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What is Antiques Restoration?

Many people think that if an antique is repaired, it has been restored. Among the antiques community, though, it is known that this is not the case. While a repair may restore functionality to a piece, a restoration works to return the piece back to its original condition. This means making structural repairs but it also means paying attention to — and mimicking — the piece’s original finish, materials, and functionality.

Antiques restoration may be done on a wide range of items, such as furniture, automobiles, and art. Of course, the levels of work that is to be done in order for a complete restoration to occur varies piece to piece. Restoring a piece to its original glory may be as simple as meticulously cleaning dirt and grime off of the surface of a painting, or it may be as labor intensive as rebuilding the engine and interior mechanical system of an automobile.

Finish restoration involves re-emulsifying any original finish that is on the piece. The solid varnish that exists on the piece is thus re-liquified, which restores its ability to adhere to the piece. If the varnish has worn away or is very thin, new varnish may be applied. However, the amount of original finish that remains on the piece is directly related to the value of the antique.

Similarly, conservation involves preserving as much of the original finish as possible. Conservation also involves using practices to attempt to keep the protect the piece from further deterioration. Because conservation may require that finishes be added to the piece that were not originally present, conservators must follow a range of ethics when conserving a piece. These ethics typically involve minimal intervention to the original state of the piece, using appropriate methods and materials for conservation, using reversible methods for conservation, and recording comprehensive documentation of all work that was completed so that it may be referenced by future parties.

Another practice that is similar to but different than conservation is preservation. In preservation, processes are put in place to preserve the original materials of a piece. Preservation does not actually involve restoration. Instead, preservation is something that occurs before deterioration has occurred.

Where there is no original varnish or finish to work with, a piece may be refinished. However, refinishing, which does not allow one to retain any of the original finish, is a process that greatly diminishes the antique value of a piece. Nevertheless, it may result in the piece being more functional for a consumer who is less concerned with antique integrity and more concerned with structure and style.

A last resort for restorers is stripping, which is a process by which a piece is bathed in chemicals that work to remove all varnish, finish, and glue from the piece. This results in all original materials being lost and in some cases, the structure of the piece being compromised if glue was holding it together. This process typically results in a huge diminishing of the value of the piece, particularly in antique markets.
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