In the Tariff act of 1930, the U.S. Customs defined an antique as an object that was made before 1830 when mass production became commonplace. This act determined if a piece was duty free. In 1966, the standard of 100 years old was adopted as the defining characteristic to determine if an object was an antique and its import would be duty free. Prior to this act, importers would claim all sorts of items as antiques to avoid the tax.
In 1993 the Customs Modernization Act, Tile VI of the North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, added to the definition and defined an antique (for purposes of import taxation) as a piece less than 50% restored or refinished so long as the “essential character” of the piece remains unchanged.
The Antiques Road show Weighs In
Peter B. Cook,
The Antiques Road show
& Bob Flexner
Editor Finishing & Restoration Magazine
Discuss the topic.
In our trade magazine “Finishing & Restoration” (formerly Professional Refinishing), the wisdom of restoring/refinishing antique and older furniture was discussed/debated at some length. Some opinions mirrored the public’s general perception that restoration and refinishing are to be avoided. The misperception was fueled largely by a general misunderstanding that resulted from various airings of the television show “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS. It got to the point where many people believed it was unwise to restore/refinish almost any piece of furniture!
The editor of the magazine, Bob Flexner, contacted the shows’ producers and explained the impact the misunderstanding was having on the public’s perception concerning restoring/refinishing older and antique furniture. Peter B. Cook, executive producer of the television program, wrote a response that was published in the June 2002 issue of the magazine. Here are some excerpts from the article.
“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.”
Peter B. Cook,
The Antiques Road show
With all the sprays, polishes, oils, cleaners, and waxes available today, it’s no wonder that this is the most asked question by far. My response is always the same: “Do you just want a shine or do you want protection also”? Spray-on polish and oils, “time savers”, give a quick temporary shine in just minutes, but that’s all you get. The reason they “shine” is because they are WET. This “wet look” may produce a nice shine but offers little or no protection. These products became popular in the late 1940s and have increased in popularity ever since. TV commercials showing a house wife using a product on a dull table top, followed by her smiling beautiful face in the reflection gave proof of the effortless shine their product would produce. Well, that was nothing but a good marketing ploy to boost product sales. What person, even today, would not want to save a lot of time and good old fashion elbow grease?
What they did not tell you, was that the silicone oils and petroleum distillates in their product would actually cause harm to your finish over time. In the late 60s and early 70s refinishing shops made a lot of money refinishing hundreds of table tops when there finish softened and turned into a sticky, gooey mess. These products are much improved today and can be good for the occasional quickie just before guest arrive, but prolonged use can still leave a gooey mess and still no real protection. It is easy to tell if a customer has been using these kind of polishes. You can make swirl marks in the wet oil with your fingers, or lift a cloth place mat from the table top to reveal a dull spot the same shape of the mat (the oil was absorbed by the mat). Because the surface is wet, it will actually attract and hold more dust and pollutants from the air.
Let’s take a moment and consider just what a finish is designed to do. First and foremost it is to seal the wood. Sealing the wood protects the wood from moisture changes, spills, stains, and surface abrasions. Second it is used to enhance the beauty of the wood grain. Have you ever heard someone tell how there produce “feeds” the wood. Unless your furniture is unfinished, or the finish has deteriorated, there is absolutely no way any polish, oil or wax is going to get through the finish to the wood. Another common misconception is that wood furniture is “alive” and need to “breathe,” so don’t seal the pores with wax. Wood furniture is not “alive” it can not “breathe” nor does it need to be “nourished” or “fed” with oily polishes. Just the very opposite is the truth! Continual changes in humidity, not the lack of “feeding”, cause unsealed wood to crack, warp, swell, shrink and glue joints to loosen.
I am often called about re-caning chair seats. The first thing I always ask is what kind of caning is on the chair.
HAND- CANING refers to the technique requiring strands of cane to be woven by hand through holes that are drilled in the frame of the chair.
PRE-WOVEN CANE refers to a sheet of cane that is already woven with the diamond like pattern. Chairs that need pre-woven cane have a groove running around the edge of the seat. It comes in sheets that have been woven on looms and comes in a variety of weave patterns.
FIBER RUSH refers to a tough grade paper fiber twisted into a long strand. It is used on square chair seats with dowel rails. Natural rush is similar and is twisted from the leaves of cat tails.
This blog will hopefully answer the questions you have about refinishing techniques and trends as well as answer questions you are probably asking yourself prior to hiring a company and turning your heirlooms over to them to be reborn.