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Antiques Considered - January 8, 2014

Over the past 14 years that I have written this column, I have received as many inquiries about how to proceed with antiques, as I have actual questions about specific pieces.  This week, rather than addressing an individual piece, I should like to answer some of these general concerns and questions.

The most frequently asked question is whether to have an item restored or not.  My basic response to such a question is, can you live with it in its present condition?  If so, leave it alone, but if not, consider the other options.  For a piece of furniture, does it presently have the original finish, and what is its condition?  For a piece of significant intrinsic value, refinishing could decimate the overall worth.  In many cases total refinishing is not necessary.  One product that affords a simple alternative is Kotton Klenser, which comes in a quart container at a reasonable price.  Carefully applied and let to stand for about 20 minutes, and then rubbed off with a soft cloth, it can work a great transformation of the original finish without stripping it.

Secondly, if a piece has a clear provenance, showing previous ownership by a prominent figure, retaining the finish from that person's ownership is an important aspect of value.  Granted such cases are rare, but a documented piece of furniture with historical provenance in most cases probably should be left alone.

As a general rule, keep as much original as possible, but if a former owner has applied a different finish, such as a faux marble one, removing it to return to the original might not be the best course to take financially, especially if the painted finish has been down by a recognized artist.

Porcelain and pottery can be a different story.  For example, restoring a good piece of historical Staffordshire with a chip or two can increase the value of the piece.  Proper restoration of artistic porcelain, such as Meissen, is normally the correct course to take, providing the restorer is qualified to perform the task.  Replacements, Ltd. in Greensboro, NC and McHugh's Restorations in Richmond both offer excellent restoration services.  

When speaking of paper antiques, such as lithographs or prints, removing from the frame and replacing the back with a non-acidic material is essential.  Without so-doing, the acidity of the backing, whether from wood or cardboard, will leach into the print, causing severe discoloration.  Any good frame shop should know how to proceed to conserve the piece properly.

This weekend is the Washington Antiques Show at the Katzen Center at American University.  It is always a great event, well worth the effort to attend.  I’ll be there, and hope again this year to see some of our readers present as well.

    Happy Antiquing!

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