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Antiques: One more time

It seems that I caused a bit of confusion with my last posting on refinishing and repairing antique furniture. I made a distinction between "antiques" and "old furniture" that might not have been too clear.

Obviously, by definition, furniture of a certain age is generally considered "antique." But that furniture is not necessarily "valuable" in the sense that it is not worth thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars. A piece may have a certain value to its owner by virtue of it having been in their family for a long period of time or of having been owned by a loved one. But this does not necessarily translate into monetary value.

I love to watch the Antiques Roadshow, especially when the Keno brothers are involved. These guys are so enthusiastic about fine old woodwork and when they get hold of something like a Seymour table or a classic Windsor chair, they are a delight to watch. One time they had a gorgeous Philadelphia highboy with all the bells and whistles. It was made of highly figured mahogany that simply exploded with the kind of grain we can only dream about. The owner was so proud of it and talked about how, when he got it, it was all black and dirty and how much better it looked now that it had been restored. Leigh Keno had that look on his face as he told the guy that the piece was worth around $35,000. The guy looked pleased until Leigh told him that "in the black," with the original finish and the brass unpolished, it would have been worth more like $350,000.

Most of us have heard similar horror stories. But the point I was making in my post is that most of what we think of as antique is simply not in the same category. The pieces may be very nicely made out of beautiful wood and are certainly preferable in most situations to their contemporary counterparts. But we don't have to worry about flushing three hundred grand down the drain by repairing or refinishing them. I think a safe rule would be that if you are at all unsure, don't touch the piece unless you know what you are doing.


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