How to look after antiques and valuables / Hugh St Clair

From specialist humidifiers to badger and hog’s hair brushes, art and antiques expert Hugh St Clair gives you the lowdown on how to care for your precious antiques and valuables.

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Image: Petworth House, credit John Hammond

Beautiful Georgian furniture and fine 18th century paintings didn’t get to look beautiful today without lots of love care and attention. Of course in grand houses in times past there was an army of indoor staff to dust and polish. Nowadays we are more likely to have to snatch a moment in a busy day to give a manic buff to a piece of furniture.

Modern life threatens antiques and pictures. Our wish for central heated and light filled houses can cause solid wood to crack, veneer to peel and watercolours to fade. To restore some moisture into a room Condi Air who supply to humidifiers to museums suggest the “Stadler Form Jack” available from Amazon for home use.

The National Trust has excellent resources to draw from when it comes to care and cleaning of beautiful objects.  “The National Trust’s Manual of Housekeeping” is a large tome and its compilers have scoured the archives of The Trust’s country houses. Some tips are obvious like installing blinds or sun curtains and placing mats or glass tops on valuable furniture to protect against water marks and scratches.

PostConservator vac chair Osterley 135538 credit NTI Ian Shaw

Image: Ian Shaw, conservator vac chair Osterley

However there is some extra advice not all of us would know. For example when cleaning delicate china or glass in a mild solution of washing up liquid never hold by the rim or handle -this may be a weak point. Also use natural brushes in badger or hog’s hair for dusting and cleaning antique glass, www.thegoodstuffshop.com. They are better than yellow and feather dusters for getting into nooks and crannies where insects and moths might hide. But now strong chemical insect killers are banned bunches of lavender smell nice to us but repel moths. Products containing Permathrin will kill most other bugs including wasps although it can excite wasps before they surrender.

Natural and organic products seem to be the most effective and protective way of looking after your valuables. Stones Furniture Cream, www.homecareessentials.co.uk  is still made from the same 18th century recipe using beeswax pure soap and essential oils. Stones polish contains no silicones or chemical additives which cause damage to old wood.

The British Antique Dealers Association  is another fount of information. Their website recommends infrequent cleaning of silver which will come as a relief to many of us. Silver polishes are abrasive.  They suggest an occasional application of Goddard’s Long Term Silver polish, wrapping it in acid free tissue paper and sealing it in a polythene bag to preserve the shine.

When framing watercolours, photographs or pastel drawings it’s always best to use conservation glass which eliminates 99 % of UV rays and therefore fading.

But of course the best way to keep your furnishings in good condition is vigilance and prevention. Hoover regularly in cool dark places where moths prefer to lay eggs. Don’t hang pictures on damp walls or in strong natural light .Ensure wooden furniture is not in front of a radiator.

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