Restoration and repair is a controversial subject in the world of antiques and collectibles, with lots of different (and strongly held) views. Some collectors believe in restoring an item to its original condition or appearance, while others view any repair or restoration as sacrilegious. Others take a middle view, advocating conservation and addition of reproduction elements to complete an original.
While we won’t take sides, we can offer the following advice:
- When in doubt, do nothing. This is the antiques and collectibles equivalent of the physician’s oath, ‘do no harm.’ Amateur restoration, or even over-aggressive cleaning of a valuable piece, will almost certainly decrease its value, potentially quite significantly (and irreversibly). So before you cut, sand, dye, sew, polish, glue, paint, varnish, oil, hammer, drill, flatten, scrape, buff or use any kind of abrasives or chemicals on a piece, resist the temptation for a couple of days until you can do some research.
- If you think you might ever sell a piece, understand the financial impact before restoring it. Generally speaking, restoration (unless done conservatively by a professional) could turn off many buyers, potentially resulting in a lower market value. Note: before you decide you’d never sell, find out how much it’s worth to begin with - you might be surprised!
- Understand how other collectors view condition. What you see as dirt, another collector may see as patina which lends character, authenticity and value to an item. Don’t make any assumptions about grime, blemishes, cracks, corrosion, worn out or non-functioning parts, or any other perceived shortcomings before doing your homework and consulting collectors who specialize in the specific category in question.
- If you do decide to restore a valuable item, get it done professionally and conservatively. Find someone with lots of experience in that specific category, who knows how to restore or repair without impacting the item’s authenticity and market value. Ideally the work would be done without damage to the original piece and in such a way that it could be undone later if so desired. Thoroughly document the restoration (before and after photos etc.) and keep all original parts and components.