Crusty New England antiques collector wants his original finish

Over at Martin Willis’ blog he delves into the harrowing and e-mail-fight-worthy topic of antique furniture refinishing. If ever there be a subject that draws sharp opinions it’s debating when/if/why to refinish a piece.

I give him credit for generously relating (aka confessing) his past transgressions. But are there any collectors who haven’t snapped up a piece of furniture with good form but a bad finish and worked wonders on a Sunday afternoon? Nope.

A seller of antique golden oak furniture told me that refinishing is far
more acceptable than destroying the piece. “This table is going up in
value as we speak,” he said, slapping a $2,200 dining table sporting a
newly-applied polyurethane finish, “because someone, somewhere right now is tossing this same table on a bonfire or in a landfill.”

burled_walnut_bookcase.jpg


Original Finish This mid-19th century American Renaissance carved and burled walnut, gilt and ebonized bookcase by a New York maker sold for $19,120 Feb. 13 after eight phone bidders competed for the lot, more than doubling its pre-sale low estimate of $8,000.
Photo
courtesy Neal Auction

Martin covers a lot of ground on this topic – even touching on painted surfaces. Among his funny anecdotes:

“I had a restoration shop when I was in my early 20s for about ten years.
I bought a plain oak lamp table at my father’s auction for $10 for
display purposes. It had a horrible water stained top and the finish was
flaking off. I sawed it in half, refinished one side of it and braced
it back together. I put this piece in my showroom so I could display the
before an after of my work which was night and day. Not long after the
table appeared a crusty old New Englander came in my showroom and
started yelling at me for sawing the beautiful table in half. I simply
pointed at the original condition side and asked him what he would pay
for the table if it looked like that.

Original surface is a big deal on period furniture and I would strongly
suggest to my clients that they not refinish period pieces. My best
friend’s wife asked me to refinish a period Boston Chippendale desk they
inherited in original finish. She was complaining that the finish was
dry and crusty (just like the purists like it). I refused to touch it
and told her there were other options, unfortunately she went to the
phone book and someone else did the deed to my dismay. It was a horrible
polyurethane job, shiny as can be and rough to the touch. There were
orbital sander marks covering the whole piece.”

Read the rest at Antique Auction Forum Blog.

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-posted by Eric

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