To Polish or Not to Polish? Caring for Your Treasures


Sometimes seemingly simple decisions can be the most stressful:  Should I recover that inherited chair?  Do I clean the brass pulls on our antique dresser, or leave them as they are?  Do I polish the sterling or not?  Should we refinish our dining table?  Thankfully, there are several resources you can access to take the stress out! 

A few things to consider before you get started: 

  • Is that original? Sometimes whether or not a piece has retained its original finish can make a large impact on its value.  Keep this in mind when you consider painting or refinishing a piece of furniture.
  • Does it really need any work? Sometimes a piece needs a lot of help to get it back into usable shape.  When working on a piece try to be as thoughtful as possible.  For instance, don’t use a modern screw that can split the wood when a small (easily removable) nail might do the trick.  Opt for a natural cleaner over a harsh chemical, say bees wax over bottled furniture cleaner or fish glue over Gorilla Glue.
  • Shabby chic or just shabby? Before you buy an antique or vintage item always examine it carefully.  Check for any breaks, stains, chips, losses, and smells.  Sometimes these issues can be addressed, but sometimes there is no solution.  It’s better to be cautious than to be sorry later.
  • What is the original value of the piece? If you know you need help from a professional conservator, consult with an expert first to determine the value of the piece.  Often repair and conservation work can cost more than the piece is actually worth.

Helpful Books:

“Caring for Your Collections,” National Committee to Save America’s Cultural Collections, 1992.

“Caring for Your Family Treasures,” Long, 2000.

“How to Archive Family Photos,” Levenick, 2012.

“The Winterthur Guide to Caring for Your Collection,” 2000.

“Saving Stuff: How to Care for and Preserve Your Collectibles, Heirlooms, and Other Prized Possessions,” Williams, 2005.”

Visit our Pinterest page and view a whole page of resources that can help you make your decision!  

Written by Sarah Gibbons, Gallery Manager