The first step in adding to the value of an antique is to have an absolute understanding of what not to do. Many appraisers, even on shows such as Antiques Roadshow, have repeatedly advised people that what they have done to their antiques has devalued their antiques. Sometimes what a person does has completely destroyed the value of an antique.
What Not to Do
After coming into possession of an antique, or an entire household of antiques, whether by purchase, inheritance, finding it in the attic or barn of an old house, or in an alley, there are certain things that one must never do.
People think they are adding to the value of antiques by cleaning or refinishing them, or recovering them. People repaint, refinish, give a little touch up job to a piece of art or ceramics that is chipped. People clean artwork, re-frame art into a more modern frame, staple or glue loose pages of an old book. All of these can greatly diminish or completely destroy any value of your antiques.
You should never clean any antique, no matter if it is a vase, lamp, art, jewelry, art glass, furniture, any type of metalwork, rugs, blankets, or anything else with anything that you do not know is specifically for cleaning that antique. The most you can safely do is to very lightly wipe with a clean, dry cloth. This is no matter what country, dynasty, style or period it is from. You can destroy the patina of an item, lose small pieces of an antique if something should come off during your amateur cleaning. You can break a fragile antique, or ruin fibers. The only exception to this is that it is okay to lightly wash that glass you bought to complete your set of depression glassware. Leave the cleaning to a professional! It is well worth it.
When trying to understand what provenance is, think of tracing the family tree. The family tree traces the family back in time step by step, generation by generation, as far back as possible in history, with supporting evidence and documentation. This can be done with the Family Bible or stories from older relatives, diaries, photographs, records at government offices, library or online research, for instance.
To be able to prove the provenance will increase the value of an antique. If there are pictures of great-great grandmother wearing that diamond and ruby brooch, a bill of sale dated 1790 for that piece of furniture, if you are a descendant of a Navajo tribe and your ancestor is shown with that blanket or you have a letter from a famous painter, or a letter giving a relative a gift of that vase when visiting China, that is provenance. It proves exactly what the antique is, dates it to a specific time period, and gives an accurate history of that antique.
Books and Paper
Books and paper should be kept out of bright light and away from very damp or very dry conditions. Books should be stored in an area with ample air circulation and in an area where they will not be available as a meal for insects.
As books and paper age, “foxing,” or the appearance of tan or brown colored small spots may appear. Foxing may only be in a small area or it may be present throughout the entire book or document. Products such as weak bleach solutions, weak peroxide and other products have been used to try to repair or remove foxing, but these products damage the paper. The value of the book, document, map or other ephemera may be diminished or destroyed. It is best to leave the book or document alone or take it to a professional.
The patina is something that people who are unknowledgeable about the care and valuing of antiques tries to change. When a person acquires a metal sculpture, an old coin, an object made of copper, or a lamp, for instance, he or she may grab the nearest metal cleaners, polishers and rags and set out to remove that green or copper colored discoloration that has built up. When a person brings home that piece of antique furniture, they may run right out and buy everything necessary to refinish it with a bright shiny color or varnish to increase the value of the item by thousands of dollars. This is the very worst thing that one can do to the patina of any antique, including even trying to diminish the crazing (crackling) that occurs naturally in ceramics with aging.
Patina on a metal object is caused by the oxidation of the metals and develops over many years time. On furniture, it is the natural sheen that has developed, the very visible use, even scratches or nicks that shows the natural wear of the piece of furniture. To increase the value of an antique, never do anything to change or remove the natural patina. When patina is altered, the value of an antique will not increase; it fact, it can be destroyed completely.
Rules of Antiquing
The first rule of antiquing is that everything old is not valuable and everything valuable is not old. People sometimes mistakenly assume that just because they have a piece of pottery made fifty years ago that it is an antique and has value.
Several factors are considered in rules of antiquing. Is there current demand for a particular antique? Just because it is “old,” does not mean as much as some people may think. If the item is still in plentiful supply, or just not in much demand right now, then there is probably not as much value as may be assumed by some individuals. What is the condition? If there is a large crack down the entire length of your 19th century vase and it has a large chunk missing from the rim, it probably is not very valuable. It may be a good idea to pass on this item at the antique shop or flea market.
The family Bible, dictionaries and encyclopedias are not valuable although at every antique appraisal event and on websites where antique information may be sought, this is one of the most common items people want appraisals on and often may not believe these items are not valuable. This is a common mistake made, and is proved again and again at antique appraisal events.
Fakes are flourishing in nearly every antiques division and classification and it is imperative that if the owner of an antique wants to add value to their antiques it is important to make sure the antique is not a fake. Even the sharpest eyes of professionals have been fooled. Getting a professional appraisal is the best advice. The trained eye can often be found with a jeweler’s loupe at the antique shop, thrift store or flea market where careful examination of an “antique” is taking place. If just not sure, especially if it is an expensive item, it may be best to leave the item right where it is.