March 13, 2012
By Philip Schreier
For nearly 25 years, I have been fortunate enough to work with one of the finest collections of firearms in the United States. Our nearly 6,000-gun collection rivals that of the Smithsonian, West Point, the Springfield Armory and the Cody Firearms Museum. We are proud of the trust our donors and lenders have granted us in hopes that we would be stalwart guardians and custodians of their cherished belongings. We maintain a public trust to care for and preserve the items entrusted to our care, not for just the present, but for the enjoyment and education of future generations.
To attain accreditation with the American Association of Museums, every museum must develop a disaster plan that outlines steps taken to protect the collection from a possible disaster either natural or man-made. Now while we can not foresee every eventuality, we take precautions that we feel are within reason and provide a secure environment for the priceless items entrusted to our stewardship.
While your personal collection may or may not be headed for a permanent home in a world-class institution, it obviously holds a great deal of value to you, or you would not have spent so much in time and resources acquiring it. It is our hope that you would treat your collection with the same amount of care and conservation that we treat the objects we guard.
So consider this a blueprint for your own personal disaster plan to save and prepare your collection for the future, whether that future is behind glass at the Metropolitan or in the hands of your grandchild as he hears the oft-told story of how you came to own such a remarkable artifact.
There are two types of disasters that can strike your collection and one can be just as devastating as the other. The first, and most unlikely, is a natural disaster like a hurricane, earthquake or fire. While it is hard to predict such events, it is not hard to protect your collection against most of these eventualities.
The second and potentially most devastating is your untimely separation from your collection, either from your own mortality or from theft.
Here are some tips from those of us in the museum world who have seen it all and dealt with it all during our careers.
Conservation Saves the Day
For seven days in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the United States and killed over 1,800 people and left $81 billion of damage in its wake. Some of the positive by-products of the devastation were the damage reports filed by museum curators on the condition of the artifacts that were recovered.
In an article printed shortly after the event, complete with photographic support, a comparison of the effect of saltwater on the metal and finish of numerous 18th and 19th century firearms that had been subjected to the worst of the floodwaters was examined in detail. The firearms that had been documented as having undergone application of microcrystalline wax had been returned to their pre-hurricane condition, and for the most part looked no worse for wear. Those that had not undergone the wax treatment looked as though they had been salvaged from the hold of a Spanish Galleon after a few centuries on the floor of the sea.
Microcrystalline wax has been a mainstay of the museum world since its development and accepted use by curators at the British Museum in the 1950s. It sheaths metal objects with a microscopic layer of protective wax that leaves no visible trace of discoloration. It resists oil and outside penetrants without any loss in protection. Using gloves, museum curators apply a light coating to the metal parts of all our firearms.
Manufactured in the UK under the trade name Renaissance Wax, the British Museum and hundreds of other museums and private collectors use it to ensure that these items are here for centuries to come.
Prior Proper Planning Also Saves the Day!
At least once a week, we get a call from a distressed widow or family member who had a dear relative recently pass, leaving a collection of firearms that they have no idea what to do with and wholly do not understand the first thing about disposing of it, the laws regarding the disposition or their actual value.
In some cases, even access to the collection is problematic due to the owner having taken into consideration that the best way to keep a collection is to secure it from theft. Safe storage is essential and numerous safe companies produce safes specifically for gun collections. However, it is equally important to leave instructions with someone on how to access the collection.
Just as important is the honest and thorough documentation of the collection. This is important for insurance purposes and is necessary, even if you store guns in a closet. How often have you benefited from scoring a windfall in a collection sale because the seller had no idea what they had on their hands? "Well, my husband said he never spent more than $200 on any of his guns." We all know what each gun in our collection actually cost and what they are potentially worth.
No doubt you wouldn't want what you spent a lifetime accumulating to be sold for pennies on the dollar at a yard sale. You need to make an inventory of your collection for your personal protection, insurance vales and your potential heirs. A flash drive would be a great way of detailing each gun's condition, special features and current value taken from a reputable source.
Guns & Ammo recommends The Blue Book of Gun Values, now in its 33rd edition. The Blue Book not only offers current pricing evaluations on most every firearm available, past and present, but they show, via detailed photographic documentation, how to understand the condition. You can often find that a firearm holds 95 percent of its value in the last 5 percent of its condition. It is important to know and understand the condition and percent of the original finish on your firearms collection. Blue Book Publishing even has a handy tool to record your inventory, values and conditions and even keep pictures of your collection that is kept offsite for disaster recovery proposes. An ISP tool is provided with every subscription to the Blue Book. It's also kept confidential!
You should also consider keeping records on two flash drives, one at home and one offsite at your office, or at your insurance agent's desk. Make sure to password protect these drives for security and maintain a hard copy report and keep this both on and offsite as well.
Consider leaving an "In the event of..." instructions to your wife, husband or close relative and/or friend. And in case any of the above fails to protect you against the worst scenario, cover yourself for the financial loss by insuring the collection. NRA members can call 1-877-NRA-3006 or click here to avail themselves of additional gun collectors insurance.
Do it, do it now and you will be amazed at how well you will sleep tonight knowing that you are protected from the various dangers and evils that could attack without warning!
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