The subject of cleaning, repairing and restoring antiques raises more questions from novice collectors than most other subjects put together. Everyone has heard stories about someone spending a fortune to restore an antique, only to have it rendered worthless by doing so. Here’s how to get the most enjoyment from your antiques while not harming their resale value.
As for cleaning, let’s start by agreeing that nobody likes living with dirty things. There is no antique that has more value because it is dirty, yet many folks are either afraid to attempt cleaning their antiques or feel that the dirt somehow validates the item’s age. In fact, most antiques are easily and safely cleanable and no experienced buyer needs to see dirt to determine age. Just be careful when cleaning. Select the mildest cleaning agents first, avoid soaking any antique in cleaners if possible (apply the cleaning agent to the rag instead), avoid using abrasives and test a small inconspicuous area before delving in too deeply. Antique dealers usually have a lot of experience with cleaning, so ask for advice first if you are in doubt.
Repairing broken antiques
When it comes to value, broken antiques of all kinds will usually benefit from a good repair. Just ensure the repair is done correctly, as a bad repair can be worse than no repair at all. Many bad repairs are irreversible, so only attempt to repair an antique if you are truly qualified.
There is virtually never a time that using super glue, filler or paint on your antiques is a good idea, and an experienced antique dealer can usually suggest a qualified repair service. While a repaired antique is usually not worth as much as a similar one in good original condition, it will usually be worth a lot more than a broken one. A poorly repaired antique can be worthless, so don’t trust the job to just anyone.
When to restore antiques
Restoration is an excellent option for certain antiques, but not all of them. Artwork, glassware, pottery, jewelry and most 20th-century items will benefit from restoration. In these cases, the item’s value will usually be maintained or enhanced. Just make sure whoever does your restoration is qualified to do so. Bad restoration can ruin your item.
Conversely, antiques from the 19th century or earlier, especially furniture, can be significantly harmed by over-restoration. Collectors of these items appreciate the patina that can only come with age. Always seek professional advice before restoring anything really old, or you could make a very costly mistake.
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