Time takes a toll on all objects, including valuable antiques. In some cases, it makes sense to restore these items to their former beauty. However, improper antique restoration can decrease or even destroy the value of some pieces. Understanding which items you should have restored and who should do the restoration will save you from making a major mistake with your ancient treasures.
Deciding What You Should Restore
Everyone has heard the story of an owner who has restored an antique and inadvertently destroyed its value. However, there are also times when a piece is so unattractive or damaged that it would be far more valuable if it were restored. Understanding the difference between these situations is tricky, but in many cases, it comes down to the antique piece itself.
Consider Value Before Restoring
Ultimately, according to an article in Professional Refinishing Magazine by Peter Cook, a senior producer for Antiques Roadshow, the distinction is less about the type of object and more about its inherent value. Some museum-quality pieces, such as items made by renowned artisans, are valuable without restoration, and their value could decrease with restoration. For these pieces, the value is in the work of the person who created the object, rather than in the current appearance. Unless they are badly damaged, these pieces may be better left in their current condition.
However, this is not the case with the vast majority of antique items out there. For most antique pieces, a very good restoration job will actually enhance the value of the item. Good restoration allows the beauty of the piece to show, and it makes the antique attractive and useful in your home.
If you're in doubt about whether your piece is a candidate for restoration or if it's already a museum-quality item, it's a good idea to have it professionally appraised. You can ask the appraiser how a quality restoration would change the item's value.
Consider the Extent of the Damage
There's a big difference between an antique dining table with a sun-faded surface and a piece with broken or missing legs and severe water damage. Restoration is all about bringing a piece back to its former glory, but sometimes the extent of the damage dictates whether you should undertake this effort.
According to Antiques Roadshow Tips of the Trade, minor damage is best left alone. This can include a faded or crackled finish and other signs of age or wear. However, pieces that are actually broken or are so damaged that they are eyesores, as well as those that have already lost their original finish, may be good candidates for professional restoration. Additionally, restoration that corrects previous botched repair attempts is usually a good choice.
Understand the Risk
As you consider whether you should have a piece restored, it's important to remember that every restoration effort comes with risk. If your piece is valuable to you, whether or not it has significant monetary value, you need to consider how restoration can change its condition for the worse. According to Crane Jewelers, which specializes in antique jewelry restoration, repairing and reconditioning a piece can occasionally cause damage or even destroy the item. This is especially true for delicate items like jewelry, but it can happen to varying extents with any time of antique.
If you decide you want the piece to be as close as possible to its original condition but the item has significant sentimental or monetary value, professional restoration is a must. You should ask the restorer about the risk associated with the process he or she plans to undertake. That way, you can make a fully informed decision about your treasure.
Don't Forget the Value of Patina
Much of the value of antiques comes from their age. The patina, or surface wear or oxidation, of a piece is evidence of its age and history, so in most cases, it is prized by collectors. If you destroy the patina during the restoration process, you can dramatically decrease the value of the item.
For example, according to antiques specialists Fiske & Freeman, if you have a piece of antique sterling silver flatware that is heavily tarnished and you put the item in a silver dip that removes all oxidation, the piece will come out looking almost new. However, it will also be less attractive to buyers and sometimes, less valuable. A small amount of tarnish actually enhances the beauty of the silver design.
When you're deciding restoration, it's important to take any loss of patina into consideration. Your piece may look as good as new when you're done, but it may actually be worth less money if the patina is lost. Always discuss this issue with a professional restorer before having any work done on your antiques.
Who Should Do the Restoration?
One of the most important factors in assessing the impact of restoration on the value of a piece is who does the work. Quality, professional restoration can increase the value of your treasures, while a shoddy job can destroy your precious piece of history. Deciding whether to hire a professional requires really depends on your specific situation, but there are some guidelines that can help.
Situations Requiring a Professional
For the following situations, you should always hire a professional restorer to breathe new life into your antique:
- Damaged artwork is best left to the professionals, according to art restoration and conservation company Oliver Brothers. This includes cleaning paintings, remounting prints and photographs, and any other touch-ups you might be considering.
- For antique silver pieces, Phil Dreis of Antique Cupboard has a YouTube video in which he recommends that you hire a professional silversmith to do the work. Proper restoration, including fixing dents, repairing bent areas, and replating areas where the base metal is showing, can enhance the value of your items.
- FamilySearch.org recommends hiring a professional to restore antique books and family Bibles. The cost of the restoration is typically quite high, but it also increases the value of your piece.
Restoration Jobs You Can Do Yourself
There are some situations where you can perform a minor restoration on your own without the help of a professional:
- In some cases, you can restore an antique trunk yourself, according to Shenandoah Antique Restoration. If the trunk only needs a little cleaning and polishing, your elbow grease can enhance its value. The company also shares tips for bigger repairs.
- According to Carrocel Restoration, you can also tackle some furniture restoration jobs yourself. They recommend making an honest assessment of the damage to the piece, your skills and experience, and the tools and supplies you have on hand. If you can repair it and it isn't an especially precious item, it may be worth more money if you fix it up.
- Antique and vintage textiles, such as tapestries, may be candidates for do-it-yourself restoration if the job only involves minor dusting and cleaning. According to StyleAtHome.com's interview with textile restorer Eva Burnham, you can gently brush textiles with a soft-bristled paintbrush to remove dirt. This gentle cleaning can enhance the beauty and value of your piece, but you should not undertake more serious restoration jobs on your own.
Ask a Professional
When you restore an antique, you bring it back to original condition. However, this isn't always the best way to increase its value. Whether or not you should restore a piece and who should do the work ultimately depends on your specific situation. If you're in doubt, it's always best to consult a professional antique appraiser before beginning any type of work on your object. You could wind up devaluing a piece that, otherwise, might have turned out to be one of the most expensive items on Antiques Roadshow. Don't take that risk.