The horror stories are numerous and well told: billionaire hedge-fund tycoon Steve Wynn put his elbow through a 1932 Picasso, a visitor smashed three Qing dynasty vases as he fell down stairs at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Recently a three-year-old at Art Basel demonstrated his appreciation of contemporary sculpture by knocking over a €50,000 display.
Every collector, valuer and dealer will have at least one story to tell of a lost or damaged object – be it something stolen or damaged in transit.
For the occasions when things go badly wrong it is the job of the insurance and legal sector to mop up the problem.
In the hope of preventing such minor disasters there is an army of professional packers and shippers to engage who can ensure safe passage.
Here ATG hears from shippers on how to go about organising a delivery – whether it is a Rolex watch or a set of 12 dining room chairs – and from insurers about protecting yourself against the worst.
Scenario: A £2100 Rolex bought at auction requires delivery within the UK
Auction house Fellows will post items directly from all its sales with the exception of those where the “size and fragile nature of the lots” demands using a courier.
Ben Griffiths, operations director at Fellows, comments: “We are always happy to discuss any specific requirements prior to dispatch but typically we charge £10 within the UK for items sold for under £100 (hammer) and £20 for those sold for more than £100. For international shipments we charge £30. Items which are either worth over £50,000 or weigh more than 2kg may cost more.
“We have a dedicated team to oversee the process: everything is bubble wrapped and fully insured using Royal Mail Special Delivery, DHL or Parcel Force.
“Sorting deliveries in-house is very efficient and personal. If a customer is eager to receive their item, say for example it a special occasion such as a birthday, we ask them to let us know as soon as possible so once the payment has cleared we can ensure they are at the top of the list.”
Scenario: A scale model of RMS Mauretania requires delivery to a collector in continental Europe
Quote: In the region of £2000
Company: Alban Shipping
London’s Alban Shipping was involved in the shipping of a 1:64 scale model of the RMS Mauretania made in 1906 which sold at Charles Miller in 2015 for £120,000. The company had moved the 12ft long model to and from the saleroom for a preview in a London hotel, and was later hired to deliver it to the winning bidder.
“This was a very special job for us,” recalls director Andrew Jackman, “but it followed a typical process. We photographed and provided a condition report of the items on collection. A crate was made in house bespoke to the object, additional packing (high density foam, bubble blankets and acid free tissue paper) provided additional security and the delivery to continental Europe was made within 14 days.”
The firm’s 400-plus shipments a month across the UK and overseas cover a wider range of art and antiques, with the minimum charge set at £45 plus VAT with insurance starting at 0.5% of the value of an item (a minimum of £7.50 in the UK).
“We work with a range of regional auctioneers and move a range of objects, whether it is a pocket watch at Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury, a large garden sculpture from Summers Place Auctions in West Sussex or a scratch-built locomotive model bought at Dreweatts in Newbury for the Hornby Visitor Centre in Margate.”
Scenario: A Danish post-war rosewood chair bought at TEFAF New York requires shipping to the UK
Quote: In the region of £1500 excluding insurance and any import duties and taxes
Company: Gander & White
Alexander Bradford, business development manager at global art logistics company Gander & White, says: “This piece would be dealt with by the fine art department at our New York office. In this instance we would keep the entire operation in-house from door-to-door.
“Our fine art crate-makers would design and construct a bespoke foam-lined crate after measuring the piece at our warehouse. As the chair is rosewood it would require a CITES permit and would be packed separately from any other pieces. We generally would not recommend consolidating CITES items: if one is pulled for inspection it can delay the entire shipment.
“For the entire process, including the CITES application process and transportation by sea freight (cheaper than the quicker airfreight option), you should allow six weeks. If there are queries with the CITES permit this can take substantially longer.
“We may not always be the most inexpensive option, but we pride ourselves on providing the best service. From our art technicians on the ground to our account holders in our offices around the world, our staff have the in-depth knowledge of materials being handled and the procedures required to ensure that even the most complex projects are handled with as little hassle as possible.”
Scenario: A £1000 Lalique glass vase bought at auction via thesaleroom.com requires delivery within the UK
Quote: Typically around £45-60. However, as the lot is fragile and of high value, enhanced compensation cover would be required
Company: Mail Boxes Etc
Mail Boxes Etc works with thesaleroom.com and allows worldwide buyers to view inclusive ‘collect, pack and delivery’ costs before they bid. The price is displayed below each lot on the ‘Shipping’ tab on thesaleroom.com.
Lois Biddlestone, auction logistics manager at Mail Boxes Etc, says: “If pre-priced, the customer pays for delivery of the Lalique immediately after purchase. Otherwise, click ‘request a quote’ and a price is provided promptly. It may be appropriate to purchase additional compensation cover. Loss and damage cover is automatically provided per item up to £150 but where the hammer price is greater, we provide cover of the additional sum, for 3%+VAT.
“Four to five days after each sale concludes, the local Mail Boxes Etc store collects all ‘paid-for’ items from the auction house. We would wrap the vase in acid-free tissue paper, encase with bubble-wrap or eco-friendly ‘alternative’ packaging, then ‘double-box’ using double-walled boxes. It would then be shipped via one of our trusted express couriers – the whole process usually concluded within five working days for UK/EU, and nine for the rest of the world. An expedited service for urgent deliveries is available, including dedicated pick-up for a single item.”
Scenario: A set of 12 dining chairs bought from a UK auction requires delivery within the UK
Quote: £150 plus VAT door to door in the UK
Company: Bradleys Furniture Carriers
Based in the North East, Greg Bradley runs both Bradleys Furniture Carriers and Bradleys Antique Packing Services. The former deals with larger items, such as furniture and paintings, that are delivered door to door in company vehicles. The packing services side of the firm handles smaller items for shipping with reputable couriers.
Bradley says: “We aim to supply a quote within 15 minutes of an enquiry via our website, the phone or email. All we require is the auction room, the sale date, the lot number and the delivery postcode.
“We collect from most UK auction rooms on a weekly basis, enabling us to keep costs affordable for the client. In doing this, we do ask for some flexibility on door to door services.
“However, large items (blanket wrapped and foam-edged when required) are typically collected one week and delivered the next while smaller items are returned to our warehouse for packing and shipping within two days. Our vehicles offer £200,000 insurance which can be increased if necessary.”
Scenario: A dining table bought at auction in Paris for around £25,000 requires delivery to a central London home
Quote: Between £500-1000
Hedley’s, with offices in London, New York, Paris and Nice, specialises in the transportation, installation, packing and storage of art and antiques.
Victor Jaques, general manager at Hedley’s, says: “Generally, the auction house will suggest a shipper who will transport and deliver to your house in central London.
“Shipping art and antiques requires a lot of skill and expertise. To be like Amazon Prime is not quite possible due to the intricacies, the variation and the values of what we are asked to ship.
“Some frequent buyers at the Drouot in Paris use Hedley’s as a regular transporter and simply instruct us to collect and deliver following purchase.
“Once a quote has been accepted, the collection, packing and shipping of the table is arranged. You will be contacted to agree a delivery date.
“We can build crates to protect the items if we deem it is needed, depending on the material and fragility of the piece to be shipped. There are different levels of soft packing. Paper blankets, bubble, Tyvek can be wrapped around them for protection and cardboard can be added for extra security.
“Packing and protection methods are improving on a daily basis. On its arrival in London, your dining table will be unpacked and positioned just where you want it.”