Thoughts on maintaining, repairing and updating antiques


Before blogs, Google, or even the Internet, people who wanted to learn more about antiques and collectibles relied on reference books, as well as trade publications, such as Maine Antique Digest, the Antique Trader, and Antiques magazine, which often tended to focus on high-end treasures. Collectors also visited boutiques and salons, where they learned about antiques from knowledgeable dealers.

The house I grew up in had shelves of reference books – my dad kept tomes handy for vintage tools and nautical items, and my mom bought volumes on antiques, glassware, and antique dolls. . One book in particular, “Care and Repair of Antiques,” by Thomas H. Ormsbee, stands out. It was first published in 1949 and offered an excellent glossary of terms, such as “dovetail” and “chalices”, descriptions and photographs of different styles and pieces of glassware and furniture.

It was a boon for collectors until the advent of the Internet.

Now we can easily access this information with just a few keystrokes.

I don’t remember Ormsbee’s advice on antique maintenance and repair, but here’s a little tip I have myself:

Do not put your fine china and crystal in the dishwasher – Chemicals and heat can remove gold trim and decorations on porcelain and can make crystal cloudy. Use a delicate cycle and test an insignificant or damaged part to see how it behaves before risking an entire set. Some people say that the liquid detergents, which are now common, are milder than the powders of yesteryear.

When in doubt, do not – A friend of mine found some fabulous old coins that belonged to her father. She bought some metal cleaner and made them shine until they looked new. You never want to clean parts – ever. Anything beyond soap and water destroys much of the value. The same with bronze – these busts and sculptures were often created with a special patina or finish. Using a metal cleaner on bronze can remove this finish and, with it, much of a coin’s value. Lukewarm water, a little dish soap if necessary and a soft cloth are sufficient.

Always in doubt, ask an expert for the best course of action for caring for and cleaning antiques.

Avoid quick fixes – Copper, brass, and silver are good to shine, but avoid harsh chemicals and dips. Like bronze, silver often has a patina to enhance its design. Using dipping products can remove the dark finish that makes the design stand out. They can also leave the surface cloudy. Use pastes or creams to clean the silver.

Bar Keepers Friend is your friend – I bought vintage Fiestaware plates from a thrift store that were marked as is because they had utensil marks all over it. They were cheap enough for me to experiment with, as I had heard that Bar Keepers Friend, a powder designed to clean brass and copper, among other things, will remove black utensil marks on porcelain and ceramic plates. ceramic. Simply apply a little with a soft cloth or sponge, wipe down the surface, then rinse and repeat, if necessary. My plates cleaned. As always, test in an inconspicuous area when using the product on a heirloom. Here are the instructions from the company: Plats-and-Servingware /

The original is the best – I remember how people back then wanted their antiques to be pristine – restored, so to speak, to like new condition.

Now you can watch “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS to see how experts appreciate the grunge of an original uncleaned finish.

Walk lightly – Avoid using silicone-based varnishes on antique furniture – they can destroy finishes, says antique expert Terry Kovel. Also avoid boiled flaxseed oil, she says. It hardens and can ruin a finish. Gently clean with Murphy’s oil soap if anything is particularly dirty. Wax once a year.



Look for it – Not all antiques deserve to be kept in their original condition. Most of the so-called brown furniture that our grandparents owned has lost much of its value over the past 15 years. So many of these heirlooms, especially the later Victorian furniture, were mass produced and not of great quality. The same goes for typical 20th century furniture. Do a little research to find out if you are destroying the value of this Victorian chair or Duncan Phyfe table by changing it, then accept the change.

My grandmother Dorothy gave me an inexpensive oak stump that had belonged to her grandmother.

In the 1950s, when antique furniture with paints and varnishes became fashionable, Dorothy painted this table a soft turquoise. Thirty years later, she told me I had to strip it to reveal the oak underneath. But I liked the painting. Decades later, it is even more beautiful, thanks to the patina of time.

Again, still not sure? Hire an appraiser or ask an antique dealer if it’s okay to recycle a piece. ??


About Oscar L. Smith

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