Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Restoration: Do to or not to do?

One of the most common questions that I am asked has to do with the subject of restoration. Should a piece of furniture be refinished? Should a painting be touched up? Should silver be cleaned? What can I do with works on paper? Items age over time, and sometimes they age well and other times, not so well. Furniture is often nicked or scratched. Paintings often fade or get dirty. Silver and other metals tarnish. So, the answer to the question on restoration is always the same, “It depends!”

There are several factors to consider when making a restoration decision. The first situation often encountered is with unusable items; for example, furniture that is broken or porcelain that is chipped. Factors to consider include the value of the repaired piece, cost of repairs, and their sentimental value to you. If you love a piece and it is unusable in its current condition, then having it repaired is an easy decision.

But what about cosmetic repairs, like refinishing furniture or cleaning paintings? For period(original) hand crafted furniture, refinishing a piece of furniture can often negatively impact the value of the piece, especially if it is a signed piece. Often a varnished finish can be simply cleaned, and you avoid the risk of devaluing the piece by having it refinished. Newer machine made furniture presents another dilemma; if the finish is in less than desirable condition, refinishing it will probably add value. However, then you run into the issue of whether it is cost effective, i.e. will it cost more to refinish it than the item is worth?

Fine art should always be stabilized to prevent further damage. For example, a tear in the painting’s canvas should always be repaired. However, there are a lot of factors to consider before cleaning a painting. Is the painting merely dirty from age, or are their foreign substances on the canvas? Are you keeping the painting or are you planning to liquidate it? If you are planning to sell an original work of art, it is best to leave it un-cleaned and let the buyer make his or her own decisions. If you are keeping the painting and are unhappy with the dirt or the darkness of the painting, have it professionally cleaned. Never, never, never try to clean a work on canvas yourself. Leave that task to the experts, as it is easy to do more harm than good.

Paper conservators can do amazing things with works on paper; mold and mildew can be removed, and even tears can be repaired. Again, the question becomes an economics questions; is the item worth the cost of the repairs? For historically significant documents and for important photographs, restoration is always a good idea. But again, trust only an expert who specializes in paper restoration.

And before you go cleaning your silver, brass and copper items, make sure you know what you have and how cleaning impacts the value. I was working with a client a few years ago, and we were selling some of her sterling silver. She had the sterling silver pieces hand cleaned; afterwards they looked great and the value was enhanced with the light cleaning. However, she unknowingly had a silver and bronze Heinz art vase cleaned, destroying the bulk of the value. In a future blog post we will talk more about the care and cleaning of silver.

So, restore or not? It is a personal decision, but consider the above factors when making your decisions. Always use a professional unless you are trained on the type of repairs or restoration your item requires. If you are unsure about the impact of restoration on the value of an item, contact a qualified appraiser. Most credentialed appraisers will also have experts they can recommend for refinishing and/or for repairs. But most of all, make sure your antiques and collectibles are in a condition for you to use and live with. Antiques and art are meant to be used and loved!

Authentic Appraisal & Estate Services © 2010

Vicky Nash Shaw, ISA CAPP
Certified Antique and Art Appraiser

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