Price Tag Scars
Editor’s note: this article has been re-published. Original date of publication: April 23rd, 2018.
As sensitive as everyone should be to the condition of a finish on any piece of antique furniture, I still find myself wincing as I walk through antique malls noting the number of price tags stuck to old, fragile, original finishes. Not long ago a good friend alerted me to this pair of walnut bookends with carved dogwood blossoms on them. They were cut, hand-carved, and signed by The Artisans’ Shop here in Asheville, NC around 1930. The Artisans’ Shop co-founder was George Arthur, who had trained under Eleanor Vance at Biltmore Estate Industries from 1905-1915.
In keeping with the Arts and Crafts philosophy, The Artisans’ Shop took their inspiration for many of their carvings from nature, as evidenced by this deeply carved dogwood blossom and leaves. I especially like the chip-carved walnut base which has the look and feel of hand-hammered copper.
But at the top was the unmistakable sign of a price tag sticker someone had stuck onto the old finish. If a sticker you find is recent, pealing it off may reveal a glue residue. If it has been on there for years, you may find the finish beneath it is darker, especially if the rest of the wood has been sun-bleached.
Regardless, the best treatment I have found to restore the damaged area is to lightly burnished it with #0000 steel wool dipped in dark paste wax. Be careful not to only buff the affected area, however, or you may leave a lighter spot. Instead, very lightly buff the entire piece using plenty of wax to prevent the strands of steel wool from leaving scratches. Afterwards, let the wax begin to harden for about five minutes, then buff with a soft, dry cloth.
As you can see, the wax brings the original finish to life and in this case removed the blemish left by the price tag. And if you look closely, under this direct light you can see evidence that these bookends were hand-carved, as opposed to being carved by a duplicating machine.
Until next time,
Our biggest regrets are the pieces we didn’t buy.