1 Protecting Family Heirlooms for Future Generations - The Battered Black Book

Protecting Family Heirlooms for Future Generations

By Anya Cooklin-Lofting

In a world subject to such constant change, family heirlooms can be seen as symbols of heritage, culture, tradition and memory. They are cherished artefacts that hold genuine meaning for families across the world. No matter if the object in question is of astronomical or negligible financial value, these tokens, be they Old Master paintings or gems inherited over generations, heirlooms not only give us a sense of history but also a feeling of deep connection to our lineage. This month, I spoke to three experts in the business of caring for inherited heirlooms to get a sense of what goes into protecting and preserving paintings, antiques, jewellery and more. 

Gander & White: Custodians of The Irreplaceable

Gander & White, renowned for its expertise in fine art transportation and logistics, holds a Royal Warrant and has transported stored collections from some of the most notable galleries and families globally. When it comes to private families and family offices in particular, Alexander Bradford, the company’s Business Development Manager, believes that it’s all about offering clients a bespoke service that caters to each distinct requirement.

When working with Gander & White to transport heirlooms to another property, for example, or put them into storage during a renovation, the process often begins with a consultation. This involves a dedicated project manager assigned to each client. Gander & White also conducts site visits to ensure accurate estimates and the identification of potential challenges. For international moves where a piece of art must be shipped from one residence to another, Gander & White draws on its extensive global knowledge of export regulations and customs formalities. Boasting an unrivalled white glove service, Gander & White ensures the safe passage of these cherished items, often collaborating with partner ICEFAT agents when needed. All members of ICEFAT, an organisation representing over 70 of the finest independent art transportation firms from 34 countries including Gander & White, are subject to rigorous auditing against a series of Standards laid out by EY, meaning clients can rest assured that their heirlooms will be cared for during complex international journeys. 

Bradford and his international team at Gander & White understand the emotional weight his clients attach to family heirlooms and resonate with the idea that they act as bridges between generations. “By working with us and our team of fine art technicians,” he says, “clients are ensuring that their precious objects and collections are treated with the utmost care and attention to ensure that they are preserved in pristine quality for generations to come.”

Doerr Dallas: Preparation Is Key

Doerr Dallas, an independent valuations firm, recognises the importance of understanding the true value of family heirlooms. Rachel Doerr, the company’s founder, has valuable insights into the circumstances that prompt families to seek her expertise. Valuations serve not only as a means to assess financial worth but also as a way to ensure a smooth transition of assets across generations. “Generally, it’s much better for the current owners of the family heirlooms to decide who gets what when the time comes,” she says. “It’s a much cleaner way of working than suggesting that the family or beneficiaries of the will decide between themselves. We very much try to encourage clients to think about what would happen in the worst-case scenario.”

Doerr advocates for informed decisions through valuations. An up-to-date valuation is indispensable, offering reassurance and the ability to make accurate insurance claims in the face of unforeseen events. “Very little will be worth the same amount five years from now – all general items appreciate,” she says. “In the event of a fire, for example, you need to be able to claim back the current value of any objects that were damaged,” she explains, adding that, “without an up-to-date valuation, this won’t be possible.”

Aston Lark: Reassurance Above All

Aston Lark, an insurance company, understands that protecting family heirlooms goes beyond securing financial assets – it’s also about managing the personal connections people have to their belongings. Joshua Meadowcroft, the firm’s Business Development Manager, understands the emotion attached to these treasures where his private clients are concerned. “The key to working with our private clients is primarily about understanding their needs to make sure that we source the correct cover,” says Meadowcroft. “Then we can build trust by offering the best advice to protect their prized assets,” he continues.  For Meadowcroft, this differs to commercial insurance as there is a lot more of an emotive side to private clients’ decision-making. 

Meadowcroft also makes a point of advising his private clients to give them the same level of reassurance that Aston Clark’s institutional or commercial clients enjoy. “Where a business may have different employees providing different advice on aspects of the company, private clients they may not have this breadth of expertise available to them,” he says.  “We feel an obligation to provide this level of guidance, which can include conducting surveys, obtaining values and recommending security companies.”

From fine art to cherished possessions like jewellery or furniture, heirlooms carry stories, values beyond the financial, and memories that transcend time and generations. By taking meticulous care of these relics from our familial pasts, we honour our lineage and leave behind a legacy for future generations.