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How to Safeguard Your Antiques from Theft

The Telegraph recently published an article detailing the increases seen in theft, burglary, and robberies over the festive period. In some cases, these crimes have soared by around 20% on the previous year; worse still, many of these criminals are not apprehended or charged for these offences.

The winter months tend to bring with them a greater volume of crime. The long, dark evenings provide cover for burglars, as well as the fact that many properties are left unoccupied while owners celebrate the season with friends and family. This peak continues into January, as the newly-acquired gifts are left at home when families return to school or work.

Although the latest tech and gadgets are obvious targets, many of them can only be accessed with a registered fingerprint or, in the case of the iPhone X, using facial recognition. These features can render a product useless when in the wrong hands. In the case of antiques and collectibles though, there is still a great market for these stolen goods. Unfortunately, as owners do not always catalogue their possessions, it can prove near impossible to repatriate these items in the event of their theft.

Immobilise was set up in 2003 and, with the full cooperation of the Police, central government, and the mobile phone industry, has become the largest free property register in the world. You can read more about Immobilise HERE. In conjunction with the NMPR (National Mobile Property Register) and CheckMEND, they unite to help reduce crime and increase the chances of property being returned to the rightful owners.

I first became aware of Immobilise in around 2004-2005, and set up an account immediately. Over the years, it has updated and upgraded the way you add your goods, including offering a selection of affordable marking products. When used simultaneously with your online account, you can register any number of items of varying types; if the worst should happen, you have done all you can to ensure their swift return.

As I have already mentioned, Immobilise offers this service for FREE. To keep this valuable resource active, it relies on retailers, the Police, and councils to raise awareness. I have chosen to trial two of their marking products, namely the ImmobiMARK and the newly released Immobidot.

The ImmobiMARK

The ImmobiMARK kit is a basic property marking kit available at a very affordable price. The UV pen and small UV torch allow you to inconspicuously mark products that do not have serial numbers or labels. In addition, the window stickers and serial numbered warning tags offer an extra deterrent. There are also some key rings that allow you to register your keys online.

The Immobidot

Since the Immobidot was released back in November 2017, I have been intrigued to find out more about it. Forensic marking of property steps the game up a notch, offering undeniable proof of ownership. Although the kit is more expensive than the Immobimark, the estimated 1,000 microdots suspended within the solution ought to go a long way. This pack also includes window stickers and warning labels, as per the Immobimark.

I requested to trial both products as they are advertised as being ideal for marking ‘antiques’, amongst other things.

To give a clear idea of efficacy, I have chosen several different mediums from across the collecting spectrum. Both products are tried on the same piece to offer a comparison. You can view these comparisons below - all images will enlarge when clicked.

CERAMICS

As you can see, the ImmobiMARK pen shows no trace on the glaze until it is lit with the UV light. At that point, the code assigned to it is very prominent. The Immobidot, on the other hand, is visible on close scrutiny, even once it has dried. 

GLASS

The ImmobiMARK does not show at all in normal lighting conditions. When subjected to UV light, it reflects well (it would be clearer if the room was darker). The Immobidot, although more obvious when wet, dries to appear like pieces of frit in the glass - something you come to expect with older or handmade pieces. In this respect, it isn't particularly obvious.

METAL

You wouldn't believe that the shell casing had been written on with a pen. It is not remotely visible. However, when you shine the UV light on it, the code becomes clear. The Immobidot is unsurprisingly visible when wet, but dries to look like flecks on the base; something you might associate with wear and tear.

PAINTINGS/PICTURES

It's a little more complicated with pictures and paintings. The ImmobiMARK pen seeps in to the porous back and then when flashed with the UV light does not appear as sharply. This could be remedied by writing on the front of the glass. The Immobidot is very noticeable when wet, and dries to a clear, glossy finish. Although this is obvious, if there are a few marks or pieces of tape on the back then would anyone think twice?

PLASTIC

Plastic objects are fast becoming collectibles, and there are so many types to consider. Original pressings of CDs, like this 1982 Kim Wilde 'Select' album, are just one example. You may have multiple components; you will therefore have to mark each piece with the same code. The ImmobiMARK is invisible without UV on both parts.

The Immobidot solution dries to form a rather obvious mark on the inside of the CD case. While it hasn't damaged the plastic jewel case, this 'blemish' appears quite visible.

STONE

Marble and stone objects come at quite a price. This Art Deco garniture vase has a marble-clad base. Although marble is known to be porous (like most types of stone), the ImmobiMARK pen marked it well and not-at-all obviously. The Immobidot solution dries clear with just the small microdots visible; given the imperfections and striations through rock, can you tell?

WOOD

Wood is a difficult one. Like the painting images above, the dry and porous nature of the wood means that any marks show up. The ImmobiMARK dried and left the code showing! The Immobidot, although obvious, is more forgiving. It could be mistaken for residual wax or varnish.

SUMMARY

The ImmobiMARK pen has a nice average-sized nib, suitable for various sizes of product. It writes very clearly (although you can’t see it without the UV light!); I would recommend making sure you have adequate gaps between your digits to ensure the number is clearly reflected. As you can see, most writing is entirely invisible without the use of a UV light. It is most effective when used on smooth, clear surfaces, as it leaves no trace – I found it to be incredibly effective on glass and ceramic pieces. I would not recommend using it on porous objects, such as wood or paper. The ink soaks in and bleeds outwards, as you can see from the pictures of the wood. It also does not fade from these pieces, and the number is clearly visible to anyone; not at all inconspicuous! It is also much harder to read with the UV light, as the digits don’t have a crisp outline. Although the packing does not specifically mention furniture, it does state ‘antiques’. Despite this, I opted to try it just to show the outcome.

One concern I had was how durable the ink would be. The last thing you want is to mark up your whole collection and then find that simply handling it will smudge or remove your codes! Testing the glass tankard, I found that rubbing a dry finger over the area that the ink had been applied did nothing. I then tried wetting my finger and rubbing it. Still, this had no affect on the ink. I then opted to wash the tankard in warm, soapy water and wipe it over with a sponge. Approximately half of the code was washed off. I would recommend that if you clean your collection every now and again that you double check that the codes are still readable. If necessary, reapply them. Eventually, I was able to remove the whole code with the help of a solvent (acetone). As with any solvent, you must make sure you use it in a well-ventilated area and that you try it in an inconspicuous place first – you don’t want to damage any finish.

The Immobidot solution is contained within a small plastic vial with an application brush within the lid. It has the consistency of PVA glue, within which the microdots are suspended. Although it is obvious when it is first applied, like PVA it dries to produce a clear but glossy finish. The only thing then visible are the microdots but, at 1mm in diameter, they are not immediately apparent. Although it is potentially more visible on clear, smooth surfaces, I believe you’d have to be scrutinising it to find it. It is suitable for application on all surfaces, including wood and paper. Owing to the glossy nature of the product once dry, it can be seen on drier surfaces (see photographs). 

Durability wise, once dry it has a firm but slightly rubbery texture, much like glue. When the glass tankard was washed in warm soapy water and cleaned with a sponge, the dried solution didn’t budge. To that end, it can only be removed by physically picking it off. This is slightly easier on smooth surfaces, but porous surfaces will have absorbed it more deeply and therefore it is harder to remove. You can be confident that once you’ve applied it, it’s going nowhere without a fight. It is worth noting that in a warm room it took about 90 minutes before it was completely dry on all surfaces; perhaps I was overgenerous in my application, but I would recommend avoiding handling items for a little while once they’ve been marked.

Whichever product you choose, the most important part of the process is registering your goods online with an Immobilise account. You can sign up for one HERE. They have great instructions to ensure that listing your items is a painless process. Although the ImmobiMARK comes with some serial numbers, you can create your own system. The Immobidot vial has a unique serial number and bar code on the label, which you register to your account so that any items found with that microdot can be attributed to you. When marking your products, it may be worth considering cataloguing your collection. You can read our guide HERE

With thanks to the nice people at Recipero who allowed me to try out these products.

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