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.)
- I 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.