September 5, 2023
Posted by:
Jim Henderson

If you are like most Americans, over the past years you have accumulated a vast array of “collectible” items in your home. These pieces can be anything from porcelain figurines to original oil paintings. They are often put in curio cabinets or hung in prominent places throughout the home. Many of these have been in place for several years and have not been touched for fear of damaging or altering their appearances. Recently the question of how to handle cleaning and/or moving these items was broached. Not knowing the specific answers to “cleaning” some of these items, I consulted an art conservation colleague, Gordon Lewis of the Fine Art Conservancy in West Palm Beach. Gordon is one of the foremost experts on porcelains, fine art and heirloom pieces in the United States. Our company, the William C Huff Companies, has extensive training and experience in the handling of these items so, with the information from Gordon we decided to present a workshop on these issues at DEMA's National Estate Management Association’s annual convention in Orlando in September. Here are a few of the tips we shared at the workshop. When cleaning antique porcelains one should never completely immerse the piece in water. A soft brush, a damp cloth and even some mild dishwashing detergent cane be used but should only be done while cleaning it a little at a time. Naturally occurring water has carbon dioxide which can create a chemical reaction with the minerals in the clay used in the porcelains. Last spring I watched a client soak several valuable porcelains in soapy water for hours while she was cleaning to get ready for her up-coming move. I can only hope that there was not damage done.

cotton gloves

Another tip we learned from our training with Merv Richards, Chief Conservator for the National Gallery of Art, is that white cotton gloves are NOT the preferred gloves to use

nitrile gloves

when handling art, sculptures and heirloom pieces. The cotton fibers can snag on small splinters in a frame or detailed filagrees. Oils and  sweat from the hands in the cotton gloves can seep through and cause discoloration. The preferred gloves are actually common “butyl nitrile” gloves which can be purchased at any local grocery store in the cleaning section. Probably one of the more important things to consider before cleaning or moving collectible pieces is what the insurance company’s protocol is. If there is an appraised value on your piece chances are there is a particular protocol the insurance company has in mind to make sure that the homeowner is not unnecessarily risking a claim that should not have to be made.  When looking at some masterpiece paintings artworks with values in the $20 million range) at a client’s home last spring, I consulted my friend at the National Conservancy and he said standard protocol was to not let the painting ever be “carried”. It should come off the wall, carefully put into its’ custom made wooden crate and then moved on a floor-level dolly from the home to the truck. Insurance companies have calculated that the biggest risk of damage to fine art is not in the “transportation” of the art but, in the improper crating and “carrying” of the art. At the National Estate Management’s workshop it was decided that whenever there is a question regarding how to properly clean or handle valuables within one’s home, the correct thing to do is ask questions. There are a number of sites available online with very good information, but do not hesitate to contact a professional conservator/restoration specialist. There are a number of them around the country and they not only have been highly trained but, most have had many years of experience dealing with almost any scenario you might run into.

William C. Huff Companies is committed to simplifying the complicated maze of moving and storing your priceless possessions. With over 40 full-time, tenured, and highly trained staff, you can be assured that your move will be handled smoothly and professionally, from the first phone call until the last box is unpacked.