Editor’s note: Jean revisits a favorite column from 2015:
I love old things.
It makes perfect sense that I have a fondness for antiques since I’m now classified as an oldie but goodie by age, if not by style.
I’ve now found an entirely new reason to love the classics: Restoration.
Recovering and restoring old, ancient, out-of-date, out of use pieces can range from household furniture to automobiles, from mechanical wonders to simple containers. If it’s old, it can be brought back to life.
There’s a couple of television programs I’ve recently discovered that has triggered my rejuvenated admiration for anything as old as I am and even older.
Both programs feature restoration experts who are extremely talented at bringing old, sometimes ancient, pieces back to near perfect conditions.
My attention was really grabbed by a show taped over a period of months, marking the progress of a project from the very beginning to the restored completion. That included all the pleasant surprises (parts that only needed minimal repair or cleaning) and all the frustrating, costly, heart-breaking moments (pieces which could not be reused or had to be recreated from scratch.)
Two of my favorites were a railroad passenger car and a turn-of-the-century fire truck
They were amazing.
Both restorations were heavily researched, with the history of the particular unit and the history of the manufacturer/purchaser noted, paints and finishes analyzed and extraordinarily detailed drawings made of each part and piece.
The men and women working on each project nary professionals. They went far above and beyond just “fixing” an old piece of the past. They appreciated not only the backstory of the truck and the railcar but the original craftsmanship, as well. Both of these units were extraordiwere made in an age where very little was mass produced and most parts were handmade and made well. Real wood doors and paneling, handpolished nickel-plating, steel and forged iron fittings were the standard of the time and these restorations paid excellent homage to the hard work and dedication to the style, construction and beauty created all those years ago. No detail was missed, no shortcut taken.
These folks obviously love their work.
Another program works on items of a smaller scale. I’ve seen an antique Dutch wood stove not only repaired to look as perfect as the day it was installed in the home but work as well, too. A 1930s-era gas pump, which required the user to build up pressure in the pump to force the gasoline out of the storage tank into the automobile’s tank, was made operational. A wall-mounted stamp dispenser, used to buy onecent and three-cent stamps, was restored so that even the painted lettering was recreated perfectly. A favorite restoration on that show featured an old soda machine, the kind that delivered an ice-cold drink in glass bottles and a bottle cap opener on the side.
I’m glad to see a kind a renaissance in antique revitalization taking place. There’s always been a niche market for antiques. Whether it’s a few pricey, high end period pieces or only valued for symbolic reasons or memories, preserved—and not so well preserved—items are the reason behind many weekend shopping jaunts. Newlyweds and fresh starters may want to buy a few things as investments, while older, more established patrons might seek out items they remember from childhood—or it could be a combination of the two.
Antiques don’t always fall into the category of perfect condition or easily repaired. Sometimes to get to the real value, the real charm of an item, it must be refurbished, cleaned, repaired. No, I’m not suggesting that Queen Anne table with the uneven legs must be fixed. There are some antiques which shouldn’t, couldn’t be updated lest their value be diminished. But, for example, that truck and railcar were perfect specimens for restoration, for the value of the item alone and the value of keeping the old ways of construction and craftsmanship alive.
For too long it’s been easier to trash the old rather than either maintain it or rejuvenate it for continued use. It’s also been easier, and cheaper, to manufacture goods with little or no potential to last or endure to become favored antiques of the future.
I don’t have many antiques but there are two I wouldn’t give up for any amount of money. One is a dish cupboard made, I think, by my great-grandfather out of walnut and painted with white enamel and the other is a simple Hoosier cabinet, again covered in white enamel. Neither is in perfect condition but a good stripping, sanding and repainting would put new life into both. These case goods mean nothing to anyone else, at least not right now.
But both are a time capture of my past. With enough loving care and patience, I think I could bring them back to life so my history will live on for a few more generations.
-Jean Henderson is a columnist for the Citizen Tribune.