The Dealer: Thinking of restoring an antique? Be careful, be very careful

Antiques expert Ian Butchoff warns of the perils of restoring antiques

Years ago there was a great chap who worked for a dealer I would deal with up north. He was a huge bear of a man who would not think twice twice before swinging the solid and heavy commode you had just bought over his shoulder and into your car.

Nothing was too much trouble and he was charming to deal with. One day I visited him once only to be shown the blisters on his hands which had come about from polishing two expensive bronze Marly horses - which are somewhat smaller copies of the huge originals that flank the Champes Elysees, made for Louis XIV by Nicholas Coustou.

Using cloth and Brasso he’d polished happily away for hours, thinking they were brass but badly stained, until they reflected everything else in the room including my face. Sadly, but understandably, his boss was furious as he had rubbed away the aged bronze patina that they had gathered over the years and so also rubbed away all the value from the horses.

They were now virtually unsalable and worthless. The poor man was sacked.

All us dealers chunter on about the patina on a table, bookcase, bronze, and so on, because this is the depth of colour and wear, the subtle gloss an article takes on after many years of use and love. It is part of the item’s history and a fine, deep patination is profoundly desirable.

This should be remembered when buying at auction.

Along with the additional costs of buying at auction - including the buyer’s premium owed to the auction house which can be as much as thirty percent including vat - there is a potential further cost when the bookcase you have fallen for, and you think will fit just so in your study, is going to be in need of restoration.

Perhaps the wood is faded in places, maybe there’s a split in a door, or the odd missing handle even?

“Repairing an antique may mean you can use it once again, but restoring the same object is more about returning it to its original appearance and point in history than making it look brand new”

Would you know how to go about finding a good furniture restorer? It will take somewhat more than a Google search.

Poorly done it will cost you more than just the restorer’s invoice. When buying at auction you must have enough faith in your own judgement to know when to let a piece pass you by, recognising that just too much work will need to be done.

Repairing an antique may mean you can use it once again, but restoring the same object is more about returning it to its original appearance and point in history than making it look brand new. It is a skilled art and done badly, as I have said before, can adversely affect the value of the piece.

Being a restorer is a skilled profession, and the bane of their lives must be coming to the rescue of a badly, over restored piece that an amateur has worked away at thinking he was doing the right thing, but in truth just ruining it. Patination can not be faked.

If you are planning a major purchase, include a visit an experienced dealer, particularly those that are members of Lapada, Bada or Cinoa, who will be delighted to help you with your choice and explain the finer points of the object’s construction and history and point out any restoration that may have been needed.

With their help you can hopefully make a calm and informed decision before parting with your precious funds. It may seem more expensive at the beginning, but can be very cost effective in the long run.


Ian Butchoff is the founder and owner of Butchoff Antiques, located on Kensington Church Street. He entered the trade aged 11 and is today recognised as a leading authority on 19th century furniture. He is a co-founder and board member of the dealers’ association, LAPADA, and writes a regular column for


Social Bookmarks