Tom Finkelmeier wrote the first real insurance policy designed for sports collectors. 25 years later, he’s still at it.
Long before he ever started selling insurance policies to collectors, store owners and investors, Tom Finkelmeier was a collector himself.
Back in the late 1970s, he would go to shows to continue adding to his stash of cards and memorabilia. Even then, he knew had things that were of value and so did others he met including dealers with extensive inventories of vintage and rare cards. He was in the insurance business already, more than a decade removed from a tour of duty in Vietnam. Yet there were no policies available to adequately protect those unique items. And so as the 1980s dawned, he decided to do something about it.
"We had to wing it at first. I literally wrote the the policy. It had to be simple and straightforward but since then it hasn’t changed much."
Finkelmeier is now President of the Wapokoneta, OH-based Cornell & Finkelmeier, a familiar name among those who’ve been in the hobby for any length of time. Since the early 1980s, he’s insured hundreds of shops, dealer inventories and collections. A safe estimate is that C & F currently insures between $75 and $100 million worth of sports memorabilia through St. Paul Travelers, a large underwriter with $100 billion in assets.
"We have the exclusive right to market this through them," Finkelmeier told SportsCollectorsDaily.com. "It’s basically a one page application and the process is done through the mail and by telephone."
Insurance quotes are easy to get. Your car, house, boat and even your life can always be insured. You pick the deductible but the insurance company will tell you what your material goods are worth. Not so in the sports memorabilia insurance business. Finkelmeier leaves that up to the person buying the insurance.
"It’s hard for someone who may not know the difference between Topps and Bowman to insure a collection," he said. "We don’t require an on-site appraisal. There are plenty of price guides and other ways to determine a value for a specific collection or store inventory. Placing the right value really falls back on a collector or dealer. Anyone who buys insurance doesn’t want to overpay for it so they’re not going to artificially inflate the value of what they have."
C & F has paid millions of dollars in claims over the years for everything from smoke damage to theft. One dealer carried about $100,000 in mostly newer wax cases. One weekend, a pipe in a bathroom at the company’s warehouse burst, sending torrents of water flowing through the storage area. Most of it was a total loss, but fortunately the inventory had been insured. The policy the company sells does not cover flood, but such incidents fall under a different umbrella. Floods are considered a natural disaster resulting from the gradual overflow of bodies of water. Collections lost in Hurricane Katrina were not likely covered if the damage was done by rising floodwaters.
Another large claim turned into the company occurred when a self-storage facility in California was the victim of thieves who benefitted from a lax security system. One collector lost merchandise worth six figures but the claim was paid.
While smaller collections valued at less than $20,000 might best be served by a rider on a homeowner’s policy, Finkelmeier suggests that anyone going that route learn exactly how much an insurance company will pay in the event of loss. "Homeowners insurance is often paid under replacment cost. You may have lost a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle but they may replace that with a Mantle photograph. They don’t often take into account antiquity value. The proper way to insure a collection is having a policy that defines value on a fair market value basis."
Insuring a $100,000 collection costs $690 a year with a $5,000 deductible. The cost per $100 is reduced with policies that cover more valuable collections.
Some dealers and collectors–even those with substantial holdings– resist making the investment. "There’s still a flea market mentality among some dealers. They love the things they sell but many of them figure nothing will happen. For those who sell full time, it becomes doubly sad when they lose not only their inventory but their income."
Finkelmeier sold part of his collection to help pay for his children’s education. That "insurance investment" paid off. Son Tom Jr. has joined the business and also handles collectible policies. Tom Sr. still owns several favorite pieces relating to his favorite teams, the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Browns as well as a number of vintage cards.
The company handles not only dealer inventories and personal collections but also insures the National Sports Collectors Convention each summer.