does a collection have to be before the owner contacts you?

Zigerlig: The average collector has about $2.2 million in valuables with us. That can be art, which it is about 70 percent of the time, jewelry, which it is 90 percent of the time, and then other collectibles like wine, furniture, decorative arts and cars.

Our largest collector has over $500 million in insured goods. But I want to stress that many will have collections valued at under $100,000, especially younger people.

Tarmy: What’s the most frequent cause for filing a claim?

Loss Leader

Zigerlig: Accidental damage is the largest cause of loss. Art theft gets a lot of publicity, but the day-to-day reality is accidental loss or damage.

Transit is the leading cause of that: If it’s on the move, there’s a higher propensity for loss.

Tarmy: Where does the damage come from when an object is not being transported?

Zigerlig: Someone accidentally threw away part of an installation piece because they thought it was trash.

Another time there was a painting, where the clients said, “I don’t know how this piece got damaged.”

They finally realized that their dog would get excited when they left the house and run around for a few minutes. Its tail kept swiping the lower part of the work, which caused paint loss.

Tarmy: If you insure a case of Chateau d’Yquem, are there storage requirements?

Zigerlig: We do everything at the outset to figure out how the object is protected. With wine, we ask where it’s stored. Hopefully the answer is “in a cellar” or “in a wine fridge.”

For a claim on wine there has to be a source of loss. You can’t just open it and say, “This doesn’t taste good -- let me make a claim.”

Car Crashes

Tarmy: Are most claims for rare cars filed because of crashes?

Zigerlig: When I hear “car collectors,” I’m thinking of the people who have more than 10 cars in their extra garage. They’ll maybe take them up and down the Pacific Coast Highway or on a Sunday drive in Connecticut. It’s kind of sad, because most of the losses come when they’re loading them on and off transport vehicles.

I also met a collector who keeps his cars out in Aspen. Apparently mice got into the garage and gnawed off the Italian leather on the seats of a vintage Ferrari.

Tarmy: If I had a painting, a necklace and a bottle of wine that each cost $50,000, which is the most expensive to insure?

Hurricanes, Floods

Zigerlig: It always depends on where you live. If you live in Florida, you have exposure -- to hurricanes and flooding -- that is different than if you live in Kansas.

If you have a glass collection and you live on the San Andreas fault, your premiums are going to be higher. Having said that, we help create emergency plans.

Tarmy: Like what?

Zigerlig: I have colleagues who specialize in making emergency plans for artwork. It’s not necessarily about evacuating the collection -- sometimes it’s a special kind of panic room for the art within the home.

Tarmy: What’s the strangest mishap you’ve seen?

Zigerlig: It was unexpected: there was damage to a painting when a couple had a domestic dispute. It turns out the wife was upset at the husband and threw the car keys at him.

Her husband ducked, and the velocity of the keys punctured the canvas behind him.

(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

Muse highlights include John Mariani on wine and Craig Seligman on books.

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