I have a question about restoration I would appreciate getting some current input upon.
A new friend of mine brought me a set of old leg irons to look at, knowing that I collect the same. They're rather nice, but not what I would call all that super special. They seem to be 18th century European with a traditional puzzle lock shackle, twisted iron chain links and a screw plug locking shackle. Everything is in good working order.
The issue I have, on behalf of my buddy, is that at some time in the past, quite a long time ago, they were painted black. Again, not that surprising as that was once a common practice of museums/collectors when "preserving" old wrought iron objects for display. And, it does seem they were on display for quite some time. When I washed them down with lacquer thinner, it removed the expected coating of grime and tobacco smoke, but none of the paint, which tells me it is oil base rather than lacquer base, and certainly not the old time black lead stove polish.
If these were mine, I would have no hesitation to use a propane torch to burn the paint off. I've done that for years and I know that such a low level of heat will not damage the underlying patina of the iron nor disturb the brazing on the lock tube and key. Also, it would help in loosening any unwanted rust. I'd then soak the things for a few weeks or months in kerosene as needed to finish rust removal using nothing more than an ordinary toothbrush to scrub with.
Okay. Here's the issue. These leg irons are not mine, and I don't want to do anything to decrease their value or collectability, even with the permission of the owner.
While watching episodes of Antiques Road Show, Pawn Stars and the like, one of the things I always see is the experts hollering and screaming about leaving items in their original or as-found condition. Well, taken to the logical extreme, that would mean you shouldn't even blow the dust off of the things, which to me is ridiculous. I hope I haven't committed a mortal sin by removing the surface grime and tobacco smoke.
I happily acknowledge that prevailing views of antique preservation have changed over the years. Forty years ago when I began learning about old wrought iron stuff, I don't think anyone would have had a problem with using a little fire to help things along. But that was then.
Although it has been on the shackles for a long time, and was probably placed there with the best of intentions, as I see it, that paint is not original to the piece and needs to go. Using any sort of chemical paint remover is out of the question since that can, and probably will, damage the patina. And I am certainly not going to sand blast them or take a wire grinding wheel or brush to them, not even a bronze one.
So, for any of you out there who collect or enjoy these types of artifacts, I'd appreciate any input you have. Additionally, for any of you fortunate enough to be in Indy this weekend, I'd truly appreciate it if you would ask others there about this.
I also work with a lot of museums worldwide. Personally, I tend to stick with the museumological conservation rule that basically says that if the "as found" condition of any artifact is such that it places the artifact in danger of loss or destruction then conservation steps much be taken to stabilize the object.
Meaning, if the black paint is not eating away at the iron, which it is not, then it is probably best to leave the restraint just as you got it.
Mind you, this is just the way I and most museums think and it is always up to any individual to decide for themselves.
In my own collection I have many hand forged devices and restraints and some of them have this sort of black paint coating.
I have chosen to leave them as I got them.
Cheers, Steve Santini
Re: Restoration Question
April 20 2012, 7:08 PM
Excuse the fuzziness, but I am not a photographer.
Agree to Steve!
April 21 2012, 2:24 AM
I also have a number of 200 - 300 years old forged restraints that have some black coating. Like Steve, I have
chosen to leave them as is and not do anything at all. The coating is preserving the iron and do no harm.
Re: Restoration Question
April 21 2012, 1:30 PM
Franklin, Cool restraint you have there. I would leave it as found also.