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Not sure if this is the best group for this post, but was curious what others thought.

Does patina = increased value? Why/why not?

Now me, I am not a valuer nor a museum archivist, to me, patina is wear, grim, deterioration. I prefer to have something kept in as new a condition as possible, without risking/replacing the original materials of the item tot he extent of replacing the whole item. Without cleaning and maintaining an item, the quality of the item wears out over time. Museums all over the world strive hard to either maintain the present condition of items they can't restore completely and revive many other items to their original condition.

For instance, I am not a firm believer in a piece of furniture having 'character' although I do understand the concept of being able to tell a story as such by using the marks an item can gain over time.

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Hi, Michael,

Interesting question re patina or not. In the jewelry world "patina" used to be joked about as a dealer's excuse for not cleaning something before selling it(!). I.e., grime was left on jewelry for customer to deal with. Well, that's one school of thought. The other is to deliver something in pristine condition, as near new or mint as possible. "Cleanliness is next to godliness" school of thought.

Personally I subscribe to both depending on what the item is. Some antiques are grievously devalued  permanently if certains signs of age are removed or badly cleaned using wrong methods. Scrubbing off intentional darkening in crevices on fine old silver or removing gold wash would be in that category.

Fine old paintings also belong here. Also, pre-Columbian pottery, thousand-year old china, ivory. These are often cleaned to the nth degree so that the antique dust in the crevices are gone, important for carbon dating. I.e., now it looks so new it could be made yesterday, oh horror!; it can be mistaken for a reproduction.

As I deal in replacement silver flatware I like to see it cleaned properly. It is meant to eat with so cleanliness is the most important thing before we put a utensil in mouth.

However, there are right and wrong ways of cleaning silver. A thick layer of oxidation, tarnish if you will, can be removed by various chemical dipping solutions. They do a good job when used correctly. As a rule, I advise against them because they are very toxic and can make a person quite sick when the fumes are inhaled. And if not used correctly they strip silver plate so completely that only a dull yellow coating remains. The finish is then totally ruined and impossible to restore to any acceptable condition.

When I buy silverware that obviously has never been used at all and the patina is light I leave it alone and say so in descriptions on my site. The next owner will be the first to enjoy using the ware and clean it the way he or she wants it done. Here patina and uncirculated condition are important points when someone likes it that way and it usually commands a higher price than used and even cleaned vintage ware.

Michael, what is the item or items to which you are referring? Do tell!

Nothing specific at this stage. Just a general inquiry, as I had been discussing this topic with family about some items we have in the group. Cutlery sets, brass ornate boxes etc...

By the way, I would never place the cleaning or restoring an item incorrectly into the patina free class. I would just say those people don't know what they are doing. I do understand that some items have intentionally shadowed crevices, or intentional after effects added which can unintentionally be removed if cleaned poorly, as well as certain aspects of an item can be better understood if patina is still present for dating purposes. However, my argument is more about should an item truly be considered more valuable if left in a dilapidated/unloved state rather than an item which has been 'correctly' looked after, cleaned and preserved in its original mint condition.

Don't get me wrong, I do understand there are many items which are truly ancient and cannot be expected to be found in mint condition and as such restoration or conservation of its current state is the best we can hope for. I'm all for that and would never consider something as worthless or devalued simply because it is not in mint condition.

So basically, I am considering the difference between left as is patina, vs a 'correctly' cleaned/maintained item.

Again, Michael, it really depends on the item, and possibly even more on WHO is interested in it, what their criteria for condition are.

A museum curator looking at an ancient piece for a collection would have a different opinion than perhaps a dealer and/or a collector.

In an example on the British TV show Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, an experienced dealer made sure that a 1830's burled wood officer's mini-bar chest was properly restored, wood veneer replaced, repaired, brass fittings completed, etc. before offering to a potential buyer collector of antique liquor-oriented memorabilia.

Chances were good that since this collector displays his pieces in a mini-museum setting he would not have bought this piece in its original condition as it was not in show condition. The dealer invested an additional 100 English pounds in the professional restoration and got it back plus plus when the mini-bar sold.

So, again, it depends on a/ What is is, b/ How it would benefit from either original or restored condition, and c/ Who is interested in acquiring it in either original or restored condition. And, of course, ever important: At what price lengths one would go to in deciding which way to go.

No hard and fast rules in other words, it's always individual to many different degrees.

Michael, you ask "...should an item truly be considered more valuable if left in a dilapidated/unloved state rather than an item which has been 'correctly' looked after, cleaned and preserved in its original mint condition."  If by "valuable", you mean dollars and cents, then it is the market that determines that and I don't think that "should" enters the equation.  One might "argue" that an article left in "original" condition may be "cleaned up" at  a later date while an article that has had patina removed cannot be returned to its original condition.  That said, however, there is also a difference, for example, between keeping the "broken" leg "broken", repairing it, or replacing it. 

Okay, I see what you're both saying, and I agree, so let's try this from a different angle now then.

I do understand that it depends on the item, the buyer and the trend in the market of the day.

Let's say I have an item, a solid brass hinged box in brilliant condition which has been hand engraved with date and maker inscribed into the surface, it still opens and closes no worries at all, but is extremely tarnished. Without knowing the potential seller, nor what the current trend of the day is for treatment of such an item, would I be better off simply leaving it as is or correctly polishing it to look as new? Which would have more of a monetary value?

It's not that I don't understand there can be different opinions on this topic, nor that there are different extenuating circumstances where cleaning and restoration is not possible, it's more that I see more value in something being kept in good condition as a better way to preserve it for the future.

As another example though, the Sistine Chapel. Years were spent restoring the ceiling by removing the years of soot and grime. However, sections were deliberately left non-restored as a means of preserving some of the physical record of the restoration itself. There was debate, not so much about the original artwork being restored, but about the possibility of destroying any amendments made after the plaster had dried. Was it better to have restored the ceiling in the manner it was dealt, or should it have been restored differently to keep any possible secco work made? I would think that maintaining the secco work as well would have been preferable, but read at the time they did not believe such amendment work had been made on the ceiling.

If that solid brass hinged box were mine, and everything being as you said, and the box had some antique interest, I'd take it to a professional restorer of metals for an opinion and a quote on bringing up the brass to better condition.

Mind you, not like new because that is usually not desirable but with some cleanup to make it presentable. If too overcleaned it might look like a fairly recent import from India and as we know they are neither antique nor very marketable as the market is flooded with them.

So I'd go easy on the cleaning here and only after I had researched the box and arrived at at least an approximate age, provenance and potential market value in a better venue. That would determine WHO would be interested in acquiring it from you and also whether that party usually buys unrestored or cleaned up pieces. Got a picture of it?

Hi Liz

You know what, I think I get it.  The level of 'newness' of the final appearance of an item is very much dependent on the individual who wishes to possess the item.  Though it may not be my cup of tea, I should never restore an item to new unless it is being sold to a person who prefers it that way, or if I intend to keep it myself.

The most I should do for any item in need of restoration, is to bring it to a point where it is stable (not going to deteriorate further), or sell as is, in need of a little TLC.

I said, "Let's say I have an item, ...." meaning as a hypothetical situation, so there is no picture I'm afraid.  That would require a quite remarkable camera to photographic my mind's eye.

I thank you again for your words of explanation, it did indeed help.

Hey Michael,

We have been doing this for about 10years. Our rule of thumb is. Leave it in the condition that you found it unless the condition is to the point that the item would likely not sell. Would you put it on your shelf? There always exception to the rules. We leave most items in their picked state. That shows the potential customer that it is truly old and not something made in China.

We restore a lot of Bakelite radios from the 1930/40s. A lot of them have a crack or two in the case and usually the case is a crapy brown or beige color. For these we fix the defects and trick up the paint.

Her is one in progress. A Fada that has some damage and is a not so pleasing color.

Here is a 3 tone Philco after restoring. Was a dull gray color before.

Hope this helps, Indy


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