Taking good care of time - The New Indian Express

Taking good care of time

Published: 20th October 2013 12:00 AM

Last Updated: 20th October 2013 07:42 AM

In bestselling British novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford’s view, “priceless things matter not for their value, but because they offer us an enduring reminder of stability and permanence.” The impermanence of time and the passing of generations, for some, demand the refrigerating moments of memory. Posterity in turn buys other people’s memories and thus antiques acquire a value that surpasses by millions their original price. For the nouveau collector, a Ming vase is as cool as boast worthy as a Ferrari, and he doesn’t know how to care for either. But antiques have their own rules of care: whether they be a rare Chippendale sideboard or a 898 Waterbury Beehive Wooden Mantel Clock.

Fluctuations in temperature are bad for antique furniture; so is humidity. Keep curtains drawn during the day if the furniture is kept in a sunny room and often turn it around to keep the fabric from fading.  Inspect the furniture periodically for loose joints, water damage or wood worm holes. In wintertime, position furniture at least two feet away from any heat source, and never directly in front of a radiator. If that is unavoidable, protect it with an insulated or reflective covering at the risk of looking inelegant. Dust frequently using a soft cloth, and rub regularly to allow a hard skin to form and build up the patina. Using a beeswax based polish,—never sprays—shine it thoroughly once a year—but remember to go easy on that polish and preferably leave it overnight, before buffing. Sprays contain silicon which makes the surface of your Regency Pine wooden press sticky as well as evaporate natural oils in the wood. Antique furniture is made of air-dried timber which has higher water content than modern furniture, which is generally made of kiln-dried wood. Low levels of humidity forces the wood to shrink and split along the grain. If the underlying pieces of wood used in the construction are laid at right angles to each other and then veneered on top. the wood shifts and the veneer tears and lifts and pieces could become detached.  In dry air atmosphere, cracking, loosening joints when old animal glues dry out, drawers sticking, and doors warping and not closing properly are usual problems. Buy a good humidifier to prevent this, by maintaining a constant level of relative humidity in the air during the winter heating season.

In a room that captures the glorious ages with the finest of Rajasthan Colonial, time is at a premium, whether it be a F Baetens Fusee Mantel Clock from the 1930s Gerard Street, London or a gilt ormolu made of gold plated bronze by Achille aBrocot in 1880. There are two kinds of antique clocks — spring driven and weight driven. They may be old, but you keep them running. Regular winding is essential, but ensure that the correct size of key is always used. While winding with spring driven bracket and mantle clocks, hold the clock steady. With weight driven longcase clocks, open the trunk door to enable you to see that the weights do not foul the case or pendulum. When correcting the time, on all clocks, only turn the hands clockwise—especially with striking clocks. Antique clocks that are kept in good condition, require very little maintenance. All servicing or restoration work should only be entrusted to a qualified horologist who specialises in antique clocks.

Its not just clocks, but other precious collectibles too are made of porcelain. It is always preferable to keep antique porcelain and pottery behind glass. Remember, many of these antique pieces could be extremely fragile. Always hold one by the main part of the body, and never by the extremities such as the handle. Never use abrasive cleaners, but immerse the piece very gently in warm water mixed with a dash of washing liquid. Dirty pieces should be cleaned gently using a soft sponge. Use a damp cloth while cleaning pottery, which is more porous than porcelain. If you need to immerse it in water, the water should be much cooler than for porcelain, and never leave it to soak. Sellotape has been known to be used to hold pieces together while washing, but don’t:  while peeling it off, the enamelling or gilding may be removed. 

When dealing with period glass, you will notice that decanters get stained. There are two kinds of stains. Using a bottle brush and warm water with some proprietary cleaner added, dark stains can be easily removed. If a milky stain is revealed afterwards, note that it has been caused by the acids in wines or by leaving decanters wet. Decanters in this condition need professional buffing. Ensure they are always dried after use. If minor chips on wineglasses occur, these can normally be filled with a colourless resin which hides the damage. For this, too, a specialist dealer will provide you help. Advice on washing glass: all glass should be washed in water as hot as the hand can tolerate, with a bit of detergent added to remove dirt.  Afterwards, rinse in water of the same temperature and dry with lint-free cotton cloth while the glass is still hot. The heat of the glass will do most of the drying.

When it comes to maintaining antique brass or copper, apply the necessary polish by hand, using soft materials such as cotton-wool to apply and a yellow duster to remove. Never use emery cloth or wire wool to clean since they can render precious fine pieces virtually irreparable, and hence worthless. To preserve the shine of the pieces, giving them a lacquer coating is advisable to preserve the shine for a few years. Pewter, too, can be scratched if not carefully cleaned, and also dent easily. If the pieces are painted, just apply a good furniture wax with cotton wool or a soft brush and buff with a soft yellow duster or cloth. Meanwhile, bronze is a less fussy material. Firmly clean all items that have dirt or dust on them in spite of dusting. Simply use a toothbrush and good quality furniture polish. Dip the brush in the wax polish, apply to the bronze by working the polish over the dirty areas. Use cloth over larger, smoother areas. Let the wax harden for an hour or two and then polish again with a clean duster, using a soft shoe polish brush for detailed areas. Taking care of an antique piece is as laborious a process as making one, but the collector finds that in the end, its worth it.

(With advice from The British Antique Dealers’ Association)

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