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Advice on restoring an antique brass bound box

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johnny

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In 2016 I inherited my Grandfather's 100+ year old brass bound ditty box when my Father passed away at the ripe old age of 93 .
It contains all of the Family documents up until the millenium including many Birth Death and Marriage certificates from the mid 1800s and property deeds

It is not a particularly attractive box and probably mass produced in its day but I thought it might be worth restoring it for display.
I believe its English Oak but hopefully someone can confirm the wood.

How best to go about removing 100+ year old dirt and grime and bring the wood back to its original condition without damaging the box ? The brasswork is very thick and rather crudely applied and the 'bands' sit proud of the wood surface . I would prefer not to have to remove the brasswork if at all possible as I fear it may prove beyond my capabilities and patience .

I was intrigued at the rough saw marks on the base ?
 

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Argus

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That appears to be a “campaign” style box – much appreciated in some quarters these days. I'm not sure of the wood, but I don't think that it's oak. Probably Teak or Mahogany. You don't show the innards, but that is a nice piece - even if they were made in quantity. Most likely 19th C ....most serous travelers had one in those days. The base was probably left straight from the saw intentionally. Nothing unusual about that when it was made; no-one would see it and it would most likely pick up scratches from being slid around on odd tables and ships' decks......that's the way things were made.

What to do?

The absolute minimum, if I were you.
If it is structurally sound and nothing loose, there is no point to my thinking in removing a long lifetime’s knocks, scratches and wrinkles just for a clean-up. The patina and dents are best left intact - it's all the story of a long life. If it has an antique 'value' in money, all this will add to it.

Doing the least will entail a good clean-up, inside and out. If it’s greasy a light wipe with some water and gentle detergent, quickly followed by a wipe, then I’d suggest a slow, thorough polish with Renaissance Wax. Avoid spirits until you are sure that the finish is not French Polish or shellac based.
This is conservation-quality cleaning wax that leaves a protective sheen. A bit pricey, but very effective at what it does - it is applied very sparingly, so a little pot lasts a long time. Moreover, it doesn’t damage a century's worth of serious patina. Whatever you do, don’t remove or rub down and shine the brass!

No doubt other suggestions will follow……..
 
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profchris

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I agree to start with a damp cloth and a little detergent.

Any sticky patches will probably clean up with naphtha (lighter fluid), which should be safe on shellac or varnish - don't soak it, apply a little and wipe gently, it flashes off almost immediately.

One it's clean you have to decide how shiny you want it, but wax is probably a good answer unless someone comes up with something better.
 

Dangermouse 2nd

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I would do nothing to loose that lovley patina of years of history. Just at the most clean it and wax it
 

mrpercysnodgrass

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Hi Johnny.
your ‘Ditty’ box is an early 19th century writing slope probably made about 1820. It is a quality piece with what looks like Rio Rosewood veneer. (I’m on holiday at the moment and viewing this on my phone, I will be back home at the weekend when I can have a proper look and give you a bit of guidance to revive it. The base will have had wool baize cloth covering it which is why it looks a bit rough!
 

MARK.B.

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I read somewhere that the brass banding and corners on chests and boxes were made to stand proud as they took and bumps and slides across the floor thus saving the wood from damage. Your box looks in fair nick on the outside, would be a shame to loose all the years of patina build up and character, so as all the good advice above a gentle clean and wax will do the trick (y)Unless you want it factory fresh then have at it with belt sander :devilish::ROFLMAO:
 

johnny

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Doing the least will entail a good clean-up, inside and out. If it’s greasy a light wipe with some water and gentle detergent, quickly followed by a wipe, then I’d suggest a slow, thorough polish with Renaissance Wax. Avoid spirits until you are sure that the finish is not French Polish or shellac based.
This is conservation-quality cleaning wax that leaves a protective sheen. A bit pricey, but very effective at what it does - it is applied very sparingly, so a little pot lasts a long time. Moreover, it doesn’t damage a century's worth of serious patina. Whatever you do, don’t remove or rub down and shine the brass!

No doubt other suggestions will follow……..
thank you Argus for such a comprehensive response its much appreciated.

I love antiques and have both bought and inherited many pieces over the past 60 years . In almost every case I have been at great pains to protect the patina of their history and evidence of their use and to advocate the same to others however I have owned several items that have challenged that philosophy . I have some heavy ornate silver candlesticks that I inherited from my Mother that have no hallmarks . Over the past 30 years that they have been in my possession they accumulated a thick black oxidation and layer of dirt and grime to the point where they were so black and unsightly they were put away out of sight, unused and unappreciated . That seemed pointless to me so against all my better instincts I cleaned the surface silver until it was bright leaving all the accumulated black oxididation in the pits and hollows which resulted in a nice contrast and now once again they have pride of place and are greatly appreciated daily on our mantlepiece .
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I have the same dilemma with the box. ! Left as it is it will definitely be put back in the loft or cupboard for another decade because as it is, it is not pleasing to the eye at all to have out on show . I have no offspring to leave it to so the Family connection with this ditty box ends with me and I am 70 in a few days time ....

My choice is to put it away and let someone else acquire it when I pass,( who will probably restore it to sell on anyway.) or to sensitively clean and restore it to its former glory , preserving the knocks chips and dents of its history and have the pleasure of it being a part of my daily life for however many years that I have left reminding me every day of my Families Royal Naval service through 3x generations and 2x World Wars. ........ the decision hangs heavily on my mind .
 
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johnny

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Hi Johnny.
your ‘Ditty’ box is an early 19th century writing slope probably made about 1820. It is a quality piece with what looks like Rio Rosewood veneer. (I’m on holiday at the moment and viewing this on my phone, I will be back home at the weekend when I can have a proper look and give you a bit of guidance to revive it. The base will have had wool baize cloth covering it which is why it looks a bit rough!
thank you for this information Mr P . It is quite a surprise to hear that it may a lot earlier than I thought....There is nobody left in my Family that can tell me its origins further back than the first World War. That brings the possibility that It may have been owned by my Great GrandFather Edwin who was born 1849 and passed in 1935 at the ripe old age of 84 .
Funny you should mention veneer .... Last night I noticed that a small sliver of wood appears to have become detached and the possibility of veneer did occur to me . I'll take a closer look today in the daylight and try to get some better images.
Hope that you are enjoying your Holiday .
P.S. on closer inspection not veneered ........but after emptying the box noticed it has some grooves in the sides for partitions which are missing.
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mrpercysnodgrass

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Hi Johnny, I was wrong it is not a writing slope and those groves on the left hand side would give two deep square compartments and one rectangular one in the middle. The baffling thing is the zinc paper on the side as this was usually used to line tea caddies! Are there any other missing divides on the other side? It is possible the box was made to house some sort of equipment, either medical or scientific.
For the refurbishment the sides seem to be in pretty good condition and will come up well with a cutting wax like Fiddes Vitashine or you can apply a paste wax with some 0000 wire wool, scrubbing the wax well in with the grain. The top is a different matter, the shellac is beyond reviving so there are a couple of choices, you could wash off all of the remaining shellac with meths and wire wool then refinish. Another method is to make up a solution of 80% alcohol and 20% shellac apply this to a cotton cloth (cotton dish cloths work well) Sprinkle the surface with fine pumice powder FFF grade 360 mesh then work the pumice in with the cotton cloth made into a pad. This will melt the old shellac and work it back into the grain along with the pumice. When all looks good, a few rubbers over the top will finish it.
The brass straps and corners can be cleaned up as you like them, there are no rules to this, some like brass covered in verdigris others like it to shine like a button on a Coldstream guardsman's tunic. The easiest is to clean them bright, and if that is too bright for you just allow them to dull down naturally.
The missing escutcheon might be the exact same size as the plaque on the top (they often are) in which car you could remove the plaque and use it as a template.
The baize on the bottom is easy enough to replace, snooker table wooden baize is best, any colour you fancy!
Hope this helps.
 

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