Tuesday, January 22, 2019

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

QUESTION: What’s the best way to maintain antique furniture? When I see pieces at antique shows, they always look so beautiful. Is there some trick to making them look that way? Can you tell me the best way to maintain the pieces I have? While I have some older ones from the early 19th century, most are from the mid to late 19th century.

ANSWER: You’ve asked about two different procedures. The first is all about restoration while the second is about conservation.

Generally, restoring pieces made before 1830 affects their value. If a piece is more than 60 percent restored, it drastically loses value. Refinishing these early pieces destroys their patina. On the other hand, pieces made after 1830 usually benefit from restoration. The 60-percent rule doesn’t apply to them.

Restoration can range from minor repairs to a complete professional refinishing. With improvements in materials and finishes, a person can do some simple refinishing at home. However, for more complex work, especially when a piece may have several layers of old paint that have to be removed, it’s a good idea to invest in the work of a professional furniture restorer.

Before attempting to refinish a piece of antique furniture, assess it’s overall condition. If the piece just looks dull and dingy, it’s possible it may just need a thorough cleaning. Cleaning wood can do wonders for it.

If there’s oily dirt or grease, such as may get on pieces in a kitchen, remove it with an old washcloth, soaked in a mild dish detergent and water solution and wrung out. Work on small area at a time and dry it immediately with a soft cloth. Always avoid using too much liquid directly on a piece’s surface.

An alternative is to use Murphy’s Oil Soap in spray form. Spray a little on the wood and wipe with a damp washcloth. For really grimy surfaces, use #0000 steel wool and Murphy’s, then wipe with a wet washcloth, and dry. Allow the piece to dry thoroughly for 24 hours before waxing. Wipe the surface with #0000 fine steel wool until smooth.

After a piece of furniture is cleaned, it can be freshened up using Wood Sheen, a rubbing oil stain and finish made by Minwax that combines tung oil with a coloring agent, available at most hardware stores and home centers. This product comes in a variety of wood stain colors to match most types of wood.  tra fine (four zero) steel wool. Wipe the surface again with a damp cloth. Apply a thin coat of Wood Sheen using an old sock and let it dry for an hour or two. Do not do this more than once every year or so.

An alternative to using Wood Sheen is to wax it with Minwax paste wax. This is a petroleum-based product that comes in both natural and dark shades for light and dark-stained furniture, respectively. The hard surface it produces can be dusted more easily and without the danger of scratching because its smoother. Waxing once or twice a year is sufficient for table tops and chair arms. For less used areas of furniture, such as chair legs and case pieces, wax only every four years.

Conservation of antique furniture is all about maintenance and keeping it clean. Avoid using any of the popular spray dusting helpers. These tend to leave a nasty buildup on furniture that’s hard to remove later on. Instead, use a soft cloth to gently wipe away the dust. You can also slightly dampen the cloth with liquid glass cleaner.

Avoid using any of the popular oil-based liquid furniture polishers. These leave an oily residue that attracts dust. Lemon oil is one of the worst because it doesn’t sink into the wood like commonly thought but lays on the surface acting as a dust magnet.

Be extra careful when cleaning any wood that has been gilded. The gilt is usually applied with a water-soluble adhesive which can be removed by detergent cleaners. To clean uneven or carved surfaces, use a soft-bristled brush or your vacuum cleaner with the brush attachment. Be careful not to hit the furniture in any way with the vacuum cleaner, itself.

Do not use feather dusters. They move the dust around and can scratch the surface.

Before using any cleaner on a piece’s surface, test an inconspicuous area towards the back first.

Try not to polish hardware while it’s attached to the furniture. The polish will damage the furniture’s finish. Instead, remove the hardware and polish separately, being sure to rinse or wipe it thoroughly before reattaching it to your pieces. If hardware cannot be removed, be sure to mask it from the furniture’s surface to prevent damage. For ornate hardware, use a cotton swab dipped in the detergent solution.

Do not polish ormolu, which really isn’t brass but bronze. Instead, wash it with a soft cloth soaked with a mild dish detergent.

If mold or mildew forms on a piece of antique furniture, dampen a soft cloth with a very mild bleach solution (two tablespoons of bleach to a quart of water) and wipe the affected area. Dry immediately with a soft cloth, then wax as stated above.

Heat dries out the wood of antique furniture, loosening joints. An interior should be kept at a comfortable level but not excessively hot in the winter. If the temperature must be kept higher, put pans of water around to humidify the air or use a humidifier. The air will be healthier, also.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about religious antiques in the special 2018 Holiday Edition, "The Art of the Sacred," online now.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Slipping and Sliding Along

QUESTION: I’ve loved to ice skate ever since I was kid. When it got cold enough to the local pond to freeze over, my parents would take my siblings and I ice skating. I remember the first pair of skates I received for Christmas when I was just six years old. Over the years, my interest and love of skating has grown. Even though I’m no Olympic champion, I’m a good skater. I also have an interest in the history of skating and have begun to collect bits and pieces of skating history—old skates, postcards, photographs, and such. What can you tell me about the origins of skating and the possibilities of collecting skating memorabilia?

ANSWER: Even though people have been skating since 300 A.D., the great interest in skating, especially figure and speed skating, grew out of the advent of the Winter Olympics. And while you and others skated on frozen ponds, many people today, especially those living in cities, skate on man-made skating rinks, both indoor and outdoor.

There was a time when ice skates were more of a mode of transportation with even armies known to have strapped on blades before military engagements.

An animal bone strapped to a fur-lined clog-type boot was the earliest form of skate used 1,500 to 1,700 years ago. At times, skaters may have also used a staff, or pole, to assist in propelling them over the ice and uneven frozen marshes.

Elk, horse, cow and deer bones as well as walrus teeth were the most commonly used material for this rather unsteady mode of transportation. Most of the skates measured 11 to 12 inches. Leather thongs went through holes drilled at each end of the bone and tied around boots.

Eventually, skate makers developed a clog type shoe with metal strap for the blade that was fitted to the bottom, called a snow skate . They carved them out of a block of wood and placed  animal hides into the clogs to keep the feet warm. Styles of skates varied depending on the country of origin and purpose.

Historians believe iron blades originated in the Netherlands as early as the 14th century. To help skaters glide over rough ice, the Dutch developed skates with a high curly prow at the front of blade.  They made the sole of the skate from oak, rosewood, walnut or beech. They stuck a sharp pin or screw into the heel of the wooden sole to help secure the boot heel to the skate. But many skaters still suffered broken bones from these types of insecure skates.

The ingenious Dutch also developed a faster way to skate in the 16th century called the “Dutch Roll,” the current method of skating, which allowed Dutch skaters to travel 40 to 50 miles a day. Dutch peasants skated over frozen canals to markets to sell their wares. This type of skating was more about speed than artistic skating style.

Sometimes, skate makers replaced iron blades replaced with brass or bronze ones. The first English figure skate had short iron blades with gently curved bottoms. No more than two inches of the blades touched the ice at any time. Skaters needed great skill to keep their balance on these early skates. Today’s skaters still wear the curved bottom figure skate blade.  And as skate designs evolved, skaters created new moves on the ice.

Early American merchants imported skates from England, Holland and Germany. In 1883,the C.W. Wirths Co. in Germany exported 600 pair of "high quality skates" to a firm in Philadelphia. They had exceptionally high curls on the prow and brass acorns at the tip.

There was an American skating mania from the 1850s to around 1900. As many as 50,000 skaters crowded onto the Central Park ice in one day. E.V. Bushnell, an American mechanic, invented the first integral, all metal footplate and blade skate in 1848. However, thousands of skaters still preferred the old wood platforms. Between 1800 and 1850, 200 skate models, good and bad, came into the U.S. Patent Office. An additional 400 patents related to skates appeared between 1850 and 1900. In 1870, skate makers developed the hollow ground blade  and became a great help in executing sharp edges for many intricate moves.

An important American skater, Jackson Haines, presented skating exhibitions up and down the East Coast of America and Canada. He invented a new style of skate to help develop his skill and artistic skating. His forged his blade onto steel toe and heel plates that could be screwed directly and permanently onto the sole and heel of the boot. He added teeth to the front of the blade to help in jumping. He became known as the founder of the international style of skating, and invented the Sit Spin, which figure skaters still use today.

In 1914, John E. Strauss, a St. Paul, Minnesota, blade maker developed the first closed-toe blade of one piece of steel. He attached the tip of the prow to the front foot plate rather than protruding unsupported.

Skates from the 1850s with metal footplates sell in the $100 to $200 range, depending on their condition. Rust on any skate will detract from its value.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about religious antiques in the special 2018 Holiday Edition, "The Art of the Sacred," online now.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Let's be Crystal Clear

QUESTION: When I was in fifth grade, my family went on vacation in the lakes region of New York State. While we were there, we visited the Steuben Glass Factory. I marveled at the clear crystal figures and lovely bowls and vases, decorated with delicate engravings. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to collect pieces of Steuben glass, but I have no idea where to begin. Can you help me?

ANSWER: You were right to be enamored of Steuben glass. The company produced some of America’s finest art glass.

Frederick Carder and Thomas G. Hawkes founded Steuben Glass Works in the summer of 1903 by in Corning, New York, which is in Steuben County, from which Carder and Hawkes derived the company name. Hawkes was the owner of the largest cut glass firm then operating in Corning. Carder was an Englishman (born September 18, 1863) who had many years' experience designing glass for Stevens and Williams in England. Hawkes purchased the glass blanks for his cutting shop from many sources and eventually wanted to start a factory to make the blanks himself. Hawkes convinced Carder to come to Corning and manage such a factory. Carder, who had been passed over for promotion at Stevens and Williams, consented to do so.

Carder produced blanks for Hawkes and also began producing cut glass himself. Carder loved colored glass and had been instrumental in the reintroduction of colored glass while at Stevens and Williams. When Steuben's success at producing blanks for Hawkes became assured, Carder began to experiment with colored glass and continued experiments that were started in England. He soon perfected Gold Aurene which was similar to iridescent art glass being produced by Tiffany and others. Carder followed Gold Aurene with a wide range of colored art glass that Steuben produced in more than 7,000 shapes and 140 colors.

Steuben Glass Works continued to produce glass of all sorts until World War I. At that time war time restrictions made it impossible for Steuben to acquire the materials it needed. Corning Glass Works eventually purchased the company and made it its Steuben Division. Carder continued as Division manager without any real change in the company's operation except that he now had reporting responsibilities to Corning Glass Works' management. Corning's management tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to limit the articles that Steuben made to only the most popular. Production continued until about 1932.

The Great Depression limited the sale of Steuben, plus its popularity waned. In February 1932, Corning appointed John MacKay to Carder's position, and Carder became Art Director for Corning Glass Works. At that time, Steuben produced primarily clear art glass.

Corning Glass Works appointed Arthur Houghton, Jr. as President in 1933, and under his leadership Steuben changed artistic direction toward more modern forms. Using a newly formulated clear glass developed by Corning which had a very high refraction index, Steuben designers developed beautiful, fluid designs.

Scandinavian techniques, combined with newly developed optical glass composition, replaced it. Steuben hired architects and designers who worked closely with glassworkers. Before then, the engravers had worked at home.

Sculptor Sidney Waugh was among the first to use the new figural engraving techniques for Steuben, with his crystal “Gazelle Bowl.” He created a series of decorative pieces using copper-wheel and diamond point engraving, similar to Scandinavian style.

The themes during this period included "balustrade" designs for water goblets and candlesticks, footed bowls and serving pieces. Decorative forms included wildlife pieces representing owls, penguins and other birds in smooth stylistic forms. Some pieces, such as the Ram's Head Candy Dish, playfully included clean lines crowned by an ornate design (a ram's head, complete with a ruff) on the lid as an homage to its classic earlier pieces.

The company also entered into the field of larger show and presentation pieces celebrating various scenes, such as its cut-away design featuring an Eskimo ice fisherman above the ice and the fish below. In some cases, artisans used sterling silver or gold plating over a metal finish, such as the golden "fly" atop the nose of a rainbow trout. Each piece is signed simply with Steuben on the underside of the object.

World War II cut production of Steuben glass. The company didn’t produce lead crystal pieces until the 1950s. By the mid-1950s, Steuben had begun producing free sculptural pieces.

Toward the 1990s, the company also began production of small objects—"hand coolers"—in various animal shapes.

Items from this period were also noted for their careful and elegant packaging. Before boxing, each Steuben piece was placed in a silver-gray flannel bag (stitched with the Steuben name), and then placed in a presentation box.

To read more articles on antiques, please visit the Antiques Article section of my Web site.  And to stay up to the minute on antiques and collectibles, please join the other 18,000 readers by following my free online magazine, #TheAntiquesAlmanac. Learn more about religious antiques in the special 2018 Holiday Edition, "The Art of the Sacred," online now.