A four-piece silver place setting, bought 20 years ago for $24, now costs $496. The value of its pure-silver content is up an unbelievable 3,636 percent (from 91 cents an ounce in 1960). And you're probably still keeping it in a diningroom drawer wrapped in antitarnish cloth.
If I know where to find your silver, so does every thief in America. Insurers and police departments both say that home burglaries have been rising, partly because of the easy pickings in dining-room drawers. A couple of years ago, a casual intruder might have taken only the TV; now he skips the TV and takes your forks and trays.
You won't want to trudge to the attic every day to get forks for dinner. But bowls, trays and candlesticks used only for company might be stowed in a place not easily found by a quick-look thief. When you leave on vacation, consider leaving the silver with a neighbor or in a safe deposit box.
Should you suffer a burglary, chances are that your homeowner's or tenant's insurance will cover only a fraction of the silver's value. Old-style policies may replace the loss in full. But over the past two years, insurers in many states have been limiting their silver coverage to $1,000, then making the change when customers renew. Chances are that you didn't even notice when it happened.
Many insurers, let you raise the silverware portion of your homeowners insurance to $3,000 or $6,000, for an extra $1 for each $500 of coverage. But that may not be the best thing to do.
Homeowner's policies typically cover personal property for 50 percent of face value. For example, on an $80,000 policy, contents are insured up to $40,000. The latter figure may sound ample. But when you add up the value of your furniture, rugs, appliances, dishes, clothing, kitchen and gardening equipment, and hobby material, you'd be surprised how much they're worth.
If you raise the silverware portion of your homeowner's policy from $1,000 to $3,000, you have more protection against theft. But all you've done is rearrange the way the coverage is apportioned. You haven't raised the policy's face value. If the house burns down, taking the silver with it, there's no extra insurance to repay the loss. You still receive the maximum 50 percent of face value.
A better idea is to buy a separate floater policy. The silverware is appraised, and a value set for the collection. In case of theft, you're paid up to the limits of the policy. If the house burns down, the homeowner's coverage can be applied in full to other items, leaving the floater to pay for the silver. Floater prices vary from state to state. A typical price for silverware is 22 cents for each $100 of coverage ($22 of a $10,000 policy). Some points:
You can't collect from both a floater and a homeowner's policy.
Strictly speaking, you're covered only for the value of the silverware as of the time it's stolen, up to the limits of the policy. A $5,000 policy pays only that amount no matter how high silver prices rise.
(Some companies will reduce the size of the premium retroactively if values fall below the policy limits and the customer really kicks. Alternatively, they may replace the actual silverware rather than give you cash.)
If you carry only a homeowner's policy, be sure to make an accurate inventory of your silverware and other possessions.