Collection Protection - The Collectibles Insurance Business

According to Tom Finkelmeier, magazines like SMR have been incredibly helpful for the values they offer. “The price guides have made everybody’s life easier when it comes to insurance and claims,” he said.

It was a day just like any other day in the offices of Cornell & Finkelmeier, a Wapakoneta, Ohio, insurance agency. The company's president, Tom Finkelmeier was working his way through the stack of messages he had to return and was in the process of dialing the number of a man by the name of Tim who had called to request some information on insuring his valued sports collectibles.

"I got him on the phone and we started talking and he was just a great guy," Finkelmeier recalled. "He told me that he had no problem getting his original Picasso insured but that he couldn't find anyone who was willing to insure his sports collectibles. As our conversation went on, I asked him what he did for a living and he told me he was an anchorman for NBC." Finkelmeier looked again at the pink slip with the name Tim on it and then it clicked. "It was Tim Russert," Finkelmeier laughed.

When Finkelmeier told his mother about the call, she berated him for not immediately recognizing the then-host of Meet the Press. "The next time I spoke to Tim, I told him that my mother was a huge fan of his and that she was upset that I didn't recognize his voice right away," said Finkelmeier. "Well I ended up insuring his collectibles and about a year later, shortly after I had spoke with him on the phone about something, I received a package that Tim had obviously packed himself. Inside, there was an autographed photo that said To Tom, Protect me, Tim Russert. Then, as I dug down in the box, there was a Meet the Press coffee mug with a handwritten note saying the mug was for my mother. He was really an incredible man."

Tom Finkelmeier Jr., serves as the vice president of Cornell & Finkelmeier and, like his father, is involved in helping collectors insure their collections.

For Finkelmeier, Tim Russert was just one of the many luminaries he has worked with over the years. "That is one of the most exciting things about what we do," Finkelmeier said. "I have had the opportunity to visit with and work with a lot of very well-known prominent people. These are people who you would usually have no chance of getting on the phone, and if you did, you would never get more than five minutes of their time. But you get them on the phone and start taking about their collections and you can't get them off the phone," he added with a laugh.

If you can think of something associated with sports, chances are the Finkelmeier’s have worked with the owners or dealers to insure it.

Tom Finkelmeier, his son, company Vice President Tom Finkelmeier, Jr., their business partner Tom Cornell, and the head of their sports related customer service department, Susan Howe, are the key individuals who operate Cornell & Finkelmeier, Inc. Based in Wapakoneta, Cornell & Finkelmeier, is a full-service agency that offers a unique service in that they specialize in insuring sports collectibles. Along with people such as the late Tim Russert, the company's client list is rich with the names of people who themselves have inspired collectibles including actors, politicians and Hall of Fame athletes.

From left, Tom Finkelmeier Jr., Susan Howe and Tom Finkelmeier work with serious, high-end sports memorabilia collectors to make sure they have collection protection.

Finkelmeier, a long-time sportscard and sports memorabilia collector, said that when it comes to sports related memorabilia most insurance companies are at a loss in understanding how to offer coverage. Soon after establishing his company in 1981, he began hearing from collectors and dealers who, like Russert, complained that they could not find anyone to offer them insurance on their collections. According to Finkelmeier most insurance companies just don't understand the sports collectibles hobby and the forces that drive it. He said that while a few companies such as Lloyd's of London will insure unique items, most companies just don't have the knowledge or the underwriter to allow them to offer such coverage. Major sports collectors know that Cornell & Finkelmeier has insured the type of items that no one else will touch. Things such as T206 Honus Wagner cards and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig game-used equipment and uniforms. As the nation's largest insurer of sports memorabilia, they have created and offer an "All-In-One" insurance program that has been specifically designed to cover and protect nearly all types of collectibles. Underwritten by Travelers, one of the oldest and largest insurance companies in the country, Cornell & Finkelmeier offers a simple and easy to complete application that offers a policy form designed specifically for dealers and collectors; valuation on a fair market value basis, and blanket inventory coverage per collectible category under one policy. They also make available an all-risk policy form that is subject to very few exclusions and full theft, earthquake and flood coverage with no off premises or transit limitations.

The Finkelmeiers, along with their partner, Tom Cornell, work as a full line independent insurance agency that represents nine national and regional insurance groups.

Realizing how important it is to protect valuable sportscards and collectibles, Sports Market Report recently sat down with Tom Finkelmeier to learn more about him and the unique service his company offers to collectors. Articulate, knowledgeable and savvy when it comes to assisting sports collectors, Finkelmeier also possesses a great sense of humor. He has the capacity to establish a swift rapport with people and within the first few minutes of speaking with him, you feel like you are chatting with a longtime friend. We started our conversation by asking Tom to tell us a bit about himself.

TF: I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio where we lived till I was in the fourth grade when we moved to a little town called Celina, Ohio. My dad was a country doctor who worked 16 hours a day. He established a work ethic in us. I graduated from Celina High School and then went on to attend and graduate from the University of Cincinnati where I had majored in history and was pre-law. As soon as I got out of college, I was drafted into the United States Army and spent a year as a combat infantryman in Vietnam. After my stint in the service, I came home, got married, settled down and started selling insurance. That wasn't really my plan but I never really had much time to give it any thought. I had spent a year in the central highland jungles of Vietnam. When I came back from overseas, my plan was to take off for about six months and lay on the couch to re-establish myself into the civilian world. Well I got home on a Thursday and my dad had already set up an interview for me with the Celina Insurance Group which was a little regional company here in Ohio. I interviewed with them on Friday and started the following Monday. So, I never gave any thought to becoming an insurance man. I just came home, had my weekend off from a year in Vietnam and started selling insurance.

SMR: Were you always a collector?

TF: I'm a big Cleveland Browns fan and a big Cincinnati Reds fan - always have been. I am also a fanatic when it comes to history. I have a library with over three-thousand books. Today, I'm actually more into collecting books then sports memorabilia. I love to read, especially non-fiction history. As far as sports collecting - when I was a youngster I collected baseball cards. I was very actively involved in card collecting till about the time I went to high school. When I got back from Vietnam I started to collect again and I had a good start because unlike so many kids, I didn't have my cards thrown away by my mom. Today I'm still working on my 1955 Topps Double Headers set and also my 1956 Topps set. When you are a collector, you're a collector. I see people who have sports collections who also collect Lionel Trains and classic comic's books. I'm like that. I'm a multi-collector. When I started my company, I began attending card and memorabilia shows and as I got to know various dealers in the area, they got to know that I was in insurance and they told me they could not find anyone to insure their inventory. So, to make a long story short, I sat down with my partner and we decided to manuscript an insurance policy specifically for sports memorabilia.

SMR: So that's how you got into insuring sports collectibles?

TF: Right. That was in 1981. We got into it with high hopes and we started it with a program to sell it nationally. To be honest, those first few years were a struggle. Obviously Cornell & Finkelmeier of Wapakoneta, Ohio was not a household name so we really struggled until 1987 when things really changed for us. That change came by way of two major events. One was that we were lucky enough to get Travelers to underwrite our program. Travelers is one of the oldest and largest insurance companies in the country with over $100-billion dollars in assets. Besides their being a fantastic company, the thing that really helped was that they were completely computerized. That proved to be extremely valuable for us because they helped us to be able to work with clients in Iowa, New York, Chicago, or wherever. We didn't have that availability before. The second thing was that the hobby had just exploded around that time. In the late 1980s, every town had a sports memorabilia store and there were sports card and memorabilia shows everywhere. So that was the way the word got around, and that is how our program got off the ground.

SMR: Tom, why should a collector use Cornell & Finkelmeier instead of just using their local agency who insures their home and car?

TF: If your local insurance agent has a solid understanding and knowledge about the items you collect, there may not be any reason not to use him instead of us, assuming he has a market to place the coverage. The problem is that what you'll find is there are very few insurance companies across the country that will insure sports memorabilia. When you go to your local agent, who most likely will not be familiar with sports memorabilia, they will most likely write a policy based on replacement cost in like, kind and quality. What they won't do is take into consideration antiquity value. An example would be if you have a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card. The way insurance companies see that card is simply as a small photo of Mickey Mantle - which is what they would consider to be the like, kind and quality replacement. The other term in insurance is actual cash value which is replacement cost less depreciation, which does not work when it comes to collectibles. The problem that occurs when a local agent writes a policy on collectibles is that when a fire occurs and there is a loss, the adjuster starts pulling his hair out because the form doesn't fit the coverage.

SMR: How is what your company offers different?

TF: What makes what we do significantly different is that our policy was manuscripted specifically for collectibles and the valuation clause is on a fair market value basis of a specific collectible's value. Now we have modified that at times for various clients. Let's say you had a collector who only had new stuff. They might want cost plus thirty percent, but it is with the valuation clause where most local agents trip up, although in their defense the fact is there are very few companies that will even write this line of business.

SMR: Why is that?

TF: To some extent it is because in recent history the media has not given the hobby a favorable image due to problems and forgeries, especially in the autograph hobby. That has created a terrible image of collectibles when it comes to insuring them. The insurance underwriter is just too afraid of it largely because they don't really know anything about the hobby. If you call your local agent and he doesn't know the difference between a Topps card and a Bowman card then you know you're in trouble. That is because he doesn't understand what he's dealing with in terms of the specific hobby of sports collectibles.

SMR: Do you cover any type of sports collectible - game-used items, cards, autographs?

TF: We would try to accommodate nearly any type of collectible. I say nearly because we could always run into something that for whatever reason we would not be able to insure. When we developed our program it was specifically designed to be a sports memorabilia program and then as time went on, and the hobby diversified, we expanded into covering comic books because a lot of sports memorabilia stores were carrying comic books. The last major change we instituted was in covering all types of collectibles. We then enhanced our program across the board.

SMR: Do you only cover collectibles?

TF: No,we are a full line independent insurance agency that represents nine national and regional insurance groups. My partner, Tom Cornell, specializes in large commercial accounts of any type but mostly in manufacturing and technology. So when a memorabilia store, or a museum, or an auction or authentication house contacts us we are in a position to offer them inventory coverage (and) the total picture as far as furniture, fixtures, computers, business interruption, public liability, automobile - whatever they need. We are a one stop shop.

SMR: Over the years, you have insured some of the most valuable items in the hobby. How do you deal with valuing one-of-a-kind type items?

TF: If you can think of something associated with sports, we've insured it. Just look though any sports auction catalogue and you will know the wide range of items that are out there. Anything that is desired by someone else is a collectible. Think of Ty Cobb's teeth (laughs). Well to one man they would be junk, to another they would be a highly valued treasure. We have insured the famous Honus Wagner card with five different owners and each time that card changed hands, the valuation of it changed depending on what it sold for. The hard thing is when you have a totally unique one-of-a-kind item like Ty Cobb's teeth, which we actually handled. In a case like that, you have nothing to go by other than the final sale price on which to value it. The bottom line on value is that it ultimately is what a willing buyer would pay a seller for the item. That of course can be subjective. A Cincinnati Reds item may have more of a value with a collector here in Ohio than it would in some other part of the country. Just as an example, let's say two collectors each have a collection of the same 25,000 sportscards. One collector may value his collection, within the parameters of the hobby, at $22,000, while the other collector values his collection at $25,000. Both values would be within the parameters, so we will deal with both of them on how they personally valued them. We have done this since 1981 and have never had a problem on valuation. One of the reasons for that is simple - most people don't want to spend more money on insurance then they have to so, they tend to be conservative in their valuation.

SMR: Has third party grading, such as what is offered by PSA and PSA/DNA played a role in what you do?

TF: Third party grading is great. Once a card has been graded there is no question about it. Magazines like SMR have been important tools for providing the values they give us to go by. The price guides have made everybody's life easier when it comes to insurance and claims. I would recommend that anyone who has a collection of any value to have it graded. In fact, I think people who don't have collectibles valued are being foolish. Along with being able to document it better for insurance purposes, it is also important in case of death. I'll tell you from firsthand experience, when a collector dies, it is a nightmare for his estate if his collectible items don't have a valuation associated with them. In cases like these, there are often no records of where they came from or what they had sold for. The collector's wife has no idea about any of the stuff. That is a big problem. So, if you have a nice collection, it would make sense that you should properly inventory it, have it graded or authenticated, and then have it insured. You should view your collectibles just like any other valuable asset. You insure your car and your house, so if you have a legitimate collection, you would certainly want to protect it - insuring it is protecting it.

SMR: So keeping good records of your items is very important when it comes to insuring. What about appraisals?

TF: In insurance, the better you can document your claim the easier it is to settle the claim, so obviously appraisals are very handy at claim time. Now, we do not require appraisals. We allow you to value your items based on the values found in memorabilia price guides. Remember, we don't care what you paid for an item - we care about what it is worth now. Appraisals are great but, as you mentioned, inventory is also very important. You have to have a detailed inventory of what items you have in your collection. The worst case scenario is if an adjuster asks you what you lost and you don't even really know what you had. That will be a huge problem on the claim.

SMR: Tom, you deal with significant and highly valued items. What would be your recommendation for the person who has a collection, that while very significant in their eyes, is worth say $10,000 or less?

TF: Well, our program is designed for collections that are valued at $25,000 and up. When I have someone contact me with a collection that is valued at around $10,000 I will recommend that they do go to their local insurance agent and ask them if they can add a fine arts floater on to their homeowner's policy for their collectibles. There are companies that will do that for items valued up to about $20,000 or so. When it gets higher than that most insurance companies start getting uncomfortable. You would hope to get that on a blanket basis so you don't have to schedule everything. Depending on what state a collector lives in we could help them by recommending a company that they can try. This is the case not just with sports collectibles but even if you have $10,000 worth of furs, or silver, or paintings. We come into the picture when you get to $25,000 and higher. You will find most companies won't handle that. When someone looks into getting coverage for collectibles, there are a couple things they should be clear on. One is how the collectibles are covered. How they are valued. The other thing is what is really covered. In insurance there is a term called "all risk" which means if it is not excluded it is covered. Things that are typically excluded are war or nuclear disaster. Also, in the case of collectibles it is important to know that you can't cover natural aging, wear and tear, yellowing, scratching, and damage by rats. Those things are routinely not covered. What you do want to know is what is covered like fire, lightning, windstorm, hail, smoke and additional lines like earthquake and flood coverage. We have all seen enough on television in recent times to know those exposures are very real. Also, you need to know if the coverage you have is applicable off premises or if it is only covered on premises. All of those things need to be understood, rather than just calling up an agent and asking for a policy to cover things and not really knowing what you have bought.

SMR: Tom, you are the perfect person to help collectors protect their collectibles because you approach the protection from a collector's standpoint. As a lifelong sportscard and memorabilia collector, and one who deals with some of the biggest collectors in the world, have you come to understand why sports related items are so special to so many people?

TF: I think it's a touch of history. Think of this - if you were a little kid and you were sitting at Crosley Field in Cincinnati watching Johnny Temple and Roy McMillan throw a double play, that was a moment in time you will always remember. I think it's that wonder of history, and that you own a little piece of it. I think it's about owning something that you can look at and remember when you got it and where you were when you got it. I have a 1952 Topps Mantle card and I can still vividly remember when I got that card and the trade I made for it at a Cincinnati card show. You carry these memories with you for the rest of your life. I can also tell you from experience, as you get older, those memories become more important. Perhaps, because you become more nostalgic as you get older.


If you would like further information on insuring your collectibles you can reach Tom Finkelmeier, Tom Finkelmeier, Jr., or customer service representative Susan Howe by e-mail at [email protected] or at their toll free number: (800) 739-3314.