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Tips, Tools, and Techniques to Care for Antiques, Collectibles, and Other Treasures

Tips, Tools, and Techniques to Care for Antiques, Collectibles, and Other Treasures

by Georgia Kemp Caraway

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What common baking ingredient can conceal white rings on furniture? (Crushed pecans.) How do you detect a repair in a pottery vase you want to buy? (Look at it under a black light.) What's the best way to remove water damage from your great-grandfather's Bible? (Put it in your freezer.) Answers to these questions and many more are included in this convenient handbook


What common baking ingredient can conceal white rings on furniture? (Crushed pecans.) How do you detect a repair in a pottery vase you want to buy? (Look at it under a black light.) What's the best way to remove water damage from your great-grandfather's Bible? (Put it in your freezer.) Answers to these questions and many more are included in this convenient handbook by long-time antiques expert Dr. Georgia Kemp Caraway. Organized alphabetically, Tips, Tools, and Techniques is easy to consult about the cleaning and maintenance of common antique and collectible objects, including metal advertising signs, glassware, clothing, and jewelry. Addenda provide information such as how to get a good deal at auction, the dates of Chinese dynasties, and U.S. patent numbers. An especially handy pronunciation guide helps the monolingual among us speak with confidence about the provenance of Gallé ware and Schlegelmilch porcelain. Compact yet authoritative, this handbook will appeal to both dealers and buyers, as well as everyone with something from Grandma in the attic.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Caraway provides useful information that is not found in any other helpful hints book. I use this guide in my work to locate otherwise hard-to-find tips for cleaning and restoring items I find in household sales to increase the value of the items.”—John Bennett, of John Bennett Estate Appraisals

“The tips provided in this book are practical, the directions are easy to follow, and best of all, they work. Caraway has combined her professional skills as a historian and preservationist with her love of antique collecting to engage her audience.”—Brett A. Jones, manager of the Antique Gallery

"With care advice as well as collectible and monetary information on trading collectibles and antiques, Tips, Tools, & Techniques is a must for anyone dealing in older antiques and collectibles who wants tips on doing it more effectively."--Midwest Book Review

Product Details

University of North Texas Press
Publication date:
Practical Guide Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
5 MB

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Tips, Tools &, Techniques

To Care for Antiques, Collectibles, and Other Treasures

By Georgia Kemp Caraway

University of North Texas Press

Copyright © 2012 Georgia Kemp Caraway
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57441-462-2





• If the paint has begun to peel or flake, do nothing. Any abrasive action will remove even more paint. Paint that is intact, but dirty, can be cleaned using soapy warm water and a soft cloth. Wrap the cloth around your index finger and apply only as much pressure as is necessary to loosen the dirt.

• Dull paint can be protected and the color enhanced with a coat of paste wax, but once again, be gentle for fear of damaging any loose paint.



•Place one to two cups of freshly cubed rhubarb in a stained aluminum pot. Add enough water to cover the stains. Stew over low heat until the stains are gone (usually less than an hour). Discard the cooked rhubarb. Wash and dry the pot. The acidity of the rhubarb will lift off stains.


•To shine and brighten aluminum, use a silver polish such as Nevr-Dull.


•Small holes in aluminum pieces that are not worth the expense of professional repair may be repaired at home. Hold a flat piece of iron inside and pound around the hole on the outside with a hammer. The aluminum is soft enough to expand and fill in a small hole. Do not attempt this on valuable collectible pieces.


• Remove discoloration due to oxidation by filling a pan with a strong solution of vinegar and water.


•Fill a pan with water and add two teaspoons of cream of tartar. Simmer for 15—20 minutes.


•Usually mild soap and warm water will do the trick. If a little stronger cleaning is needed, a gentle scrubbing with fine steel wool (0000) with a mild cleaner should work.


Use this only on hard to remove tarnish and greasy film on aluminum ware. Note that this may scratch and darken your piece. Do not use on collectible wares.

1/2 cup cream of tartar 1/2 cup baking soda 1/2 cup white vinegar 1/4 cup soap flakes

Combine the cream of tartar and the baking soda in a medium-sized bowl. Add the vinegar and mix until the ingredients form a soft paste. Add the soap flakes and transfer to a jar or bottle with a secure lid. To use, apply gently with fine steel wool (0000). Rinse thoroughly. Label the jar and store out of the reach of children. Solution should keep one to two years.


The field of audio materials has been developing and changing over the last 134 years since Thomas A. Edison developed his phonograph and cylinders to convey the spoken word and music. Edison invented the first machine that could record sound in 1877 using a tinfoil cylinder. In 1886, Alexander Graham Bell obtained several patents for a commercial talking machine called a graphaphone. He replaced Edison's tinfoil with wax cylinders. By 1888, Edison had perfected his phonograph using a wax cylinder.

Some definitions of audio materials are in order. Audio records include 78s, 45s, and LPs (which are long-playing phonograph records designed to be played at 33 1/3 rpm). CD is a compact disc that is a plastic-fabricated, circular medium for recording, storing, and playing back audio, video, and computer data. DVDs used to be known as digital video discs until they became more versatile, thus the name change to digital versatile discs.


• To clean really dirty or smudged records, CDs, or DVDs, use distilled water. It will not leave a residue on the disc. Wipe the recording dry using a soft, nonabrasive, lintfree cloth.

• Dust audio records lightly by holding a soft cleaning brush as the record rotates on the player. Once the record has made several revolutions, remove the brush with a swift, light, perpendicular motion. Never touch the bristles of your record cleaning brush with your fingers as you will transfer oil and dirt to the brush.

• For more difficult dust on audio records, use the above method with a bit of distilled water or a few drops of record-cleaning solution. Be careful not to get the label wet. Be sure the surface of the record dries completely before you play or store it.

• Rub compact discs (CDs) gently from the center out with a soft, dry cloth. Never rub in circles as this could cause scratches that might render the disc unplayable.

• For more persistent smudges, try adding distilled water or CD cleaning solution and repeating above method. Be sure disc is dry before inserting into player.


• Do not touch the playing surfaces of any recordings. Clean your hands before handling recordings.

• Handle all grooved discs by their edge and label areas only. Handle compact discs by outer edge and center hole only.

• Handle open reel tapes by the outer edge of the reel flanges and center hub areas only. Do not squeeze flanges together—it will damage tape edges.

• Handle cassettes, audio and video tapes by outer shell, only. Do not place fingers or any other materials into openings.

• Handle wax cylinders by inserting middle and index fingers in the center hole, then gently spread them to just keep the cylinder from slipping off. Do not touch the grooves of wax cylinders; they are very susceptible to mold. Cylinders should be at room temperature before touching; the thermal shock from the warmth of your hand can cause cold wax cylinders to split.


• Keep all storage and use areas clean.

• Always store your recordings at a moderate temperature. Storage areas should be kept at a constant 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 45 to 50 percent relative humidity.

• Store in dark areas except when being accessed, being sure to keep recordings away from UV sources such as unfiltered fluorescent tubes and sunlight.

• Shelve all discs, open-reel and cassette tapes upright to reduce the tension on the media in its case or sleeve. Store cylinders standing on their ends. Do not lay any recording flat, not even audio or videocassettes.

• Generally demagnetization is not a problem. For an added margin of safety, to prevent demagnetization keep all open reel and cassette tapes away from potential sources of demagnetization, such as loudspeakers, most of which have sizable magnets in them. Do not set tapes on top of or leaning against any equipment which can be a source of either magnetic fields or heat. Be careful about operating machines with electric motors, such as vacuum cleaners, next to tape storage areas.

• Recordings are heavy and concentrate their weight in the center of a shelf, which can cause some shelving to collapse. Make sure that the shelving you choose is solid and well constructed.

• When possible, LPs and reel-to-reel tapes should be stored on metal shelves with the bottom shelf at least a few inches above the floor. If the recordings are stored on a wooden shelf or near the floor, remove immediately in case of a flood.

• Shelve discs vertically. Ideally, disc shelving should have full-height and full-depth dividers, spaced four to six inches apart, and secured at top and bottom. Less than full-height dividers may cause discs to warp. Interfiling discs of different diameter may also cause them to warp.

• Open reel tape boxes should be stored vertically. Dividers are not essential, but the boxes must be secured with a bookend and not allowed to fall.

• Audio and video cassette tapes in water repellent plastic containers should be stored vertically "on edge," not flat.

• Store cylinders standing "on end," like a drinking glass.

• Tapes should not be stored in the rewound or fast-forwarded position. Ideally, play a tape completely through, then store it without rewinding. Rewind it just before playing it again.

• As a general rule, it is usually best to store recordings in their original containers.

However, some preservation experts suggest replacing the original record sleeve with a high-density polyethylene sleeve. In some cases the polyethylene sleeve can fit inside the original sleeve. If you use plastic sleeves, just be cautious of moisture build up.

• Collectors should keep all original materials pertaining to a recording in order to retain the value of the recorded material.

Bamboo Furniture

Bamboo is a fast-growing grass.


• Dust regularly with a vacuum or a dry cloth.

• To clean dust from hard-to-reach crevices of bamboo furniture, use a soft toothbrush or the brush attachment of a vacuum cleaner.

• Sponge dirty bamboo with a solution of warm water, mild detergent, and two to three teaspoons of ammonia. Rinse and wipe dry. Apply liquid wax occasionally.

• Shine bamboo with linseed or flax seed oil. Remove excess oil with a dry cloth.


• To prevent drying and splitting, take bamboo furniture outside once a year and wet with a fine spray from the garden hose. Or give it a quick shower in the bathroom. Let the piece dry slowly, out of the sun. If any bindings come loose, rewrap them and tack or glue into place.


Baskets are made of organic material and should never become completely dry.

• One expert in basket collecting suggests sponging baskets with a solution of:

40 percent castor oil

60 percent alcohol

Wipe off any excess solution with a soft cloth.

• Once a year, spritz your baskets with a fine spray of water and allow them to dry in a shady spot.

• Do not wet straw or rye baskets; they tend to mold.



• The ideal temperature range for storing books is 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with 50 percent relative humidity.

• Direct sunlight, artificial light, or intense heat can dry out and fade leather and cloth bindings.

• Avoid displaying or storing books near heat sources.


• A frost-free freezer will draw out the moisture and free the pages that have stuck together. If water has damaged too many books to fit in the freezer, call a local wholesale meat distributor or food processor and arrange to rent freezer space.


• Clean leather bindings with saddle soap, neat's foot oil, castor oil, or white petroleum jelly. Apply sparingly with your fingers, a piece of felt, cheesecloth, or a chamois. Wait several hours, and then repeat.

• Use an art gum or soap eraser to clean dingy hardbound book covers and page ends. While cleaning, be sure to hold the book tightly closed to prevent damaging the pages.

• Clean books with a vacuum dusting-brush attachment, a shaving brush, or a soft paintbrush. Dust from the back binding to the front, not allowing dust to gather in the headcap.

• Check books periodically for insect infestation. Bookworms, moths, and silverfish love to chew on pages and bindings. Remove any insect carcasses with a soft brush.

• Wipe mold and mildew off the bindings and pages with a clean soft cloth. If the pages are still moldy, wipe with an alcohol-dampened cloth, then fan out the pages and brush off after a few hours.

• Use a dry chemical sponge available from janitorial supply stores to clean soot from fire damage.

• Press a lump of untinted modeling clay over the dirt on soiled pages. Knead the clay frequently to get a fresh surface.


• When arranging books on shelves, be sure there is plenty of room for each one to be lifted out easily.

• Books should be held upright on shelves.

• Use bookends on partially filled shelves so that books stand upright. Prevent books from sagging and spines from bending.

• Keep books away from the back of the bookcase to allow for air circulation.

• Paper and clothbound books should not be stored or displayed next to leather bound books. Acidity and oils from the leather may migrate into paper and cloth.

• Never place newspaper clippings between book pages because this will cause discoloration and paper deterioration.

• If books are rare, line your bookshelves with acid-free paper or use glass shelves. Be careful of weight load if using glass shelves.

• Protect books with polypropylene or milex covers.


• Broken signatures can be resewn carefully, using heavy cotton thread. Do not use polyester thread, which can cut through the paper. Make sure you sew through the original holes as closely as possible.


• Glue rice paper or onionskin over the tears or mend with gummed tissue. Sandwich newly repaired pages between sheets of wax paper so that they will not stick to other pages.


• Put a sheet of paper on top of the creased paper and press with a warm iron.


• Never store reading materials in a damp place such as a basement or garage. Moisture leads to rotten leather bindings, sticky glossy-stock pages, and foxing (yellowish-brown stains that mar the pages).


• Put your name inside your loaned book in pencil. Keep a 3 x 5 card with the name of the book, the borrower's name, and the date loaned. Or keep the dust jacket and pencil the borrower's name inside as a reminder.


Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Two parts of copper are usually used to one part zinc.


• Lacquer coating on brass preserves the shine and prevents oxidation or tarnishing. Clean with a mild detergent and water, then rinse and wipe dry. Avoid harsh abrasives that can wear through the lacquer.


• Manufacturers of new brass fixtures coat the metal with a lacquer varnish to preserve its shine. To remedy this, you can soak new brass for a few minutes in acetone (the basis for nail polish remover, available at most hardware stores). Wearing gloves, scrub with a soft scouring pad and rinse. Work in a well-ventilated area, and keep acetone covered. Exposed to air, the brass will begin to oxidize, darkening noticeably in a few months.


• Put screws in lacquer thinner overnight to remove the coating. Scuff with fine steel wool (0000). Rub screws in the palm of your hand. Your natural oils will start tarnishing the screws immediately. Screws will continue to tarnish after you have installed them.


This formula is tough enough for black cooked-on grease and food.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup powdered detergent
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup very warm water

In a large glass bowl, mix the flour, salt, and detergent well. Pour in the remaining ingredients and stir. Transfer the mixture to a glass quart jar, close tightly, and label. Store out of reach of children.

To use, test first on an inconspicuous area. Shake briskly, then pour some of the cleaner on cookware and rub gently with a cloth. For tough spots, scrub with an old toothbrush or a plastic scouring pad. Rinse with clear water, dry, and polish with a soft cloth.


• Submerge overnight in equal parts water and ammonia. Rub with extra fine steel wool (0000) or a soft brush. Rinse and dry item and seal with paste wax.


• Scrub lightly with a soft brush dampened with a little ammonia. Rinse and dry item and seal with paste wax.


• Rub with regular or gel toothpaste. Rinse and dry item and seal with paste wax.


• Pour tomato ketchup on item. Rinse and dry item and seal with paste wax.


• Use Worcestershire sauce. Rinse and dry item and seal with paste wax.


• Soak in water in which onions have been boiled. Rinse and dry item and seal with paste wax.


Excerpted from Tips, Tools &, Techniques by Georgia Kemp Caraway. Copyright © 2012 Georgia Kemp Caraway. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Georgia Kemp Caraway (Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration) was executive director of the Denton County Museums for fourteen years. She writes a monthly column on antiques for the Denton Record-Chronicle and has appeared on Antiques Roadshow® as a generalist expert. She teaches several popular classes on antiques in Denton, Texas.

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