Should You Insure Your Cybis?

Occasionally I am asked whether a collection, or a particular example, of Cybis porcelain should be insured. Several decades ago, my answer would have been “yes”; nowadays, it is an equivocal “it depends…”

Pueblo EAGLE DANCER by CybisLet’s take a look at the available options using a limited-edition example: the Eagle Dancer. It retailed for $4000 in 1984, and our hypothetical owner still has her original purchase receipt.

Homeowners Insurance Policy

If you own a home, your Cybis has some measure of insurance under your Personal Property coverage against loss by fire, theft, vandalism, windstorm (with special conditions), and structural collapse. It does not cover breakage unless caused by one of those events, and does not cover loss or damage as a result of flooding. A typical standard deductible for homeowners policy claims is $1000. In some regions a higher deductible applies to losses caused by hurricanes and/or windstorms; this is usually a set percentage (2% or 5%) of the Dwelling coverage amount.

Homeowners policies usually pay personal-property claims based on the ‘actual cash value’ of the item, i.e., what it would cost to replace the item today, less depreciation. For our example piece of Cybis under one of the covered losses listed above, the claims adjuster would look for actual sales of the Eagle Dancer on eBay and auction house listings within the past 6 or 12 months. He would discover that almost all of the North American Indians single figures have sold for less than $1000, with the majority selling for under $500.  This under-$500 range becomes the current actual cash value (ACV) of a Cybis Eagle Dancer; it doesn’t matter that the insured originally paid $4000 for hers. If the ACV is less than her policy’s deductible, the claim ends there with no payment; if more, she will receive only the amount above her deductible.

Some homeowners policies have expanded coverage, called Guaranteed Replacement Cost. This upgrade pays for items without deducting for depreciation over time. However, this coverage typically has exclusions such as these:

* Antiques, fine arts, paintings and similar articles of rarity or antiquity, which cannot be replaced.
* Memorabilia, souvenirs, collectors’ items and similar articles whose age or history contribute to their value.
* Articles that are not maintained in good or workable condition.
* Articles that are outdated or obsolete and are stored or not being used.

If our Eagle Dancer owner has Replacement Cost coverage, she will argue that the piece is neither “fine art” nor a “collector’s item” – and thus should retain its original $4000 value. This is where the haggling will begin. The end result may be a settlement offer that is higher than the ACV example but almost certainly still below what she paid for it, and it is also still subject to her policy’s deductible.

Thus, the “no-insurance” option (homeowners policy Personal Property coverage) is essentially “little to no insurance, depending on your replacement-cost type and policy deductible.” The advantage is that this costs you nothing extra in policy premiums. The disadvantages are the lack of coverage for accidental breakage or breakage caused by flood/water damage, and the odds are good that you will get pennies on the dollar (or nothing at all) even in the event of a covered loss.

Scheduled Personal Property Rider

To avoid those coverage gaps, some people choose to add a Scheduled Personal Property rider (endorsement) to their homeowners policy. This extra-cost option identifies specific personal property items and typically covers accidental breakage as well as loss from other causes. Some companies offer the option of a lower (or zero) deductible for scheduled personal property items, but some do not; obviously, the lower/no deductible will increase the premium for adding this coverage element. An endorsement of this type is often used for jewelry items, which would otherwise be limited to only $1500 worth of coverage per loss if unscheduled.

Insuring scheduled personal property does require an appraisal of each item. The insurance company may initially send a representative to the insured’s home to examine, list, and photograph the piece(s) to be covered under a Scheduled Property rider. During the 1970s and 1980s, retail galleries such as Reese Palley, Brielle Galleries, and Armstrong’s would supply appraisals as a courtesy to their special or high-volume customers. Such galleries don’t exist anymore, and so obtaining an appraisal that is in line with the original purchase price of a 1970s or 1980s Cybis will be a challenge. Or, if obtained, the insurance company’s underwriters may have a different (lower-value) view. Cue the haggling again!

The additional premium amount for a scheduled property rider can range from $20 to several hundred per year, depending on what’s being covered and how. The question now becomes “Is it worth it?”

Let’s assume that our Eagle Dancer owner is able to get full coverage via putting the piece on her homeowners policy as scheduled personal property with a value of $4000, and that she pays an extra $50/year in premiums as a result. After ten years this will have cost her $500 – which is essentially what she could have bought a second, ‘backup’ Eagle Dancer for, at an auction sale or on eBay.

Another factor is the “repair or replace” clause in all insurance policies, which gives the insurance company the right to either replace a damaged item, or to pay for the cost of restoring the item to its original condition. The insured cannot dictate that “I want payment for a total loss of my Cybis piece instead of having my damaged one repaired” or “I want my original Cybis piece repaired instead of buying a different undamaged one whose painting colors I don’t like as well as mine.” The insurance company calls the shots in this situation, although if no agreement can be reached within a specified time period (usually 14 days) the matter can be referred to an outside arbiter.

That said, there are far fewer places doing porcelain restoration nowadays than there were during the 1970s and 1980s, and thus the cost of a good repair to a complicated piece can be as high or higher than its original purchase price. Having better coverage as scheduled personal property does not always avoid the insurer/insured haggling entirely! But it does cover more scenarios of potential loss, the most important being accidental breakage.

Personal Property/Fine Arts Policy

A step up from a personal property rider is an entirely separate insurance policy for scheduled articles only. This kind of coverage only makes sense when someone has a collection of multiple high-value articles which would be cumbersome to add to a homeowners policy – especially if the homeowner wisely shops for homeowners coverage every year and often changes carriers. Initial and regularly updated (sometimes yearly) appraisals and photographs will be required here too, and the policy’s premium will definitely be higher than that for a scheduled-articles rider. The upside is that haggling over repair-or-replace can often be avoided, because coverage can be tailored to specific items; for example, if a high-value painting is to be temporarily lent for exhibit purposes and has any risk of being lost or damaged while out of the owner’s physical control, or if a diamond should fall out of a necklace.

The high cost of a separate policy is rarely justified for any piece(s) of Cybis nowadays, although if a policy of this kind already exists for other items, the bump in the already-high premium may not be too severe. We had one of these policies back in the early 1980s for a few years, when our Cybis collection topped 100 pieces; the annual premium was almost $300 even then. At that time, the ratio of premium-to-market-value was justifiable; at today’s market values, it would not be.

To Insure, or Not to Insure?

This brings us back to the only logical insurance choice (if insurance there need be) which is a scheduled personal property rider added to a homeowners policy. But the only advantage to doing this is that accidental-breakage coverage is available, and perhaps a lower or zero deductible for the item(s), although both add-ons will raise your annual premium. If your 3-year-old is likely to figure out how to open the curio cabinet so that she can play with the “pretty dolly” Camille, snapping off rose petals and dipped-lace ribbons with every touch, this coverage may save you a deal of angst (though probably not all that much money.)

However, if a particular piece has sentimental value and you’re worried about the potential high cost of a professional repair, do a simple mental calculation: How much would you be willing or able to spend in order to restore it? Be honest, and also realize that restoring something like our Eagle Dancer example after severe damage is likely to cost between two and three thousand dollars, if not more. Then check with your insurance company to see how much extra it would cost to “schedule” that special Cybis item. You may decide that spending several hundred dollars more in premiums over time is worth it, ‘just in case.’ But at today’s market values of Cybis, absent a compelling personal reason for keeping that specific piece rather than replacing it with another, the answer may well be No.

A caveat: If your area is at risk of flooding, be aware that your homeowners policy may exclude loss from this cause even to scheduled items. Homeowners carriers have become positively allergic to water-damage situations ever since Hurricane Katrina. You could only claim for flood-damaged Cybis under a separate flood insurance policy, as an item of personal property. Flood policies do not allow ‘scheduling’ and they treat all personal property claims at Actual Cash Value. But if you live in a flood-prone region, you probably already know this from personal experience!

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