Back Button

MICROSCOPE-ANTIQUES.COM     © 2013-15.


ABOUT RESTORING ANTIQUE SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS

Restored instruments are often ruined by the restorer, especially on Ebay. If the original machining lines are polished away (something hard to see in images on Ebay), the value drops dramatically. Furthermore, relacquering or refinishing, if performed, should replicate the original; few people on earth have the skill or patience to do this properly, and so they often destroy the value of the instrument which might have been better left the way it was. A unlacquered but clean microscope is likely worth more to most collectors than one polished and refinished for the "wow" effect that looks very unlike the original. I remember reading a description on Ebay of a seller's "week's worth" of restoration and thinking, if it had been done properly, it would have taken more like a year or two! Don't get me wrong there are some tastefully restored instruments, but when done properly they will look exactly or almost exactly like the original; this kind of restoration takes a long time and is rare.

Unfortunately there are no professional quality restorers still working in the U.S.A. on a regular basis. There are some that work part time, but they are often very expensive and very slow. If you want to undertake restoration yourself, you are in for a lot of hard and sometimes gueling if not frustrating work. For one thing, you will need to disassemble the instrument (without breaking anything!) and be careful you know how to put it back together. When time permits, I will give some very basic advise on how to go about some basic restoration and repair work on this page.

When considering restoration, one should ask oneself, if the restoration improve the instrument enough to make the effort worthwhile and also if it will increase or decrease the value of the instrument. An imperfect but overall reasonably well preserved instrument should never be restored as the result will likely not be worth the effort and the cost in time, money or both not worth it. On the other hand, there are some instruments that are really quite ugly due to spotting of the lacquer or other changes. These might benefit from restoration, but only if this is done properly. There are three kinds of restoration possible. One is simply to gently are correctly clean the instrument without any other treatment, the second is to affect a partial restoration of appropriate parts, the third, a total restoration, often back to the original condition.

First about cleaning. If an instrument has most of its lacquer and there is no really ugly spotting, it may be best to simply clean it. If only covered with dirt, simply using a damp cloth and cotton swabs and toothpicks(for very thin areas) will allow you to get rid of the dirt; do not soak it but use only what is needed. Often I see dirt assumed to be tarnish especially in tight spots on an instrument. Once this is done, dry it thoroughly and apply a coat of museum wax. This will suffice for many instruments.

If the cleaning step above is not sufficient, the next step would be a more thorough cleaning. For this a reasonably safe cleaner is "Pre-Lim" available from the Gemmary. This is a gentle brass cleaner that, if used gently and properly will not remove the character of the orignal finish and not cause the instrument to shine too brightly, thus looking "polished." It can even be used gently on some partly lacquered areas provided you are careful!. This cleaner will remove the worst of the tarnish however (but not some stains). This can then be followed after careful removal of the cleaner, with museum wax. Strong brass cleaners like "Brasso" should never be used for this step. I would only use something like "Brasso" if I were intending to relacquer to an original state. If you use "Brasso" and do not relacquer properly your instrument will be ruined and the value likely ruined as well. Remember that relacquering is not easily performed and the off the shelf lacquers will result in a a finish that looks modern and unrealistic. Also to relacquer successfully, the instrument must be completely disassembled, lacquered in several thin coats, allowed to dry and reassembled properly. This is a huge task. Relacquering by spraying on the lacquer will usually not be realistic nor easily accomplished so you need some experience and brushing skills to do this (see below).

Finally if you wish to completely restore an instrument, be prepared to spend alot of time, money and effort. Very few instruments should have this done. The finish would have to be so bad looking that it is ugly. Also note that I am only referring to the finish of the instrument, not repairing broken parts or replacing missing parts-a whole different discussion. In order to do this properly you will need to:

  1. Have the proper consistency and color of lacquer-likely you will need to make this yourself from unwaxed shellac; modern pre-made lacquers are usually made with hazardous thinners and are seldom the color required
  2. Properly take it apart, noting carefully with notes and photographs how to put it back together
  3. Clean off the remnants of tarnish, stains, and old finish
  4. Refinish each part individually-using a very high quality brush(not available at your hardware store!)
  5. Reassemble after allowing suffient time to dry
  6. lubricate properly the parts which need this but not the ones that do not

Also note that some parts may have silvered scales and these will have to be restored as well after cleaning and before relacquering.

This entire process can be complicated. For example, ordinary screwdrivers seldom fit antique screws and modern tools will need modification for this purpose. Tight screws should NEVER be forced, with something like Kroil applied to loosen them if tight. If you try to loosen a very tight screw, especially if brass, it will likely break or worse cause damage to the part it is screwed into. The proper brushing technique also requires some practice. Further details will be added to this page as time permits.