Patina vs. Gentle Restoration

I appreciate the patina of the old items I buy…wear on a wood piece, rust on iron tools, scuffed baby shoes, fading on a much-loved quilt. Patina denotes history and adds a subtle beauty and soul to items. And people buy things especially for that patina. I know I do! These items (all sold) went directly as I found them to my shop, complete with wax residue, rust, and chipping.

Cleaning and Restoration

But every once in a while, I know an item will be improved by a bit of gentle cleaning and restoration, though it’s sometimes a tough call!

Case in point: I adore this old Swiss leather case I bought recently at a rummage sale, but it was dirty and the leather very dry.


After much deliberation I decided this box needed a little help. I tested my leather conditioner (Leather CPR) on the underside of the box, and while it made the leather darker, I found I liked it that way. In the end I went over this case twice with the conditioner and love the result. (Apologies to anyone who is aghast.) I feel this item now looks more like it did in its prime, but still retains its soul. I now have this attractive piece displayed on my coffee table till it sells. (BTW, I did disclose in the listing that the leather has been conditioned.)


I know restoration and cleaning can potentially devalue an item so I do them judiciously, on a case-by-case basis. While I am not expert, here are my guidelines.

My Modus Operandi for Gentle Cleaning and Restoration

  • I remove excess tarnish on old sterling silver and silverplate pieces to reveal details in the workmanship or any damage. I use Weiman’s Silver Wipes, not polish or silver dip. I do not clean to a high shine.
  • I remove corrosion on metal serving pieces (with lemon and baking soda) but typically don’t on decorative pieces.
  • I will polish vintage brass if I feel the piece will be more appealing polished, like this little brass vase that had light corrosion and an uneven appearance. (If this had been a high-end piece or an antiquity, I wouldn’t have polished it.)
  • wash clothes, blankets and linens when necessary to remove dirt or smells. Musty items get a vodka spritz.
  • I occasionally nourish wood items. This 1930s photo album had a few light scratches and got a beeswax treatment to restore its beauty.


  • I occasionally condition leather items.
  • I will remove stains from china dishes (hydrogen peroxide soak, followed by the low-heat bake), though I rarely buy stained china.
  • I hand wash china and pottery items to remove any dust or sticky residue.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the matter, but overall I try to sell things as I found them.

Would love to hear your thoughts about patina and if you’ve ever restored old items in any way.


  1. I restore microscopes. I make my own lacquer using original ingredients and restoring a microscope can take months. Conservation versus restoration is always a tricky one but microscopes are meant to be used and not looked at. They are beautiful, but they are not primarily ornaments.
    My feeling is that the original maker did his utmost to make the microscope as shiny, bright and beautiful as possible and would be horrified at the sight of a microscope that has lost its lacquer and shows sign of oxidation. The original makers would not find anything romantic in a decaying scientific instrument, and many of the Victorian microscopes are as good or better than modern ones.
    All this said, I only restore microscopes, I wouldn’t touch a brass statue because I don’t know much about their value or art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this comment! I have to admit I’m drawn to old microscopes, but have never tried to resell them because I just don’t know enough about them.

      Let me know if you’d ever like to write a blog post sharing your work restoring them. 🙂 – Karen


      1. I’d love to, but not this week, I’m up to my eyeballs in microscopes at the moment!


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