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    Follow the Stories | Palm Springs, California (2008)

    Protecting Your Art from Thieves


    Posted: 01.05.09

    Elliott Clark painting

    Play Video

    This painting of a Mexico beach scene by Eliott Clark is one of 10 stolen paintings that Jim McCarty has managed to recover. In this Bonus Video, host Mark Walberg and appraiser Alan Fausel take a closer look at two of the pieces now back in McCarty's possession. Watch the Bonus Video.

    Jim McCarty and his folder

    Play Video

    By scouring art galleries, auctions, and the Internet, armed with a notebook of labeled photos cataloguing his collection, McCarty has been able to recover 10 of the 60 paintings stolen from him in 2000. Watch the full Field Segment from this episode.

    painting of Desert scene from segment

    This desert scene by California impressionist Carl Browne is one of Jim McCarty's favorite plein-air paintings. Jim McCarty has created a Web site with photos of all his missing artwork. Check it out and contact us at if you have any information that may help in the recovery of any of McCarty's paintings.


    In 2000, when Jim McCarty began an extensive renovation of his Palm Springs home, he locked away his 60 or so California plein-air paintings he'd been collecting since the 1980s. He thought they were safe. But they weren't.

    "I went out to the storage area and unlocked the storage unit, and lo and behold, every piece had been taken," McCarty says.

    How to protect your treasured art collection

    McCarty isn't the only unfortunate art collector to be targeted by thieves. While the shadowy nature of the black market makes it difficult to know the magnitude of the problem, the FBI estimates that thieves steal about $6 billion in art each year.

    To find out how to protect your private collection and how to track down your art if it is stolen, we spoke to Alan Fausel, an ANTIQUES ROADSHOW appraiser from Bonhams New York, and to Christopher Marinello, the executive director of the Art Loss Register, a company that keeps a database of stolen art and helps recover it.

    Preventing Theft
    As in medicine, the best cure for art theft is prevention. Security systems, usually an investment of a few thousand dollars, will often dissuade thieves, and such a deterrent can bring down your art insurance costs. Fausel also recommends that you don't publicize your art collection too widely or freely. "If you're moving, don't tell the movers what's in the box," Fausel recommends. "This is a 'loose lips sinks ships' kind of thing."

    Hold on to Your Paperwork
    Documenting your ownership of your art is also essential. Both Fausel and Marinello urge art owners to keep paper documentation for their art valuables, including a bill of sale and an appraisal. It's important to hold on to this documentation for years, even decades, Marinello says, because thieves often wait patiently to sell stolen art.

    To make his point, Marinello cites the case of Paula and Howard Ellman, New York City dealers specializing in Tiffany art. The couple bought some Tiffany vases in April 2008 at Freeman's in Philadelphia only to discover that the vases were part of 16 Tiffany pieces at the auction that had been stolen from the Ellmans' New York City shop in 1971. They were able to convince Freeman's that the pieces belonged to them already, because they had kept purchase receipts that stretched back to the mid-1960s. With the help of the Art Loss Register, and with the law on their side, the Ellmans had their pieces returned or were reimbursed by Freeman's based on their value.

    "You'd be surprised how many people go it alone," Marinello notes. "They pay $150 for something and it may be worth $150,000. They don't get it appraised and they don't get it insured." An appraisal is important, Fausel says, because it "verifies that you have [the art work] in your possession. An appraisal requires that an appraiser can say the pieces were seen at a certain place and time."

    Take Photos
    Visual records of your art, whether videos or photos, are also an important way to track your ownership. One of McCarty's paintings — Carl Browne's desert painting from about 1900 — was recovered after a prospective buyer found a photo of the painting posted online with a stripe across it that read "Stolen."

    With digital cameras, it's also now easy to take high-quality photos of a painting's details, such as a signature for example, or the edge of a painting, which can be as distinctive as the painting itself. And since artworks as well as photographs taken of them are susceptible to fire, Fausel recommends you keep your photo records someplace that's safe from fire.

    "If you are going to take photos," Fausel says, "send a copy to your grandmother."

    Get the Police Report
    Finally, if the worst happens and a work of art is stolen, Marinello says that it's key to get one more piece of paper: a police report documenting the theft. "The first thing people ask if you say they have something that's stolen is, 'Do you have a police report?'" Marinello says.

    Jim McCarty has created a Web site with photos of all his missing artwork. Check it out and contact us at if you have any information that may help in the recovery of any of McCarty's paintings.

    See the Palm Springs, California (2009) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.

    More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW articles from the Paintings & Drawings category:
    A Man and His Mural (Baltimore, 2008)
    Inside "Outsider Art" (Tucson, 2007)
    A Lost Little Picasso (Philadelphia, 2007)
    A Real Andy Warhol? (Honolulu, 2007)
    Audubon Originals (Tip of the Trade)
    Pennsylvania Impressionists: Valued at Last (Tip of the Trade)

    For more on art theft, see:
    The FBI Art Theft Program
    The Art Loss Register
    Stolen: The Gallery of Missing Masterpieces, by Jonathan Webb and Julian Radcliffe. Cameron House, 2008.

    Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a contributor to Antiques Roadshow Online since 1998.