We asked expert appraisers for their insight on artwork, furniture, and housewares.

By Nancy Mattia
November 20, 2020
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Credit: Martyn Thompson

All antiques are not created equal. Some that look damaged are worth a fortune while others with a pristine appearance are, by comparison, appraised for much less. This is something to keep in mind if you're in ownership of an antique and you're thinking of restoring it. We asked the experts for their insight, and here's what you need to know.

How to Determine If You Should Restore an Antique

When a true collector evaluates an antique—whether it's a portrait or a porcelain plate—they look for several variables, including quality, rarity, condition, and provenance (a record of ownership that establishes authenticity). "The condition is paramount," says Cynthia D. Herbert, president of Appretium Appraisal Services, in New Canaan, Connecticut. "Original condition of an item is preferable, although some objects are expected to exhibit wear that's appropriate to the age and use of it." Altering the finish on a piece of wood furniture could essentially diminish or destroy its value. The furniture's flaws, such as layers of dirt on an 18th century dresser, may make it more valuable than if it were scrubbed clean and restored. Other times, the opposite is true: It all depends on the antique and the current market.

The Process of Restoration

When an item is restored, the goal is to return it to its original condition and functionality. You could restore the item yourself or hire a professional (the latter is important if the item's label identifies it as a valuable antique). The restorer uses sanding equipment, glue, and other materials to repair and refurbish antiques and takes care to not over-restore or diminish what is valuable.

Value Before and After Restoration

"If an item has been professionally restored, it may hold its value," says Herbert, "however, the extent of the restoration and techniques applied, the location of the restoration—was it in a highly visible area or discreet area—and whether the piece retains its original integrity or usefulness are important considerations." In general, though, something that has been restored will be more valuable than it was in damaged condition, but not as valuable as it would have been in good, original condition.

Prior to an object's restoration, there are many factors that need to be considered, including the historical importance of the piece, the importance of the artist, and the rarity or desirability (or obsolescence). The bottom line: Since an item's value is based in part on whether or not it's been restored already, figure out if it's worth it or not to restore it yourself.

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