Don't chip that Chippendale: care in moving valuables

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

`THE neighborhood is going down.'' ``The rent is going up.'' ``My wife got a job in another city.''

There is probably no end to the possible reasons for moving from one place to another. Some people move so often they just keep the cardboard boxes in storage.

Most household objects are relatively easy to move, and homeowners tend to give their attention to the bigger pieces of furniture that can generally absorb a blow or two.

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Works of art or antiquity, however, are different. They require special handling. Even a light bump can chip a Chippendale, cause paint to fall off a canvas, or permanently unbalance a sculpture.

The glass covering a print may shatter and tear the work underneath. Or a frame may break and create a pull on the canvas.

``You can strap a painting into the back seat of your car, and hope you don't hit any potholes along the way,'' says John Buchanan, registrar at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, ``but there are a lot safer ways to do it.''

One of the more painless things that can be done for free is to remove the hanging devices from behind a painting - the screws and wires - and take the picture out of the frame. Both the canvas and frame may expand and contract under certain climatic conditions, brushing against each other, knocking off some paint.

Museum conservators recommend putting some felt or foam between the frame and the canvas, then wrapping it all up in brown paper. This provides protection against dirt and dust, and cushions small bumps.

If the picture is covered by a sheet of glass, place a couple of strips of tape across it, securing the glass in one piece if it breaks.

Works can also be cushioned in bubble wrap, available at many hardware stores, though the entire package should be wrapped again in brown paper. One problem with bubble wrap is that it tends to retain heat and moisture, which may harm the object inside. Wood, for instance, may warp inside bubble wrap. Paint may flake off, or a metal object may develop rust.

One way to avoid this problem is to avoid packing or moving on a rainy day. It's possible to stipulate to movers that they not come if the relative humidity is above 65, or below 40 percent, or when it is raining.

Another way is to stipulate in writing that movers not store pieces overnight on a loading dock - where heat and humidity levels, not to mention dirt, are likely to be unregulated, and the possibility of theft is quite real. You can request that the moving van itself have temperature and humidity controls. This is how most major museums transport their objects, though it's rather costly.

In addition, you should resolve in advance with the mover the amount of insurance coverage as well as instructions on how the objects should be handled. This should be in writing. People with valuable objects sometimes get additional insurance elsewhere.

Many owners of precious objects ask to have these pieces shipped in wooden crates. For almost all sculpture, valued ceramics, and glassware, this should be mandatory. Crates can be constructed at a cost of $100 to $1,500, depending on how much protection is desired.

A crate is relatively easy to make. It is a simple pine box, reinforced with 3/4-inch plywood and lined with waterproof paper and a layer of polyurethane foam.

Make sure objects do not bang against the sides, but are fitted snuggly inside the crate. Screws, rather than nails, should be used to attach the lid of the crate, because hammering may prove too jarring to the works. Many conservators also suggest coating the outsides with oil paint, which adds an extra sealant.

It is also advisable to place skids on the bottom of the crate, so that the prongs of a forklift can slide easily underneath, and some marking on the top so that the crate could not be shipped upside down.

The more you move, the greater the likelihood of some damage taking place. But it can be minimized by putting everything in writing and requiring certain kinds of care.

Mr. Buchanan says that ``outside of the major urban areas, there are very few commercial movers who know anything about how to pack or move works. You really take your chances with some of them.'' He recommends calling local museums to ask who has moved objects for them.

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