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Better scratched than refinished, says expert

Karen Emerzion, president of the Glass and Decorative Arts Club, boiled down a talk by W. Brooke Sivo, vice president and director of American furniture and decorative arts for the auction house Bonhams & Butterfield, into this message:

"If you acquire something old, don't screw around with it, leave it alone, don't refinish. It will have more value."

Sivo spoke at the club's monthly meeting May 22 in the Garden House in Shoup Park. An expert on American antiques, Sivo commented on the primary groups of American antiques. For quilts, the criteria for value are "condition, quality and rarity."

"It helps if the quilt is well documented by being featured in publications such as exhibit brochures," he added. "The quilt market is soft now."

The hand-hooked rug market is generating a lot of interest. Bigger is better, and creative, unusual designs are good. Rugs that were selling for $18,000 are now bringing $20,000 to $30,000. Excellent condition is important.

Folk art in general is strong now. Look for good form. Art pottery can be very valuable.

Sivo said that people love to buy and hold onto presidential china, sets that were used in the White House. Here, provenance (the proven chain of ownership) is critical. The owner must be able to trace the piece all the way back to the president who owned it.

"You have to be careful," Sivo said. Historical importance trumps condition. If you have a glass vase that belonged to President Lincoln and you can prove it, it's OK if the piece has been broken and glued back together.

"The market for schoolgirl needlework is unbelievably strong today," Sivo said. "Some very rare pieces survive still vivid from the 17th century." He told a story about finding a large piece that had been hanging in a high, dark alcove for a long time. It sold for $687,000 - the world record holder for needlework.

Carousel animals are valuable if they still have the original factory paint.

In furniture, the most important factors are "condition, form, provenance, proportions and finish," according to Sivo. He noted that "collectors of American antiques prefer original finish." The value of an old, "alligatored," scratched surface far surpasses a refinished surface.

He found an original-finish, beautiful chest of drawers that sold at Bonhams & Butterfield auction for $1.48 million. This beautiful piece was the highlight of his career, Sivo said.

The fact that the chest had gaps around the drawers was good, because it showed that the piece was not a modern copy. Sivo noted that sometimes reproductions sold in fine furniture stores can be more expensive than the original antiques, and lose value with use, whereas antiques become more valuable over time.

The Glass and Decorative Arts Club meets at noon on the last Monday of each month (excluding holidays). For more information, contact Karen Emerzion at 917-4367. Members help each other identify pieces.

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