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Antiques experts offer advice on keeping your treasures in tip-top shape

So you have a beautiful antique oak dresser that you inherited from your grandmother. Or maybe an old oil painting that captured your great-grandfather’s profile.

Antiques are meant to be enjoyed, not put away in an attic and covered up. But putting antiques on display may be harmful to furniture and other antiques unless you take steps and make sure you’re not just enjoying the beauty of the antiques, but also preserving their value for the future.

Roseann Bressler, owner of the Merced Antique Mall in Merced, said that with old furniture, the worst thing that can be done is to strip and refinish it. But a lot of old furniture, especially in the Victorian and Mission styles, are dark-colored wood, and that’s not what people want nowadays.

“The shabby-chic style is the fad right now, and people are painting over that old furniture in lighter colors,” Bressler. But doing that, she added, takes the value away: “They won’t be worth anything in the near future.”The old colors are out of fashion because Baby Boomers are collecting items they remember from the 1950s and 1960s, and that style of furniture is usually lighter-colored.

“If you have really nice old oak or walnut furniture, there are professionals who can refinish it and keep the value. But leave the color alone,” Bressler advised.

At the Castle Antique Mall in Atwater, antique dealer Soozie Mickley said there’s a useful product to use on old furniture called Restor-A-Finish, which covers up scratches and nicks without changing the color, or the value, of the wood furniture.Mickley also said that old furniture needs to be kept out of direct sunlight, and to make sure not to put wet items on it because they can warp the wood.

Old furniture that is upholstered can also be redone, Mickley said. “Find a good upholsterer that knows what they are doing,” Mickley warned.

To keep that vintage look, Bressler said there are retailers who sell upholstery from various eras, and besides, most upholstered furniture has been redone at some point in its life.

Other antiques, such as silver, should often be left alone and not polished. Bressler said a lot of sterling silver shouldn’t be polished because antique collectors like the patina that comes with age. Coins especially shouldn’t be cleaned because cleaning greatly reduces their value.

Old tools are hot collectibles now, and Bressler said that oiling the wooden parts and keeping the steel clean should be done to save the value and keep the tools from decaying.

Books are always popular, and books whose binding has fallen apart can be rebound without losing any value, Bressler said.For ceramics and glass, chips or dings make the piece almost non-saleable. However, at shows there are professionals who will repair glass and porcelain, although the repairs can still be seen under a blacklight.

“Repairs on a piece make the ceramic or glass item worth less than if it didn’t have any dings, but without those repairs, they are worth nothing,” Bressler said.

Keeping antiques in good repair is a must if the owners wish to keep the value of the item. Antique collectors don’t want project pieces - they want something that’s ready to put on display.

For owners of old prints, make sure they have archival acid-free backing and keep the prints out of the sunlight, Bressler said. Same with watercolors — the sun fades them. Oil paintings can be cleaned with a fine, dry paintbrush.

If wood antiques are in a place where sunlight does hit them, surfaces can be treated with a furniture product that contains UVX-15 sunscreen.

Both Bressler and Mickley suggested that antique owners should show their antiques, not hide them away. “Just enjoy the antiques, and take care of them,” said Bressler.

“Those antique pieces are still around because they were made so well — they’re pretty tough,” Mickley said.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or