Caring for Antiques
When caring for antiques, we are caring for some of our most delicate possessions, Cleaning is relatively simple, but repair is rather more involved. Follow the few pointers below to ensure your items remain in first class condition and that you don't inadvertently cause easily avoidable damage.
Caring for your valuable antique and collectable glass, ceramics, pottery and porcelain
Accidental breakage is probably the highest risk factor with ceramics or glass and you can avoid this by careful handling and cleaning
Always make sure your hands are clean and dry before handling glass or unglazed ceramics as greasy fingerprints can leave indelible marks. Don't wear cotton gloves while handling ceramics or glass as your grip will be less than normal and always pick up an item by its soundest part, never by the handle and always support the base. Make sure you take care of loose parts such as lids or covers. Sunlight, bright light, humidity or variable temparatures shouldn't affect your glass or your ceramics but if they have any restored areas then bright light or water can weaken, discolour or stain the adhesives used. If displaying valuable glass or ceramic objects in a cabinet or on a shelf make sure it is stable. Vibrations caused by normal household movement can cause the pieces to ‘walk’ and fall off narrow edges.
Never immerse low fired earthenware such as delftware, faience or maiolica in water as they may have an unglazed foot rims or old cracks or chips which expose the porous surface beneath the glaze. Much safer to wipe them with cotton wool moistened with some mild soapy water.
Removing stains from antique ceramics and glass.
You may be able to shift tide marks, from glass such as wine stains in a decanter with a solution of denture cleaner and warm water or with acetic acid or vinegar. Just leave your chosen mixture in the glass for 24hrs then rinse, drain and dry thoroughly.
Methylated spirits or pure alcohol can be tried for stains caused by alcohol based perfumes, but change the alcohol every hour or so until the stain has gone.
Ammonia or ordinary household bleach which contains chlorine will remove stains on most glass, as long as there is no gilding or other fragile decoration.
This is not suitable for ceramics as it may aggravate the stain or cause permanent discolouration. Instead for a soft or hard paste porcelain surface with no gilt or lustre decoration, obtain twenty volume hydrogen peroxide from a chemist and add a few drops of ammonia. Wear rubber gloves and dampen strips of cotton wool in the solution, then lay them over the stain or crack and leave for about an hour. Do not allow the strips to dry onto the surface. For improved results the item can be placed in a plastic bag to retain the moisture. Check regularly, and you may have to renew the dressing several times.
Repairs and Restoration.
Whenever breakage occurs, as it surely will, wrap every broken piece seperately in acid free tissue and collect even the smallest shard. Resist any temptation to try and fit the pieces together yourself as you will damage the nice crisp edges. Do not be tempted to repair a valuable antique piece yourself, as modern adhesives that are strong enough to form an effective join are usually irreversible.
Ceramics on the other hand, can be so skilfully repaired with modern adhesives, and then repainted or glazed that the original damage is almost undetectable. However, the restored area may discolour over time, especially if it's exposed to water and some glazes can never be faithfully reproduced.
Without the proper skill, time and patient, an amateur repair will always appear that way and a more complicated and expensive professional repair may be needed at a later date.
Caring for Antique Clocks
Caring for antique clocks, requires delicate treatment as these instruments usually suffer from careless positioning, display and over–enthusiastic handling. French table clocks or mantel clocks are likely to be harmed if subjected to direct sunlight, extremes of temperature or damp.
Careless or unexpected movement can affect the workings of delicate mechanisms too. Before moving a mechanical object check that there are no detachable parts; don't rely on handles but hold the object under the base with both hands. Secure the pendulum of a spring clock by the clip provided or by the spring clamp on many French bracket and mantle clocks.
You must oil your clock every 3 years. In addition, you must have the clock professionally cleaned every 6 years. Do it, and you will avoid unnecessary damage. Avoid metal polishes which may seep into the movement or destroy a valuable patina, like the patina on a brass carriage clock. Major cleaning of parts especially if dismantling is involved should be left to a specialist.
Antique clock repairs and restoration.
If the mechanism stops, forcing it to go may aggravate the damage; repairs should be left to a specialist.
Even if they are in good working order, clocks and watches with delicate mechanisms should be checked and serviced every three years and those with larger stronger mechanisms every ten years.
Caring for Antique Carpets and Tapestry
If they are kept free of dust and placed where they will not be subject to heavy wear, then many antique carpets and rugs can be used normally. If hung against the wall or in use on the floor antique carpets and rugs should always be against a clean flat surface. Floor carpets should have an underlay with a slightly tacky surface to reduce slip and it should be cut to fit their size exactly.
Antique carpets are amongst the most beautiful items but are probably subject to the most abuse as caring for antique carpets and tapestries can be a time consuming job. Cleaning is relatively simple as long as it is done regularly and excessive wear is avoidable if correct placement is considered, but repair is rather more involved and should only ever be undertaken by a professional restorer.
On stone or tile floors lay moisture proof paper beneath the underlay. Think carefully before siting antique floor carpets. They are likely to suffer the least wear in a bedroom. If placed before an open fire they risk being scorched or if under a dining table they may be stained by food or drink or damaged by movement of chairs. Rubber pads or wooden cups which are available from most good furniture stores, will relieve the localised pressure of furniture feet. Move your carpets around occasionally so that the wear is not always concentrated in the same area.
Cleaning antique carpets and tapestry.
Dust should never be allowed to build up in carpets as it has a sandpaper effect on the fibres.
Major cleaning, beyond dust removal, should be kept to a minimum and should always be done by a professional carpet cleaner or restorer.
Proprietary carpet cleaners should never be used on antique carpets or tapestries, as they can have a clogging effect.
If a carpet is tough enough to be used it will benefit from regular vacuuming. Make sure to vacuum in the direction of the pile and vacuum the back and the floor beneath about every six months.
Sprinkle table salt liberally over any stain to draw out the remaining moisture then vacuum when dry.
A good dowsing in soda water that is then soaked up with clean towels is effective for urine and other light stains.
Soak old stains in a solution made up of two tablespoons of salt to a pint of water; but beware salt can have a bleaching effect. A carpet made after 1870 and up to 1920 may contain synthetic aniline dyes.
Storing your antique carpets and tapestries.
For long term storage choose a cool dark well ventilated place. Folding will cause creases and uneven wear, so roll the rug right side out.
Repairs and Restoration
Fraying, holes, burns or other damage to antique carpets or tapestries must be repaired by a specialist.
Expert repairs involve exact matching of dyes, threads and knots, and may possibly require the insertion of a patch or of reinforcing the warp and weft.
Caring for Antique Sculpture and Statuary of bronze, spelter and lead.
Caring for antique sculpture and maintaining the surface or the patina of sculptures and statues of stone, bronze, spelter or lead, whether kept indoors or outside should be an owners top priority.
Limestone, sandstone and coade stone form a weathered surface crust which if removed will expose a vulnerable crumbly surface beneath. If the surface is smooth and hard you can lightly hose it with water, easing loosened dirt with a soft bristled brush. Algae and lichen do little harm, and in most cases add to a statues value, but can be removed if the surface is sound by brushing with a solution of one teaspoon of dichlorophen, (available from most good garden shops), to one pint (570ml) of water.
Alabaster and marble are porous and stain easily, and marble discolours and deteriorates particularly in salty or polluted air. Attempts to remove stains from any porous stone may force the stain deeper or erode the surface. Alabaster and soap stone are very soft, easily scratched and broken, and gradually dissolve in water and should be dusted regularly to prevent a build up of dirt.
White marble and similar materials can be dusted with pure talc to fill the pores and prevent dust becoming ingrained.
Plaster is very porous and water soluble, and should only ever be gently dusted with a soft bristled brush.
Major repairs or the restoration of stonework should always be carried out by a qualified professional, who will use a special resin compound mixed with ground up stone to match the object.
Caring for Antique Furniture.
Certain precautions are necessary in caring for antique furniture if it is to withstand daily wear and tear. Before lifting or moving antique furniture, empty its contents and remove detachable parts to carry separately.
Tips on the care and repair of antique furniture
- Make sure, if you do make minor repairs yourself, to only ever use water-soluble glue
- Almost all furniture made before the mid-20th century depends on well-jointed solid timber for strength, so weakness in joints, pivots, moving parts, or on load-bearing surfaces, or signs of rot or woodworm, must be fixed before the piece is used again.
- Use a professional furniture restorer to reinforce or replace rotten or wormed timber with sound wood, saturate it with resin or fill it with a mixture of animal glue and sawdust.
- Cure sticking doors or drawers by easing with a touch of candle wax. If they are misshapen, they need to be trimmed by an expert.
- Chipped or lifted veneer should be professionally repaired as soon as possible, but exposed edges can be temporarily protected with masking tape and detached pieces kept in a plastic bag.
- If stripping is necessary and will not remove a valuable patina, it should be done by a professional furniture restorerer. Acid stripping swells and rots wood fibres.