The Antique Roadshow Recognizes Furniture Restoration
The show's producer has agreed in writing that normal wood antique and family keepsake furniture can be be properly repaired or refinished when needed to maintain or enjoy the item. The other rare items are collector's collectibles.
The professional trade journal for experts in furniture repairs, refinishing, and restoration is “Professional Refinishing”.
It has recently contained articles and comments - from the restoration viewpoint - expressing concerns about misunderstandings by the general public based on the content of the PBS television program Antiques Roadshow.
A response has now been issued from Peter B. Cook, executive producer of the television program.
We will quote liberally from the two main articles involved.
- Larry Sullivan, who restores and refinishes antique and vintage furniture in New Hampshire, in an article “Don’t Touch That Finish” in the May 2000 issue, frames the issue.
“Left unprotected and exposed to normal environmental conditions, wood furniture deteriorates. There’s no disputing this. Joints separate, veneer peels, and boards split, check and warp. If conditions are bad enough, wood even rots.”
“People have known this for thousands of years, but for the past two or three hundred years they have protected and enhanced the appearance of furniture with paint and finish. As a result, lots of that two and three-hundred-year-old furniture has survived.
“Until now that is, when hundreds and even thousands of years of common sense are being set aside for a new politically correct philosophy that says, empathetically, “Don’t touch that finish! Don’t even clean it! You’ll ruin the furniture’s value!”
“It’s all around us: Articles in consumer magazine feature the comments of high-end antiques appraisers and furniture conservators delivering the purist’s creed, and television shows such as “The Antiques Roadshow,” for all the service they might be providing, are misleading people into believing that all furniture loses its value when repaired or refinished.”
“For the high-end market – the world in which these appraisers and conservators work – there’s some truth to this. In fact, very old and historically important furniture commands a much better price if it’s in original (or at least very old) condition. But for the 99.99% of what’s left, leaving a finish in bad condition lowers a piece’s value and hastens its demise.”
… “For most people, and for almost all furniture, market value should not be an issue. People typically want to own, use, and enjoy their antiques. For many people, there is value enough simply in surrounding themselves with the warmth of antiques or the memories that come with family heirlooms.”
- Peter B. Cook, executive producer of Antiques Roadshow in the June 2002 issue, submitted a very interesting clarifying response.
“A while ago, we at Antiques Roadshow received a letter from Professional Refinishing editor Bob Flexner, pointing out that our apparent obsession (my word, not his) with “original finish” has had the effect of misleading the public about what repairing and refinishing actually do to the value of furniture – most furniture, that is.
“We’re now in our sixth season of Antiques Roadshow on PBS …. This means, of course, that there’s a real premium on the accuracy, dependability and usefulness of the information we provide.”
… “I’d hate to think that we’ve created a subset of American furniture owners living in dread of a fatal financial misstep (though Antiques Roadshow is, after all, a show about value, including market value).”
… “Still, if I’m reading things correctly, it sounds as if Roadshow furniture experts are saying, by and large, “leaving things alone is good, refinishing is bad.”
“Understandably, our Americana experts on the Roadshow live for wonderful old pieces of furniture that have somehow survived in terrific condition – pieces not used too hard, left out in strong light for long periods of time or forced to survive a flooded cellar.
Most old furniture, of course, doesn’t come close to meeting those standards. On the contrary, most furniture has been well used (even abused), scratched, broken, and often repaired many times. How could such furniture not be improved by a good job of refinishing or restoring?”
...A "secretary, made by Christian Shively in about 1820, was brought to the Indianapolis tapings this year. It had been stripped and refinished by the owner to remove paint that had been applied many decades earlier. Appraiser John Hays endorsed the need for refinishing and complimented the quality of the work."
… “So where does that leave us? Let the record show that Antiques Roadshow generally agrees with this notion: Well-conceived and well-executed refinishing and restoration usually enhances the value of just about any piece of old furniture. Exceptions are those rare (often museum-quality) pieces that have somehow survived in great “original” condition. If we say or imply to the contrary, we should be called on it.”
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