We've all lost valuable items in our collections (related: did you know that the inside pages of Action Comics first issue make really good cigarette rolling papers?). However, the people in this article lost more than just a valuable keepsake, they lost huge parts of collections worth more than most people make in a year.
12 valuable collections wiped out by disaster
For many Philippines citizens, the 1970s were an extremely trying time. Brutally dictatorial leadership had left many people destitute. So when Imedla Marcos, wife of the current dictator, got a chance to wield her power, she made sure to do something about all of the poverty and injustice. Or, at least, that's what I'd be writing if we didn't live in a world where everything always turns out horribly. Actually, Imelda Marcos used funds to amass a shoe collection of over three thousand pairs.
After showing such callous apathy towards the problems of her average subjects, it's no wonder that, after she was forced to flee the country, nobody really took it upon themselves to safeguard the condition of her collection. When someone finally decided to check up on the shoes after decades in storage, it was discovered that most of them had been ruined by flooding and termites. Which is why the only shoes a smart person should collect are waterproof rain galoshes.
Early one morning in 2014, a giant hole opened up beneath the Kentucky Corvette Museum, as if to release some kind of Lovecraftian beast that happened to enjoy low-end sports cars. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and almost as fortunately, there is video footage of the disaster transpiring.
In all, eight Corvettes plunged into the abyss, representing about 10 percent of the museum's total inventory. Interestingly enough, this did not kill interest in the museum. Since museums are fairly quiet and serene, we would have thought the possibility of giant carverns sucking in patrons would deter traffic. However, the opposite is true, the Corvette museum saw a 67% increase in attendance after the accident, proving that there's nothing Americans love more than rubbernecking a good car accident.
The thing about most of these collections getting wiped out by various disasters is that, for the most part, the destruction was unavoidable. Sure, with foresight all of their owners would have locked their collections in a giant vault. However, when a hurricane hits and you've got a valuable memorabilia portfolio in your basement, there's not a lot that can be done.
That's what sets this collection's destruction apart from the others. In July 2012, a water main broke, sending water and sewage spewing out under the streets of Chicago. For three weeks, the city fielded complaints by doing absolutely nothing. Finally, over 20 days after the intial break, sewage seeped into the basement of Joseph and Debbie Bruce. Unfortunately, the couple had been using their basement to display a music collection worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Owners of a music store, they had gotten their hands on numerous vintage recordings and posters, many of which were ruined. Chicago was ordered to pay $325,000 for taking both a literal and metaphorical dump on the valuable collection.
Michael Bradley might have had a worse first few months of 2015 than anyone else on the planet. First, his New York comic book store burned down. Almost all of his inventory was lost, as Bradley could not afford insurance. Comics and collectibles, some worth thousands of dollars, were razed.
Bradley obviously has more drive than I do. If my comic book store was struggling to the point where I couldn't pay insurance, then burned to the ground, I'd probably try a different career path. However, Bradley was undaunted, and immediately started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to reopen. There, Bradley had to face the fact that, while many comic book afficionados are more than happy to loiter in the store rifling through issues, there are far fewer that will actually pony up the dough needed to keep the place running. Despite getting barely 1/4 of the modest $25,000 he was asking, Bradley managed to open a nearby satellite store. Sadly, Bradley's health then took a turn for the worse, and he passed away three months after the tragic fire.
I certainly have had my share of run-ins with my neighbors, whether it be because of unleashed pets, leaving my garbage cans out too long, or their stubborn refusal to respect my right to privacy and ignore my high volume polka music. But I've never had a neighbor sue me for $10 million because I had a water leak.
Yet that was the fate of the upstairs neighbors of Manhattan fashion photographer Robert Watson. While they were away on vacation, a water leak poured 22 gallons of water onto Watson's extensive collection of celebrity photographs. Watson's insurance ponied up nearly half a million dollars, but he felt that wasn't enough. So he sued his neighbors for $1.5 million plus ten million in punitive damages. Because if there's one thing celebrity photographers are known for, it's their deep emotional capacity for suffering.
If you're like me (and who isn't) you are probably wondering "if these collections are so valuable, then why do these people store them in their basement?" The answer is simply that basements are often the only place big enough to store collections of these sizes, without having to trust your retirement fund to the stoned kid behind the desk of a storage rental facility.
Perhaps no one knows this better than South Carolinan Rob Kasino, who had a collection of show posters valued in the six figures. Kasino was nervous about leaving them at a storage facility, but he was assured that his unit was climate controlled. As it turns out, it was climate controlled, in the sense that "humid" is a kind of climate. When Kasino checked on his posters, he found mold eveywhere, due to water seeping into the unit. Needless to say, a 50-year-old poster does about as well when exposed to moisture as a humanities major does when exposed to the modern job market.
There's a reason why exotic sports cars are usually shipped to shows by trailer. When a group of high-end car enthusiasts were convoying to a car show in Japan, they ignored that the roads were wet and decided drive 100 miles per hour. High performance sports cars not only drive fast, but they also hydroplane out of control quickly. The resulting crash had, fortunately, very minor injuries, but involved eight Ferraris and a Lamborghini, as well as a few other luxury automobiles. In all, several of the vehicles had to be scrapped, and there was a reported $4 million in damages. Which is why it's preferable to just keep buying Honda Accords until you stop wrecking them learning to Tokyo drift.
One of the risks of operating a high-end restaurant in an area that has a hurricane season is that, if power is knocked out of your refrigeration unit, the goods will hang out in 90-degree weather until the unit is repaired. Plus, you can't go to FEMA and say "hey stop prioritizing all these stranded families and spend some energy getting my wine collection re-chilled!" Or, at least, that's what I hope Emeril Lagasse didn't do after Hurricane Katrina spoiled over $1 million worth of wine at his restaurants.
In all, about 15,000 bottles totalling $1.3 million were trashed. It's scary to think that a high end restaurant is sitting on a million dollars worth of wine. It's also weird how flooding can ruin something in a waterproof container. The world is full of irony.
Another issue with keeping valuable collecitons in a story facility is the difficulty in getting insurance coverage. Although it is common for storage companies to offer to sell the renter insurance, most aren't going to underwrite a policy that leaves them on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in memorabilia damage.
This is why Floridian Angela Porter declined to get insurance when she stored $100,000 worth of mint-in-box barbies in a rental unit from a company not-so-reassuringly named "Uncle Bob's." The correct thing to do would be to have an appraiser rate the collection and then get a private insurance policy, but Porter didn't really think much could happen to a plastic box held tight inside a metal storage container. She underestimated the lack of professional drive of any business that thinks "Uncle Bob's" is an appropriate name. When she checked in on her doll collection, she was horrified to find that a gaping hole in the roof had soaked all her belongings to the point of ruination.
We can understand why some collectors opt not to insure their collection. If the collection is secured in your house in a place that won't get flooded, why bother paying expensive premiums for something that's not going to get damaged? It's not like a plane is going to fall out of the sky and crash directly into your collection. Right?
Well, for Douglas Wielinski, that's exactly what happened. You think a rookie Mickey Mantle card is valuable? He had 10. In all, his collection could have been worth up to $2.4 million had a commuter jet not fallen on his house in 2009.
This fate serves as a valuable lesson: Even if you don't insure your collection, keep a running inventory preferably with pictures. The airline offered his family a mere $50,000 (sadly, Wielinski perished in the crash.) This left them, and their lawyers, with the unenviable task of sorting through all the ashes to try to piece together exactly what he had owned, and how much it was worth. They had to hunt down vendors at flea markets who may have sold Wielinski valuable baseball cards, they had to get a professional auction house expert to sort through boxes of charred memorabilia and testify that, yes, this big pile of debris was once worth millions.
George Davenport ran an English record store in the 1960s and 70s, and managed to amass a collection of hundreds of thousands of copies of vinyl. In all, Davenport's collection was estimated to be the largest one of its kind in all of England. While he kept a lot of the collection in his store, he did select a few choice pieces (50,000, in fact), to keep in the basement. His landlord wasn't too keen on potentially being on the hook for a collection worth several million dollars, and told Davenport to stop storing music history on the property.
Davenport didn't really have anywhere else to put it. After all, his record collection had already outgrown an entire store. So he kept it there. When basement flooded trashed nearly the entire collection, Davenport sued his landlord and won. The one thing I've learned from all this research is that suing someone over a destroyed collection is a far easier way to liquidate it than by actually finding buyers for it when it's intact.