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Does The Refinishing Of An Antique Lower Its Value?

Most of the time the answer is no. And there are thousands of examples.

Listen To What The Experts Say

Awhile ago, we at Antiques Roadshow received a letter from Professional Refinishing editor Bob Flexner, pointing out that our apparent obsession (my word, not his) with "original finish" has had the effect of misleading the public about what repairing and refinishing actually do to the value of furniture - most furniture, that is.

Professional Refinishing contributor Larry Sullivan wrote in a May 2000 Commentary that, while it was fair enough to point out that for very old, very valuable, museum-quality furniture, "a refinished piece has less value than a piece in pristine original condition ... But the Roadshow reaches millions of people who almost never see this type of furniture other than in museums."

The Roadshow further misleads people Larry contended, because when the appraisers talk about value lost because of refinishing, they don't make the point that they're only talking about certain rare pieces. ...Most old furniture, of course, doesn't come close to meeting those standards. On the contrary, most furniture has been well used (even abused), scratched, broken, and often repaired many times. How could such furniture not be improved by a good job of refinishing or restoring?

As an example, a great old secretary (bookcase on chest) made in about 1820 by Christian Shively came into our Indianapolis event this year. It had come to the current owner covered with 80 to 100 year old paint, and she'd had the piece completely refinished. John Hays, the Americana specialist from Christie's, said, "You had no choice," and went on to compliment the refinishing work and state the obvious: that the restoration had saved the piece and created substantial value where there had been virtually none.

So where does that leave us? Let the record show that Antiques Roadshow generally agrees with this notion: Well conceived and well executed refinishing and restoration usually enhances the value of just about any piece of old furniture. Exceptions are those rare (often museum quality) pieces that have somehow survived in great `original' condition. If we say or imply the contrary, we should be called on it.
Read the complete artical -   Antiques Roadshow  

In a syndicated news column, Ralph and Terry Kovel (The News and Observer, June 14, 2008) cited examples of 18th, 19th and 20th century furniture that had finishes more than 100 years old. “If you had a piece with…a bad finish, it would look out of place in a (modern) home. It could be refinished and gain in value,” they said.

The Kovels cited a Gustav Stickley clock from the Arts and Crafts era that had been skinned, meaning the original finish had been scraped off and a new finish added. Even with the new finish, it sold at auction for a high price.

Authors Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rossen (“Price It Yourself” by Harper Resource) cited examples of Victorian home owners who often “freshened up” their furniture during spring cleaning leaving the original finish under one or more coats of other finish, or worse paint. Modern-day refinishing made the piece “much more valuable both monetarily and aesthetically,“ they said. “Even in pristine condition (something hard to maintain over the 120 year life of the table in question), the value would have been only slightly higher than in its current professionally refinished condition.” (Excerpted from the Herald-Sun, Saturday, February 10, 2007.)

Will it ruin the value?

By: Steve Austin

Meaning, will refinishing a piece ruin the value.

I'm going to be completely honest and blunt about this question. Keep in mind that I'm a professional refinisher, so my views are suspect too, but I do know all sides of this question and where it comes from.

It comes from the "Antiques Road Show" mainly, and is perpetuated by conservators, restorers, and antique dealers.

The first thing that you have to remember is that this is primarily an entertainment show. that ends up in very large cities. Out of all the thousands of pieces that show up, very few of them actually get on the show, and those are the rarest or most interesting pieces. Some are high priced and others are not.

I like to watch it myself, but, it can be very misleading to the general public.

From a refinishers point of view, I'll say this. The primary purpose of any finish is to protect and beautify the wood beneath it, and that is it's only purpose. That is what the original maker of the furniture intended.

Once the integrity of the finish has deteriorated through chemical deteriorzation, dings and scratches from abuse,or it has gone dark through the aging process, that original purpose is no longer being met.

I believe the original maker of the piece would want it to look as he intended it to look, and protected the way he intended it to be protected, and the finish should be replaced.

This does not decrease it's value, but, increases it's value. That's the first point.

The second point I'd like to make is that these are not museum pieces. People live with their furniture and use them daily. Most of the pieces I get in, require a color change to suit what the owner of the piece wants. To me, this also increases the value of the piece to the owner, who has every right to have the piece she sees everyday, just the way she wants it.

The third point I'd make is that modern finishes are much better suited to modern day polishes, chemical cleaners, and life styles than old finishes were, and that even a similar, but newly applied finish, will hold up longer than leaving the original finish on would.

Antique Dealers

Do you know what you need to be an antique dealer? A sales tax number and a business card. I've been an antique dealer, both of my brothers are antique dealers, and I've done work for many other antique dealers.

Their knowledge ranges from very little to quite a lot, but, one thing is invariably true about each one, they try to buy low and sell high. Any time they have a piece stripped or refinished, the money comes directly out of their profits.

Is it any wonder that they hollar, "Don't touch that finish, you'll ruin the value." They prefer to sell it as is, without investing any of their profit into it. They'd be more honest to hollar, "Don't touch that finish and don't expect me to, either, it'll ruin my profit."

To be fair, there are instances when you really don't want to remove a finish, mainly on handmade primitive pieces 100+ years old. These kind of pieces have a certain look to them, you're seeing history, and that's where their value lies.

Other pieces, just aren't that bad, all they need is a quick touchup and refurbishing, which is called Restoration and may include part replacement or repair.


There are true restorers out there who take themselves quite seriously and who have the skills to back it up, but, just like with refinishers and antique dealers, there are no certificates of authenticity to prove they know what they're doing, and many of them can hang that sign on their shop and do. Anyone can make that claim, and most of us can claim to be restorers by regluing a chair or a drawer, we've restored the item.


Real conservators are a different breed of cat. Anyone who claims to be a conservator, (and there aren't that many of them and they know each other), has the credentials to back it up.

They have years and years of education. They are part scientist, part finisher, part historian, part chemist, and part detective.

They are concerned with saving the finish as part of saving the history of the piece, and have a legitimate claim to not touching the finish. However, even then, I think that saving the finish has to be limited to "historically significant" pieces, and not to every piece of furniture in the world, which is too impractical. To finish up, most of us don't have pieces that are 'historically significant', it's just everyday normal furniture that we use and have to look at everyday, and I think most of it will increase in value by being refinished, and will certainly look more pleasing.

If you have any doubts at all, contact a certified appraiser and have him appraise it for you. Make sure he's licensed.

For a free estimate or more help in making your decision call The Master's Touch at 540-845-9068. We have over 45 years of professional experience in the furniture restoration trade. Helping you make the right choice is what we do best. Call today!