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5 Quirky Things You Can Insure

Think quickly about what types of insurance you have. Health (if you're lucky), renter's/homeowner's, car, and maybe a few other policies, right? If you think you've got as much coverage as you could ever need, think again. What happens if you get bitten by a werewolf? In fact, there are many other facets of your life you could be insuring. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. Body Parts

Celebrities are often known for a single physical feature, so it seems natural that they would want to protect their livelihoods by insuring these innate gifts. Enter the world of body part insurance. In this market, insurers, most notably Lloyd's of London, offer policies that pay out if something mars the precious body part. Keith Richards' fingers, Mariah Carey's legs, silent film star Ben Turpin's crossed eyes, and Dolly Parton's breasts were all rumored to have been covered by hefty policies at one time.

So are these policies worth it? After all, how often do peoples' eyes uncross? A 2006 piece on Slate's always-terrific Explainer says no. While these policies are great for building up publicity and media buzz (after all, who wouldn't want to talk about Mariah Carey's billion-dollar legs?), the policyholders would be just as well off with general disability insurance. These traditional policies would also pay off if an injury or other misfortune ruined the body part and kept the star from being able to work, but the rates would be lower. As a publicity stunt, though, it's hard to beat affixing a price tag to your famous appendages.

2. A Hole in One

25000.jpgIf you've ever played in or attended a golf tournament, you've probably seen a hole-in-one prize glittering at the front of a course. Anyone who scores a hole in one during his or her tournament round will score a new car, a boat, or some other fancy toy. Lots of these amateur tournaments are sponsored by charities, though, so is the Red Cross actually risking a $45,000 car each time it has a tournament? Nope. It insures against the possibility of any weekend hacker stumbling into a hole in one and winning the new wheels.

A hole-in-one insurance policy is part of a broader class known as prize indemnification insurance, a type of coverage that also covers top prizes on game shows and in other contests. The event sponsor pays a premium to an insurer, and if someone manages to find the cup on his first swing, the policy picks up the price of the prize. The premium is based on a number of factors, including the length of the holes (since it's easier to get a hole-in-one on a short par three; it's nearly impossible for even a pro to hole one on a long par five.) The value of the prize, the number of golfers playing in the tournament, and their respective skill levels also affect the premium. These type of policies can be affordable even for expensive prizes because the odds of an amateur golfer scoring a hole in one are so slim. A 2000 article in Golf Digest pegged the odds of a player scoring an ace on any given round at roughly 5,000 to 1, while a 2006 USA Today article offers the less optimistic estimate of 12,500 to 1.

3. Your Wedding

wedding-cake-topper.jpgAs wedding costs keep skyrocketing, brides and grooms have started to realize that planning their big day entails taking on quite a bit of financial risk. With all of the logistics and separate vendors required to get the wedding party dressed, the reception catered, and a church booked, there are dozens of places where any hitch could lead to a serious setback, like if your reception venue explodes the night before your wedding. Instead of blindly sinking thousands upon thousands of dollars into these risks, couples have the option of insuring their weddings through companies like WedSafe.

Such a policy will cover all sorts of unforeseen problems that could derail a wedding, like a serious illness or injury in the family, military deployment, inclement weather, or vendors not showing up. If any of these events lead to a cancellation or postponement of your wedding, the policy will cover your costs. One thing these policies definitely don't cover, though, is a bad case of cold feet. A change of heart is considered a circumstance within the control of the couple and doesn't warrant any reimbursement. [Image courtesy of WeddingAccessories.net.]

4. Your Ransom

Let's say you're working for a multinational firm that dispatches you to some fairly risky areas. What if you get kidnapped and held for ransom? Ugh, having to pay all that loot to the kidnappers would ruin your day. If you have a ransom insurance policy, though, you don't have to worry any longer. (Well, you still have to worry about being held by kidnappers. Most of the financial burden's gone, though.) These policies, which are typically held by businessmen working in iffy areas, offer indemnity coverage for any loss incurred by whoever pays the ransom, whether it's the kidnapping victim or the captive's company. Such losses can include the ransom itself, any ransom money lost in transit, expenses for the response team to deliver the ransom, the hiring of negotiators, and rewards offered for the safe return of the kidnapped. Of course, since paying the ransom doesn't always guarantee the safe return of the victim, these policies also indemnify the holder against death, dismemberment, disablement, and blindness as a result of the kidnapping.

5. The Paranormal

alien-abduction-lamp.jpgSimon Burgess, a former underwriter at Lloyd's of London, has parlayed his quirky sense of humor into a niche in the insurance industry. Over the years his companies have provided coverage against all sorts of unlikely events. He's sold over 40,000 policies that insure against alien abduction; he'll pay off more than a million pounds to any policyholder who can pass a lie detector test, has video or photographic evidence of his abduction, and has a reliable third-party witness. Worried about being eaten by the Loch Ness Monster? Burgess has written policies for people like you. He's also sold policies covering vampire and werewolf transformations, temporary impotence on Valentine's Day, and Yeti attacks. His policies covering virgin births were especially popular as the millennium approached, just in case a young woman be blessed with the Second Coming via immaculate conception.

Are these policyholders serious? Not all of them. In a 2001 interview with The Scotsman, Burgess admitted that around half of his customers were probably buying his policies, which usually run around 100 pounds, as jokes or gifts. However, that doesn't seem to bother him a bit. In a 2006 interview with Money Marketing, he quipped, "Let's face it—insurance is so tedious that if I can enlighten my dreary life with a bit of humor every now and again, I will." Even if you're buying coverage on a lark, though, it must be nice to know you're totally financially protected in the unlikely event of a vampire attack.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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