When you turn on your television these days, it’s hard to miss programs about buying and selling antiques. Joe Willard, author of the indispensable Picker’s Bible: How To Pick Antiques Like The Pros, counts more than 70 different shows in this genre. “There is fervor in collecting, restoring, selling and identifying,” he writes. “You can learn how to fix and clean stuff, but if you really want to gain a skill, just don’t repair, but actually restore if possible. Collectors and dealers never like to see any kind of obvious modifications, but a true restoration adds so much more value to an item. If it’s a valuable piece, make sure you know what you are doing or leave it to a qualified person to do. Most serious collectors want to do their own restoration, so be careful.”
If you know what you’re doing, transforming trash into treasure affords one of the biggest thrills in collecting. In some cases you can triple the value of a piece by improving its condition. Though I’m not particularly handy, I’ve gotten so good that I look for restoration projects at flea markets and on eBay. “It’s a way of putting a little of your personality into your piece,” says Art Katsapis, a longtime baseball memorabilia collector.
The high levels of acidity in newsprint made from wood pulp cause it to decompose quickly. During the Watergate era, Time magazine published instructions to preserve historic newspapers. Dissolve a Phillips Milk of Magnesia tablet in a bottle of club soda. (Pour a few ounces of the soda out first to avoid overflow from the small eruption.) Refrigerate overnight. Soak newspaper in the liquid in a tub or oven tray for an hour. Pat excess water with paper towel and let dry. Ideally you should repeat the process every decade or so. Avoid exposure to sun or bright light, using only a UV protective frame. Finally avoid storage places like attics because their extreme heat and cold accelerate the acidic process.
Do not use this method if your publication is saddle stitched, as many magazines are, because the water will probably cause the staples to rust.
Book Jackets, Yearbooks, and Programs
To repair paper such as dust jackets and yearbook covers, apply Elmer’s Glue and wax paper from one end of a tear to another. After letting glue dry for a few hours, peel back the wax paper.
Leather Baseball Gloves, Catcher’s Masks, Cleats, Footballs, and Football Helmets
Nothing is easier to use and more effective for removing dirt and grime from leather than Horseman’s One Step Crème and non-toxic Lexol Leather Cleaner and Conditioner, products I first learned about from glove guru Joe Phillips. After scrubbing away with an old toothbrush, I wipe clean withan old undershirt.
Major league game-used bats with pine, tar, dirt, ball-stitch marks, and even teeth-marks should be left alone. (Credit: John Taube Sports)
Magic Marker and Sharpie are permanent. To remove ball point ink and felt tip marker, use the toothbrush with Murphy’s Oil Soap (available at any grocery store) and water, being sure to brush away the suds and soak the liquid with a sponge or undershirt. If Murphy’s meets its match, try the samemethod using another magic potion: Motsenbocker Lift Off #3 Pen, Ink, Marker, and Graffiti Remover (available at many hardware stores). Don’t give up if the ink remains stubborn. After the leather dries, rub with a pink and white or with a grey and white eraser like the kind you buy at any variety store. This method for removing ink will leave the leather bleached. To restore the original color, I recommend Meltonian shoe cream and polish(available at shoe repair shops) which comes in about three dozen colors. You can blend the different colors to create different shades.
My leather restoration and ink-removal will also work on handbags, couches, boots and anything else made of leather.
To clean dirty cloth labels on gloves and masks, apply Graffiti Remover with your index finger. Gently pat down with a slightly damp sponge. Do not rub or brush the labels because they are very fragile.
Do not clean baseball gloves game-used by major league players. The dirt, oil, and uniform numbers in marker show the players’ game action. See my recent post about an extremely cool $2.5K Ken Boyer gamer.
For the most part, as is the case with game-used gloves, leave vintage game-used major league bats alone unless they’re filthy or have lost their finish. The pine-tar, ball-stich and bat-rack marks, and even cracks show appropriate game use.
For retail or store-model bats Murphy’s is an excellent wood cleaner when mixed with water. A seasoned logger from Oregon named Tom Hirons taught me to finish book cases with boiled linseed oil. You’ll want to mix it with one third or half turpentine to expedite its drying. Tung oil gives a beautiful coating, as well. If a bat is autographed, you don’t want to risk ruining the autograph. And be extra careful with bats which have decals or foil stamps, as opposed to burned engravings, or else you can permanently remove them.
Catcher’s Masks and Other Metal
To restore the bars and wires of old catchers’ masks, use light steel wool and Nevr-Dull Magic Waddding Polish. I also polish the brass shank buttons that were once made to attach the wrist strap to the back of a glove. “I’ve found Brasso to be one of the best cleaners for most metals, too,” says Joe Phillips. “I learned about it shining belt buckles in the army.”
In general leave trophies alone; the vintage patina is part of their history.