A great many people ask us, “How can I best store my antiques and collectibles?”
Suffice it to say that there are proper and improper ways to store things. (You’d be appalled if you saw how many valuable items are ruined on a regular basis because someone somewhere didn’t take the time or trouble to look into proper storage.) Learn a few quick tricks, though, and you can save yourself a great deal of heartache and expense.
Let’s go over just a few of the basics, starting with your silver, china and crystal.
Silver is best stored in flannel or Pacific Cloth© bags, or at least Pacific Cloth©-lined drawers. (Pacific Cloth© is a patented, flannel-like fabric that has tarnish-preventive qualities. It can be purchased from jewelers, silver companies, in many online stores, on eBay and — naturally! — at estate sales.) Avoid newspaper — the sulfur dioxide in newsprint can (and often does) wreak havoc on sterling, coin silver and silverplated wares alike. NEVER place rubber bands on or near your silverware, and NEVER leave salt in silver containers for more than the duration of a meal.
Cushion your fine china with padding. Wash your fine china in a padded sink and NEVER place your fine china in a dishwasher. Dry with soft, dry cloths — preferably something with little to no “nub.” The padding you use for storage need not be fancy padding, either — even paper plates work fine between salad and dinner plates. You can also use hot pads, flannel rags, or any soft, non-abrasive fabric for cushioning china in storage. Again, avoid newspaper — it can stain gold trim and permanently blacken bisque rims and designs on your fine china. NEVER place rubber bands on or near your fine china.
Crystal is best stored away from harsh sunlight. As with your fine china, good crystal is best washed in a padded sink. NEVER place fine crystal or cut glass in a washing machine. Use lint-free cloths to dry. Newspaper will not harm crystal unless the crystal in question has acid-etched or frosted designs. (In these cases, newsprint can stain such designs.) Don’t place your crystal close under bright lights, as the heat can crack it. It (bright light) can also fade flashing and other painted designs on some crystal. NEVER leave wine, juice (or really anything!) in lead crystal decanters or cruets for more than the duration of a meal. Why? Simply put: lead poisoning can occur. (Highly acidic and alcoholic substances in particular actually leach lead from the crystal itself. The longer the liquid sits, the more lead it can leach.) Also, many a decanter has suffered from “sickness” — a trade term used to denote those often permanently damaged pieces that have heavy alkaline deposits or acid etching from something that was placed in them.
American pattern glass produced after the Civil War (and up until 1915 or so) often contains manganese. Don't place it in direct sunlight unless you want it to turn purple over time.
Firearms are best stored in their original cases. Should you not have the original cases, visit your local gun dealer for top quality, cloth-lined cases. Never handle the metal parts of a gun without either wearing cotton gloves OR later wiping the barrel and other metal parts with a soft, non-abrasive cloth afterward. (The oils and moisture in our hands can cause pitting and discoloration.) Naturally, you should always store your firearms safely away from little hands. Don’t store them under beds or mattresses, either, as many nasty accidents have occurred when unwitting friends and relatives have reached under a bed and accidentally pulled the wrong end of a shotgun!
Books, paper goods and works on paper (e.g., lithographs, woodblock prints, serigraphs, etc.) are finicky. They like to be in a fairly temperate environment that is not too humid and not too dry. Those “picture lights” one sees on many oil paintings and works on paper? Avoid them like the plague. Keep vintage books out of direct sunlight and away from household moisture (e.g., showers, sinks, washing machines etc.) Remember, books and works on paper (like textiles, ivories and leather goods) are made from organic substances. As a result, they’re prone to everything from foxing (a type of bacterial growth) to warpage and splitting. Handle very, very old texts with cotton gloves whenever possible. Always ask a professional before you have a book re-bound, too — some texts are more valuable in their original states, while others need to be re-bound. Never place newspaper clippings inside your vintage books, as (again) that pesky newsprint can leave permanent damage -- unsightly staining at best and nasty acid burn at worst.
Ivories (be they elephant, mammoth, walrus or whatever) need to be stored away from natural sunlight if possible. It’s also advisable to keep a vase or glass filled with distilled water somewhere in a cabinet filled with ivories, as ivory is an organic substance that requires a certain moisture level. Should the moisture level drop precipitously and stay too low for too long a period, the ivory can (and often does) crack.
As we all know, vintage cast iron cookware should never be washed. It should be seasoned only and scrubbed and dried after use.
Keep celluloid, Bakelite and Catalin wares out of direct sunlight and away from household heat sources (e.g., radiators, wall unit heaters, stoves etc.). Not only can these vintage thermoplastics warp and discolor with exposure to heat and sunlight, they’re even combustible under the right circumstance!
As for textiles, well, it’s truly sad to think of how many great quilts we’ve seen ruined from foxing, fabric stress, acid burn and outright mildew. Always store your fine linens, quilts and other good textiles on paper rolls or wooden dowels that have been covered with acid-free tissue paper. Folding causes fabric stress, and the acid in wood pulp and many woods alike can cause acid burn. Keep your fine textiles away from household sources of moisture, too. Samplers and other framed textiles should be mounted by professionals; professionals use spacers, UV protective glass, acid-free mattes and other things which prevent damage.
Vintage dolls and toys? Again, as with so many other things, avoid direct sunlight and inside sources of heat, as well as exposure to household moisture. Composition dolls are especially fragile and prone to mildew, foxing and other bacterial growth. Keep your composition dolls dry and safe. Only let older children play with your vintage dolls, and then only with supervision.
We could go on about this subject for days; however, we try to keep our blogs short and to the point. There are many types of items we’ve not covered here, so should you have a question or questions about a particular antique or collectible and how best to store it, please feel free to take the time to e-mail us at Oklappraiser@aol.com. We’ll be happy to answer your question(s) in short order.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
My friend Barbara asked me today if I wouldn’t mind blogging about when one should or shouldn’t clean one’s antiques and collectibles and — if possible — how one should clean certain things properly.
I’ll try to cover some of the major areas here, so please bear with me.
No doubt we’ve all heard the stories about the Connecticut lady who stripped a rare, mid-18th century highboy and (in doing so) stripped a quarter of a million dollars off the value. On a local level, I myself once saw a $25K to $30K late 19th century French bronze whose over-zealous owner had (!!!) polished off all the patination with a Dremel and some jeweler’s rouge, thus leaving her with a $500 heap of gleaming scrap metal.
THE GOLDEN RULE: Don’t clean ANYTHING until you’ve consulted an expert. Barring an expert appraiser or world class dealer, well, at least consult a knowledgeable local antiques dealer, or (barring that) read up as much as you can on the subject.
One never does more than dust bronzes. (You see, the patina on a bronze is deliberate. Good patinas require great artistry and contribute highly to the value of the bronzes they're placed on.)
Leave period furniture alone, too. (That said, there’s a world of difference between a fine piece of period furniture and a mass produced chiffarobe made in Grand Rapids, Michigan ca. 1940. But, again, consult an expert first.) Along with furniture, leave treen (wooden kitchenwares and other practical wooden wares) alone. Their patinas are a HUGE part of both their charm and value.
Insofar as silver, gold, palladium and platinum are concerned, consider a) the quality of the polish used and b) the gentleness of your work. (Never use anything abrasive — certainly no Dremels, steel wool, sandpapers etc. And yes, I have seen all of the above used, much to our horror.) I prefer soft German polishes such as Simichrome and Wenol, and only use very soft cloths. (Old jersey t-shirts work well, as do chamois cloths.) Never, ever polish mixed metals, nor damascene work. Be very careful when polishing vermeil (gold on silver) and niello wares. (Look it up.) Avoid cheap, chalky grocery store polishes like the plague. (Dishwashers, too, and harsh detergents.) And those gimmicky magnesium plate/tin foil contraptions? Unadulterated evil — avoid them at all costs. They are horrific little buggers that can ruin your silverware.
Linens and vintage clothing? Use tiny amounts of Woolite very sparingly, and rinse thoroughly in club soda. Block dry. (If you don’t know how to block dry, look it up. It’s very simple.) Antique embroidery, samplers and other very delicate period textiles, though, fall into a category best left to the professional cleaners and restorers, though, as do good Oriental rugs.
Toys (especially tin lithograph toys) are best cleaned with nothing more than a dry baby toothbrush or small paintbrush. Mohair bears (especially vintage Steiff pieces and other comparable quality bears) are best cleaned with nothing more than a spritz of Febreze and a slightly damp washcloth. ”Sleep” eyes on dolls can be cleaned with rubbing alcohol or vodka — just one drop per eye. Allow the eye to open and close thoroughly with the alcohol on the pupil.
Alcohol, by the way, also does wonders for cleaning vintage perfume bottles on the inside. Alcohol is also the preferred cleaner for vintage Lucite, and even modern Plexiglas. NEVER use ammonia-based cleaners on Lucite or Plexiglass, as they will permanently “cloud” your items.
Costume jewelry? Baby toothbrushes and small paintbrushes only. (Most costume mounts are highly prone to water damage.) Fine jewelry? You can clean it yourself, but we recommend that you take it to a reputable jeweler instead.
Porcelain and pottery are best cleaned with tiny amounts of clean water (preferably distilled) and very mild detergents. (I favor Ivory.) Use baby toothbrushes for delicate applied work, and small paintbrushes. (Baby toothbrushes, by the way, are also excellent for getting detail work on silver and gold.)
Pottery dinnerware (e.g., Fiestaware, Franciscan pottery dinnerware, cookie jars, Vernon Ware etc.) often gets what we in the trade call “aluminum scratches.” Aluminum scratches are best cleaned with a minute amount of Cameo Aluminum Cleaner and a little warm tap water. Use the pads of your fingers and work in circular motion. Rinse with a damp washcloth and dry with a tea towel. Never get Hummel figurines wet, by the way -- they are highly porous. Also, never wrap bisque (a.k.a. biscuit) wares or jasperware in newspaper — these wares, too, are highly porous and will get nasty (and impossible to remove) stains from the newsprint itself. (Newspaper is pretty awful to wrap with, anyway — the sulfur compounds in the newsprint can pit and ultimately destroy good silver, too.)
Finally, we come to glassware. Whether crystal or art glass, cut glass or crystal stemware, I recommend a mild solution of Windex and distilled water. (ROOM TEMPERATURE ONLY, FRIENDS.) A word to the wise: extreme temperature changes damage far more glassware than rough handling ever does. (This is particularly true of high lead content crystal and Brilliant Period cut glass.)
As a general rule of thumb, again, remember: ask an expert first. Then, follow his or her instructions to the letter. Read up — become informed. There’s no need in taking a great antique or collectible and rendering it virtually worthless just because you decided to go into a cleaning frenzy.
If you have any questions about how and when to clean (and what to clean with), please don’t hesitate to contact me by clicking on "leave a comment" at www.okcestatesales.com. You can also reach me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to follow this same blog on a different site? Check out our new blog page at http://www.okcestatesales.com. We’ll mix things up and change content anywhere from every two weeks to once a month.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
One of the questions we get asked most frequently prior to our starting work on an estate liquidation is, “Well, what should I throw away?” We instantly reply, “NOTHING!” That said, well, we should probably qualify this statement just a wee bit.
For all intents and purposes, you should throw nothing away before we’ve had time to evaluate EVERYTHING — and I do mean EVERYTHING. Still, there ARE some things that go instantly into the bin when we start work.
After the client(s) have taken what they want, we start work by throwing away those things that need to be thrown away. We throw away most opened food containers, for example, but not all. (Vintage spice containers, for example, are saleable. So do some vintage cookie and cracker tins. So are vintage feed bags. For the most part, though, opened food containers get pitched.)
We occasionally deal with a bad hoarder’s estate, it’s true. (Oh, the horror stories we could share!)
On the off chance that a dumpster is required, bear in mind that a dumpster will be of the few things we charge back to the estate. (We pride ourselves on a flat, basically all inclusive commission, yes, but it is the estate’s responsibility to pay for a commercial dumpster should one be required.) This circumstance, however, is rare — we’ve only had to hire perhaps four or five commercial dumpsters over the past decade, and three of those were for one particular estate. (For the record, if you live in Warr Acres, please hire a municipal dumpster from the City of Warr Acres. They’re much cheaper than commercial dumpsters.)
We recycle (or price cheaply and place in the garage) almost all encyclopedia, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, Reader’s Digests and National Geographics (and other common, modern magazines) and virtually all newspapers. (Contrary to popular belief, not even most vintage newspapers have a great deal of value, although we don’t throw these away.)
We toss homemade videotapes, homemade cassettes and homemade movies that the family chooses not to keep.
We toss homemade videotapes, homemade cassettes and homemade movies that the family chooses not to keep.
We also toss pornography (though not Fifties Era and early Sixties Era vintage Playboy magazines, nor turn-of-the-century "French postcards"), sanitary items (let’s just leave it at that) and other, uh, unmentionables. (No, we don’t sell used undergarments. That’s just nasty. It’s also illegal, and for good reason.)
We donate some medical equipment to Other Options, Inc. before our sales, as we find it in questionable taste to sell potty chairs, aspirators and bedpans. We a) want to see those things sanitized and recycled, if possible, and b) we really have no desire to see potty chairs, aspirators and bedpans in our sales. (And we have no doubt that our customers don’t want to see these things put out for sale, either.)
Prescription drugs (with the exception of narcotics and other controlled substances) are recycled if under a year old. (We have a recycling pharmacy law in Oklahoma that allows us to give these medications to a designated recycling pharmacy. Again, we use Other Options, Inc. for this purpose.)
By the way, if you yourself have medical equipment or recyclable pharmaceuticals to donate, please contact Mary Arbuckle at Other Options, Inc. at (405) 605-8020. (No narcotics or other controlled substances, please -- those have to go to a licensed chemical disposal site.)
If there are reasonable amounts of regular recyclables (e.g., aluminum, recyclable plastics, newspapers, cardboard, brown paper bags etc.) in the estate, we’ll be happy to recycle them for you.
Clients are responsible for the safe and legal disposition of household chemicals, though — for those, we highly recommend Oklahoma City’s top-rate Chemical Disposal Site at SE 15th and Portland. (Just show your OKC water bill — you don’t even get out of your car or truck. All the chemicals are taken out for you by qualified municipal employees.) Even if you’re outside Oklahoma City, it’s still your responsibility (as the client) to legally and safely dispose of household chemicals, else leave them on site for the new owner. (Some liquidators, though, do offer a hazardous waste disposal service, but may charge as much as fifty to one hundred dollars an hour for this service.) Most major metropolitan areas now boast clean, professionally run, state of the art chemical disposal sites for their citizens, so taking care of household chemicals does NOT require a HAZMAT suit!
Now, some things that have been basically ruined are seldom saleable, that’s true. While we may be able to sell that Miata carcass you have stored in the garage or that shattered Meissen vase you have stored in a box in the kitchen cabinet, we strongly doubt that anyone will want to buy Aunt Madge’s fifty year old plastic flowers that were stored in a hot attic and have been thoroughly saturated with feral cat urine. We know best what needs to be kept and what needs to just be pitched — that’s one of the many reasons you hired a professional estate liquidator. Still, let US be the ones to decide what can be thrown away and what can be sold. (We know what we’re doing!)
Should we find credit cards, cash, important documents, family photographs etc. that the family may have forgotten, we put these items in a safe place and contact the family (or trustee) immediately. If necessary, we’ll gladly ship these items to the heir(s) or trustee.
Some things we just can’t sell -- sorry. We can’t sell liquor, obviously, nor anything else illegal (e.g., goods you know to have been stolen, certain kinds of guns, migratory bird feathers etc.). Even some kinds of ivory make professional estate liquidators very nervous. We can’t legally sell used mattresses and box springs. (It’s the law in Oklahoma, and in most states.) We (again) can’t and won’t sell used undergarments. (For the most part, we even avoid selling lingerie.) We DO sell guns, yes, but only after they’ve been vetted by both a licensed firearms dealer AND our regular police officer.
For the most part, yes, it’s true that you ought not throw anything away prior to our starting work on an estate sale — please let US do the throwing away for you. (That’s part of our job, and we can distinguish trash from saleable merchandise!) That said, it’s also true that (should you be itching to throw stuff away), there ARE a few exceptions. Just refer to this post (or call or e-mail us) if you have any questions.
Want to follow this blog (on a different site) online? Check out our new blog page at okcestatesales.com. We’ll mix things up and change content anywhere from every two weeks to once a month.