Archive for the ‘Storage’ Category

What you should know about “inherent vice”

Thursday, April 16th, 2009



Besides being the rumored title of a forthcoming Thomas Pynchon novel, inherent vice is a legal term of importance to shippers and insurers of fine art and antiques. The term refers to items which, by the very nature of their composition, are subject to degradation or deterioration over time and/or in handling. Most insurers and fine art policies specifically exclude coverage for loss due to  inherent vice, so it is important to understand what types of materials and fabrications can fall into this category. The disclaimer also applies to hidden defects not visible to the carrier but which are found to be the cause of damage or loss.  You don’t want to think you have coverage only to find that you have tumbled into the black hole of this clause.


Some examples of inherent vice we have run across include:


— sand paintings where the sand dislodges from the face or edges of the artworks

— artworks  with “glued on” elements that come loose during handling or transport

— artworks or antiques made of old wood which can crack or where existing cracks can extend or widen

— marble & limestone slabs or artworks which can shatter along internal fault lines

— wet paintings where the paint runs or pools

— weak soldering at joins in metal sculptures

— “hinged” works on paper which are not declared as such at the time of shipping, and so are subject to slippage within the frame

— top heavy fabrications where a heavy top crushes the level below due to insufficient support

— artworks incorporating liquid or other unstable elements which can expand or leak in shipping

— sharp folds in textiles or fabrics which suffer deterioration or breakdown at the folded edges


The exclusion also applies to damage arising from insufficient packing by the shipper where the customer has released the shipment to the carrier already packed. Here is some language from a case comment by a marine attorney:


The “inherent vice” exclusion is also used to describe a loss that, due to the manner in which the cargo is shipped, is regarded as inevitable. For example, fresh eggs shipped without any packing or protection are likely to sustain damage no matter how carefully they are handled. Chocolates shipped in an ordinary container in the summer are bound to melt. Damage that occurs in the course of ordinary handling and transportation of cargos, without the intervention of fortuity, is due to inherent vice and must be excluded from coverage.


Your best bet is to give the carrier full information about the item to be shipped. If the carrier accepts the item, packs it, and selects the mode of transport then the exclusion may not apply. For example if the carrier packed those chocolates in a sturdy box and then shipped them via climate controlled truck, which then broke down so that the chocolate melted, the claim would likely be honored.  In essence the carrier accepted liability for the shipment due to full disclosure of the inherent nature of the product.


Another example: if the very fine mesh you used to support a heavy bead on your collage gives way in shipping — inherent vice. However if the carrier inspected the artwork and was made aware of this issue, you might prevail if it is shown that the carrier could have mitigated the damage by shipping the package flat, improving the packaging, or other available means.


So, for the best possible chance of recovery declare the precise nature of the item to your carrier or fine art shipper and allow them to inspect it fully. Discuss any unstable elements and have them recommend a suitable packing and shipping approach. Inherent vice may still get you, depending upon the situation, but you will have improved the odds of a happy ending for both yourself and your art shipping provider.





Betsy Dorfman


EMPTY CRATES – store or discard?

Friday, April 10th, 2009



We get inquiries regularly from customers looking to gift their empty crates to us. With the implication that, of course, the crates are valuable and it is really the donor who is making the sacrifice. So the least we can do is pick them up for free, how about Tuesday? In the past, waaay in the past, we said yes. No longer.


Having accepted and stored an inventory of “used crates” some years back, we licked our chops and waited for the perfect fits to show up. The caller who would need a crate of a certain size, one we could pluck right out of our inventory, spruce up a bit and maybe re-fit the foam interior, and essentially sell again. Thus offering the customer a reduced rate and creating a happy transaction all around. Except that, it rarely happened. It so rarely happened, in fact, that we ceased for the most part storing empty crates.


Why? Well, first, it just wasn’t economical. Crates are built to house a particular artwork or set of artworks. To fit a smaller work into an existing crate, the interior has to be re-done, old materials stripped away, new foam added etc.– this is both labor intensive and involves the cost of new materials. Even removing old labeling and covering outdated stenciling takes considerable time. Often the “feet” of the crate were loose and had to be replaced, or other wood elements in the crate required reinforcement. In addition, the customer has to pay higher shipping rates for a larger crate, so that has to be considered in the trade off re pricing. Customers do not like to see wasted space within crates — and it is very clear to professionals when crates have been padded to excess.


The bottom line turned out to be that the expense in time and materials to refit an existing crate was substantial, and often building a new one was a better deal for the customer, especially when shipping costs were factored in. And on our side, the costs to pickup, handle, store, inventory and inspect crates to find possible matches was not worth the meagre return.


For many sculptures, installation pieces and other dimensional artworks, a retrofit crate was out of the question. With such artworks the interior of the crate is actually the expensive part, as custom supports have to be designed, fabricated, and secured in the crate to hold all elements of the work in place. To start with an existing crate would be a complication to be overcome, not a short cut.


Finally there can be quality issues with a used crate, particularly one that has been stored for a long time or that has been subject to repeated shipping adventures. Screws can work loose, wood dry out, glued elements come unglued, and the stresses of shipping can work loose formerly tight joints, gaskets, and seams.  Some of the crates donated to us way back when were, upon inspection, trash. Some looked new, but upon handling proved rickety and unlikely to survive further freight journeys without substantial refurbishing. Some had spiders and worse, having been stored out of doors — not recommended.


So our rule has become: empty crates? Thanks but, no thanks. There are exceptions to every rule, and here and there we are able to re-use a recently arrived crate if the stars are in proper alignment. If a really amazing crate comes our way we might keep and admire it for awhile, and have our craters learn from it’s design, but sooner or later out it goes. The only empty crates we store now are those held in storage accounts for our customers. These are typically high end crates built for specific artworks that clients have in their collections, or crates being held for artworks temporarily in town on exhibition. Normally only the most expensive museum quality crates and cases are stored long term; it makes economic sense to store these rather than build new ones. In that case, crates are carefully inspected prior to re-use, and any elements that have degraded are replaced, so they are in “as new” condition when released into the arms of the shipping gods.


 Betsy Dorfman


Glut of abandoned high end art!

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009


You may have seen recent news coverage of yacht owners abandoning their boats in these recessionary times, causing a mess for marinas and law enforcement officers who have to deal with the cost to dispose of these in an environmentally friendly way.


Well, less heralded, it’s happening to us here in our fine art storage facility. Owners of high end paintings and sculptures are abandoning these possessions in droves, rather than continue to pay storage fees.


As one collector put it in a recent phone call:

To continue to pay $125 a month when the artwork is only worth $50,000 – well, you do the math, it just isn’t a good investment anymore. Do whatever you want with the thing, to me at this point it’s just a heartbreak on canvas. And don’t call me anymore!”


Reached for comment, marina owner Fred “Tug” Cruiser, was sympathetic:

I hear you, believe me. At least yours don’t leak oil. Oh, they do? Never thought of that. Here we have the owners, some of them, deliberately scuttling the boats themselves. Insurance company raises them up to find neat holes drilled in the side etcetera. My advice,  if you’re going to scuttle one of those pictures or statues, first, don’t do it in my marina and, second, don’t make nice little round holes! Get your dog to chew it or something. Have a little imagination for Christ’s sake. Geez, there goes a guy with a drill, sorry, gotta go.”


As you can imagine, there are laws on the books governing the proper disposal of artworks. You can’t just toss them in the dumpster or leave them on the shoulder of the 405 freeway on a dark night, however tempting. And you can’t sell them because, as with yachts, the market is already glutted with people trying to sell better paintings for pennies on the palette and anyway, as a storage facility, you don’t have access to the provenance. Without the provenance, even preschools won’t take them for the nap room. We tried.


As it is today, we can barely get in the front door due to a pile up of Picassos and Pollocks. In the back,  orphaned Boteros have staged a rebellion, shed their crates, and are dancing naked in the aisles. It isn’t pretty.


That’s the situation here on April 1st, hoping for better days ahead.


Betsy Dorfman




Self storage for art: deal or no deal?

Monday, March 30th, 2009





Everyone is looking to trim costs these days, including people and institutions who store artworks. Self or “u-store” facilities, with advertised rates as low as low as $50-$75 per month for a “small” storage unit, are attractive. Rates vary from city to city, and within facilities depending upon “perks” like proximity to elevators, air conditioning, first floor, roll up door, etc.  Some offer free use of a truck on move in, and others discount boxes and packing materials.


Many customers are surprised to find, however, that storing art with a fine art company such as ours can be a cost effective alternative to self storage, and overall is more suitable for secure storage of art and other valuables.


A quick comparison:


SELF STORAGE                                                                           FINE ART STORAGE

-part month occupancy bills as full month                          – weekly pro-ration

-pay for entire unit, including wasted space                      – pay only for volume of items stored

-no insurance available                                                           insures into the millions

-no or few related services                                                    – full service art handling

-no racks or shelving provided                                               – customized for art storage

 -most will not receive/release for you                                – receive, ship out, whatever!

-no inventory services                                                               -photo & computer inventory

temperature variation can be severe                                   – monitored, regulated          

— no carry assistance                                                                – trained art handlers

-variable security provisions                                                  – UL approved central station

-no control over commodities stored, pests, fumes           – screened for suitability


And the price ?  Our climatized area begins at $125 per month.You can store 15-20 paintings of average size for that cost, plus one time charges for pickup, wrapping, and placing into storage.


Self storage is a great way to go for your extra lawn furniture, tools, and durable furnishings — for many “renters” it is in fact the equivalent of a garage. .Or, for you back easters, a basement or attic. And that makes a useful guide: if you wouldn’t want to risk it in the garage/attic/basement, then don’t put it into self storage. Especially since, if you add up the value of your time going back and forth, an art storage facility may actually be a bargain.


Oh, and did you know? — most “art” storage facilities will store other high value and delicate goods as well, not just art and antiques. We’ll do another blog post shortly on the range of items we store and the types of customers who make our work interesting every day.


Betsy Dorfman






Moving With the Times

Friday, December 19th, 2008

The R-bomb has been dropped, and everyone is feeling it. Now more than ever it is wise to consider all of your options when having artworks crated. More economical c-crates, and even slat crates will often do the job on a tight art handling budget. A variety of packing options are also available inside these crates in most cases. We encourage you to take a look at our crating page for more information, or email me at

Chris Barber

Is it bigger than itself?

Friday, December 19th, 2008

TIPS for obtaining an accurate quote for crating artworks:

We have mentioned previously the wisdom of providing the third dimension (the depth) for each two-dimensional artwork to be handled. But equally important is the issue of accurate dimensions. Having correct sizes is critical to crate pricing, and even moreso if crates are to be prebuilt in advance of actually receiving the artworks.

Very often we are provided with dimensions that are ten inches or more off the mark. You artists know who you are… Whether too high or too low, an estimate based on bad information is of little use to either the customer or the vendor. If the “wrong” dimensions are supplied for multiple works, as in a traveling exhibition, then the mistake just compounds and we all might as well just go out for a beer. After work, of course.

Some estimate requestors likely honestly believe that “close” is good enough or that a matter of inches one way or another won’t have a serious impact on pricing. But the truth is that when we design a crate we round up to the nearest 1/8″ inch in most cases. Or for an estimate, perhaps up to the nearest inch. But leeway of several inches? Never. The whole idea of a shipping crate for an artwork is to be custom built to the size of the work. And, believe it or not, too large is just as bad as too small.

When providing dimensions to an art handler the best approach is to supply each dimension labeled as to its correct orientation. For example: L 50 x W 3 x H 80. So if the artwork in question is a photograph that must travel right-side-up, the crating department will know how it must be crated, and any potential shipping issues due to height will be anticipated before it is time to ship the artwork. Send a photo of the work as well where possible, and of course indicate any condition issues that might require a custom or enhanced crating solution.

Guessing at the order of dimensions can be tricky. Many art shippers use art-world configuration of Height x Length x Width. But here at FAS we use the standard shipping configuration of Length x Width x Height in most of our notations, and we always indicate orientation with the letter designations to avoid confusion.

So give accurate dimensions, indicate the correct orientation, and provide as much information as possible about the artworks to be shipped. You will obtain an accurate estimate, and faster, too, as we won’t have to track you down to get more information.

Finally, if you are guessing at dimensions, confess! That way we may be able to offer you a couple of “what if” quotes and there will be less angst all around when that x- plus- ten -incher comes in the door.

Chris Barber & Betsy Dorfman

Let the Right One In

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008


Låt den rätte komma in; 2008 (Sweden); Director: Thomas Alfredson; Novel & Screenplay: John Ajvide Lindqvist; Oskar: Kåre Hedebrant; Eli: Lina Leandersson

Snow-white and preternaturally delicate tween boy Oskar takes his pent-up aggressions out on a tree in the courtyard of his dreary tenement until he meets the new girl next door Eli; a glum little vampire who smells funny when she’s due for a meal.


At the risk of just echoing what’s being said all over the place, Let the Right One In is one of the most haunting and fun combinations of teeth-aching sweetness and rapacious, unromantic bloodletting that I’ve seen since… I don’t know, Spider Baby? …but unfolding in a trickle of dialogue, still camerawork, patience and restraint.


The breadth of the aesthetic gap it straddles won’t seem spannable to everyone. Some may find it an aimless flow of moments crystallizing in isolation, while others may find it going off the deep end with a few of the sudden bursts of violence. But it left me warm as a cocoa and thirsty for more. The old gothic romance between hunter and prey is contextualized here in the reluctant revelations of earliest adolescence. A curious backstory and two sets of conflicted emotions are hinted at without comment, and traditional vampire tropes are parsed out sparingly; just when you might begin to forget or overlook the supernatural element.


It’s a rare horror movie that effectively stages its unnatural transgressions – not to mention its characters’ fleeting triumphs – so deep in the quotidian. Due to the banality of their presentation, a couple of this film’s scenes are a visceral stomach punch that can make a viewer like me break into a cold sweat. At the same time it’s a persuasively disturbed coming-of-age story, eternally delayed – an obliteration of innocence necessarily frozen in time. It’s as soft, gooey and strange as a romance between a snail and a leech. The implications projected into Eli’s past and Oskar’s future, as suggested by an ambiguous third character, complicate Eli’s selective naivete and perverse bond with the boy for whom she is far too old, yet who would soon outgrow her.


I’ve read that a British remake is already in the works. However that might turn out, I recommend seeing this first.

Chris Barber



What’s the Third Dimension?

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Most fine art shippers, including ourselves, receive a variety of estimate requests each day from both “civilian” and “industry” clients or potential clients. Often these requests contain details as to artist, title, origin and destination, dates requested, medium, height, and length. Most often missing? The third dimension i.e. the depth. This is so common that we have considered producing T-shirts reading WHAT’S THE THIRD DIMENSION?! If you are interested in receiving one of these, as yet, non existent shirts, let us know. No extra charge for existential overtones.

Upon being asked some requesters seem surprised that the depth would matter. As if, having gone to the bother of telling us that the medium is fossilized possum teeth and pop rocks embedded in resin, how could the depth possibly be of interest? But typically in the end they indulge us and come up with something, oh all right, if you must know…. I have often wondered why this lapse is so frequent, as it seems so logical that artworks, being things, have three dimensions and take up three dimensions in what we like to call real life.

With paintings in particular however, this dimension seems to disappear from the interest radar. Perhaps it is because the depth, measurement back to front, can and does vary with the framing. But that is equally true of the length and height, to some extent. I think the answer more likely is that trained and museum personnel most often think in terms of image size rather than framed size. (Another question every fine art shipper needs to remember to ask!) Image size is their gold standard and depth is not considered. And this omission can and does persist when inventories are passed on for shipping quotes.

Also the depth is generally the smallest dimension of the three and so can seem insignificant. Emphasis on the “seem.” As shippers, we live and occasionally die by volume. Back in my rookie season I worked up a detailed estimate for a multi crate traveling exhibition of sixty or so artworks. Licking my pencil (metaphorically) and conquering my English major’s fear of spatial relations testing of any kind, I grouped the paintings by size, figured my crate dims and was good to go. Except, I failed to ask re image size versus framed size and, worse , I let the customer get away with giving me an “average depth” of 3 inches per artwork. Long story short, the artworks were framed in the most enormous heavy and ornate gilt frames I have ever seen. These babies each needed their own zip code. Every one was 6-8″ inches overall larger than I had estimated including back to front. The real killer, the budget buster, the oh-my-god-you-have-got-to -be-kidding-me element was the depth.

Things I took away from this experience:

  • It helps to own the company, because you can’t be fired
  • You can’t be fired, but you can be forced to ‘eat’ unusable crates. (No they never come in handy for something else. But we will get to that in another post)
  • Average depth is defined as 5″ more than you could possibly imagine
  • Customers are very nice except when ten crates turn into twenty
  • Fear of spatial relations testing (which of these two hellish objects fits inside this other completely useless diagram) is a reliable predictor of intelligence
  • Image size is for politicians, not art shippers
  • All correspondence with estimate requesters should begin with “what is the third dimension” and end with “so help you god.”

Betsy Dorfman / Fine Art Shipping