MORE ABOUT ANTIQUE FURNITURE
Care of Antiques
This is a summary of information provided by LAPADA
Not only should you to secure your home and antiques against theft with the advice of your local Crime Prevention Officer and insurance company but also to ensure that your possessions can be identified if they are stolen.
80% of burglaries take place in properties without window locks. Also by double locking a solid mortice lock when leaving the property a thief is prevented from simply walking out of the door with your possessions to his car parked outside.
Mark It, Register It, Keep It
There are a number of security marking products from RFID transponders the size of a grain of rice to the most advanced DNA marking kits. Each bottle of the manufactured DNA has its own unique signature which is allocated to each client. It is applied in the form of a clear, water-based, non-flammable, low toxic liquid adhesive that appears as a transparent clear varnish, but is visible using an ultra-violet lamp.
DNA marking and new developments in commercial database management of stolen items considerably improve the chance of their being traced. It is also a good idea to display on windows the fact that the building's contents have been property marked.
If valuable antiques and antique furniture are stolen, a photographic record will also be of great help in getting them back. Loss adjustors and insurance companies have great difficulty in resolving claims to their clients satisfaction, particularly for unique items, when there is not even a basic photograph.
Make an inventory of all valuable antiques with full descriptions and keep in a secure place, ideally with a second copy kept off your premises, perhaps in a bank or with a solicitor.
Most insurance companies insist on antiques being valued by a reputable dealer or valuer.
Polishing, cleaning and dusting
A patina on the surface, built up over many years and even with old marks and damage, is part of the character and value of a piece of antique furniture and should be preserved. Obviously ask for advice if the surface is badly damaged and needs restoration.
Waxing with a good quality polish based on beeswax (not spray polishes), brings out the colour and grain of the wood and provides protection. To wax your antique furniture put a small amount of polish on a soft cloth and rub the furniture until the wax on the cloth shines. This will burnish the surface and evaporate any solvent. Then polish with a clean duster. Frequent dusting is important using a clean, dry, soft duster as this will encourage a hard skin to form which enhances the patina.
If cleaning is necessary, for example on a dining room table, use a soft damp cloth or clean chamois leather well wrung out. A weak solution of vinegar diluted in water can be used to clean more thoroughly but only on polished, undamaged wood. After cleaning, wipe again with a clean cloth rinsed in clear water and dry immediately with absorbent paper or a soft dry cloth.
Spillages and wet rings left by glasses on antiques should be dealt with quickly. Always allow areas that have become wet to dry thoroughly, which may take up to a week, before applying clear wax. If wax is applied while the wood is still damp more will be absorbed on the damp patch than the surrounding area and will then darken, leaving the appearance of an ink stain. White rings left by glasses on polished wood can sometimes be removed with a little Brasso applied with a soft cloth. It is best to work on a small area first to be sure the process is not damaging the surface. Candlewax can be lifted off in a slab when cold or can be warmed with a hot-water bottle wrapped in a clean cloth and then removed with a fingernail.
The eggs of the wood beetle are laid in crevices in wood and hatch into larvae (woodworm) which eat into the wood leaving small tunnels before emerging as beetles and flying away, usually during the summer months. In summer check for freshly bored holes and tell-tail deposits of dust which indicate active infestation.
The traditional method of treatment is to apply fluid to kill the eggs on the unfinished surfaces of the wood only as solvent in the fluid will damage waxed, varnished, lacquered or painted surfaces. After treatment, the worm holes can be filled with soft wax to disguise their presence.
There is also a warm air treatment called Thermolignum (www.thermolignum.com) that involves no chemicals or toxins and permanently de-infests any organic material from all animal pests. Other modern treatments for woodworm are available from specialist firms throughout the country.
Moving and handling
Antique furniture should be treated with care and respect. Never tilt back on an antique chair, open a drawer using only one of two handles or drag antique furniture rather than lift it. Do not lift an antique table from the top surface but from the lowest part of the main frame. Old chairs should be picked up from under the seat.
Honest and sympathetic restoration is quite acceptable for antique furniture. However, it should only be done by reputable professional restorers who will use the correct traditional materials. Chipped or lifted veneers should be professionally repaired as soon as possible. Only water-soluble wood glue should be used for minor repairs undertaken at home. Small chips of wood, veneer etc. can be held in place with masking tape (not sellotape) while glue is setting or prior to professional restoration. Drawers and doors which stick can be eased by rubbing candlewax on the surface. Dry, cracked leather on desk-tops can be revitalised with a lanolin and beeswax preparation after spot-testing a small area to ensure it does not stain. Clear neutral shoe cream or leather cream can also be used.
CARING FOR PORCELAIN, POTTERY AND GLASS
Handling, display and use
Always pick up an item by the body, avoiding an extremity such as a handle, spout or head. Support the base and be careful of loose parts such as lids. Valuable and delicate pieces are best displayed in a cabinet in which the shelves should be stable to avoid vibrations. It is helpful to place items on a felt or chamois pad cut to fit the base which will also protect the shelf or piece of furniture beneath.
It is not advisable to hang damaged plates on the wall.
If you want to use antique pottery or porcelain for cut flowers or plants, place a separate container inside the antique piece with a protective pad between the two.
Remove dirt and dust from any decorative porcelain, pottery or antique glass with a dry artist's paintbrush before washing. Provided they are unrestored, glazed ceramics can safely be washed in warm water with a little washing-up liquid, using a soft brush to coax dirt from crevices.
Unglazed pieces should be cleaned with a soft cloth or cotton wool soaked in the soapy water. Objects with ormolu or other metal fittings or those mended with iron rivets should also not be soaked in water.
The copper and iron rivets which were once used to reinforce repairs often stain the surrounding ceramic. Copper stains can be removed with ammonia applied, in a well-ventilated area, with cotton wool while a commercial rust remover can be used on rust from iron rivets.
Some stains on porcelain can be removed by applying cotton wool swabs soaked in a solution of 20-volume hydrogen peroxide and a few drops of ammonia. The swabs should be left in position for an hour or two but not allowed to dry out. Place the object in a plastic bag to retain the moisture and check from time to time to see if the swabs need re-soaking. This solution should not be applied to pieces with gilt or lustre decoration. Never be tempted to soak stained pieces in household bleach as this may give a good result initially but will eventually lead to yellowing; Calgon, however, is safe for soaking appropriate pieces.
It is best to leave restoration of broken ceramics and glass to a professional restorer.
CARING FOR PAINTINGS, DRAWINGS AND PRINTS
Avoid hanging pictures over a fire or radiator, unless there is a mantelpiece or radiator shelf, as dirt and smoke in the warm airstream will be carried up and could mark the picture. Watercolours will fade if hung in strong light, especially sunlight, and some types of paper may discolour; it is best to hang them on a wall which receives indirect light.
Wide variations in temperature and humidity are not good for any works of art. Do not hang pictures on damp walls. To help air circulate and avoid the build-up of any damp, especially if hung on an outside wall, allow a picture to lean away from the wall at the top and also glue a thin sliver of cork from a wine bottle or a corn pad on to the bottom corners of the back of the frame. While damp can leave brown tidemarks or cause paper to ripple when it dries out, very dry conditions, often caused by central heating, can make paper dehydrate and become brittle. Humidifiers and dehumidifiers can solve these problems.
Store oil paintings and works on paper in clean, dry conditions, preferably somewhere dark and where the temperature is cool and fairly constant. Paintings should be placed upright on blocks to keep them off the floor with acid-free board between each one. The largest and heaviest should be at the back of the stack and picture hooks should be removed to prevent them damaging the next frame or canvas. Cover the stack with a clean dustsheet but do not use plastic as this can cause mould. Unframed works on paper, such as maps or prints, are best kept flat in acid-free boxes or folders with acid-free tissue between each work.
Cleaning and conservation
Apart from dusting frames and the glass protecting works on paper, picture cleaning should only be done by a skilled professional. Never clean gilded frames with a damp cloth or sponge as this will eventually remove the gold leaf. Flaking oil paint, dirty varnish and a whitish bloom on the surface of an oil painting caused by damp can all be treated without too much difficulty by a professional restorer. Stains and foxing on works on paper can also usually be dealt with by a paper conservator.
Antique clocks in good condition need very little maintenance and any servicing or restoration should only be entrusted to a qualified horologist, clock maker or restorer.
Clocks are either spring driven or weight driven and with either type they keep time better if they are kept running. Regular winding is essential, using only the correct size of key. It is helpful either to label the key or keep it under the relevant clock. Great care should be taken when winding.
A pendulum clock goes faster or slower depending on the length of the pendulum. Shortening it makes the clock run faster and vice-versa and the length can be changed by moving the bob at the end. Usually there is a nut for fine adjustment below the bob but sometimes it is in the middle or above it. Turn the nut to the left and the clock will run slower, to the right and it will run faster. If this does not make the clock keep time it probably needs a professional clean. Some pendulum clocks, particularly French ones, are regulated by a small watch key through an area on the dial. Turn the key clockwise to make the clock run faster and anticlockwise to reduce speed. Some clocks have a lever at the back which can be moved to the left or right to regulate the clock, the lever often being marked with a + or - to indicate faster or slower. Clocks with a platform escapement and no pendulum should be regulated by a clockmaker or restorer.
Most clocks should be moved as little as possible and only when absolutely necessary as the mechanism can be disturbed and sometimes need professional attention before they will run well again.
Clock movements should not be cleaned or oiled at home as the movement needs to be taken apart to do the job properly.
Polish antique clocks with a clean, dry, soft chamois leather and for stubborn marks, use a swab of cotton wool dampened with a mild detergent solution in warm water or methylated spirit. Wipe clean with cotton wool dampened in clean water and gently dry with chamois leather. Be very careful not to allow fluid to touch the surround or run into the movement.
Clocks should be stored in a cool, clean, dry and dust-free area, not in a damp basement or loft. Remove batteries from electric clocks and store them away from the clock as they can leak and cause damage.
Why do you need to insure ?
It is important that you safeguard your valuable possessions against the potential risks not only of theft but also of many kinds of accidental damage.
Many insurance policies set low sum insured limits for items taken away from the home and indeed some will offer either very restricted cover or no cover at all. Clearly this is not suitable if valuables are to be insured correctly.
It is important that your antique valuables are covered against as many eventualities as possible but please note that most insurers will exclude any damage caused whilst a piece is actually being worked upon.
How do you ascertain the correct value to insure?
The best way is to evaluate on a room-by-room basis the total value at risk and to have all your valuables - antiques, paintings, jewellery etc - properly valued by an independent valuer.
What are your responsibilities?
It must always be borne in mind that at all times you must act as if you are not insured. In other words, you must take great care of your possessions and keep them as secure as possible to mitigate any possible loss - insurers do not look favourably at carelessness or a poorly protected risk.