With Antique and Old tools I’m often asked whether they should be cleaned or not as generally with collectors there are two camps. There are those who wish for originality to be retained and there are those who prefer their tools to be as good as they can be.
I do understand both views but I would air a word of caution when buying unrestored tools, simply because originality does have a tenancy to hide old repairs. My thoughts as a reputable dealer is to generally eradicate any doubt if there are any question marks to damage, this is mainly due to not wanting to pass on unknowingly any defects that will affect value.
As tools generally arrive here in varied condition each tool is to judged on it own merits which determines whether any work is required. If no work is required i’m a the front of the queue to leave them well alone as we have more than enough cleaning to do here.
My thoughts therefore would be this, if a collectable tool shows good patina but also clearly shows no issues it’s likely to be more attractive to collectors and therefore shouldn’t be cleaned.
However if it has been partially cleaned or has significant amounts of rust it should be restored to it’s best possible condition, making it fit for purpose so that it again can gain patina over time and return to the former category of aging gracefully.
It also has to be said, poor restoration will affect desirability and value that’s for sure, so this should always be done with care.
As for usable tools it’s always better these are kept in good useable condition and servicing them so they work efficiently is recommended. I have read articles online where they talk about patina on usable tools used in the same breath, this totally baffles me as it has no bearing on a tools usability, therefore it’s safe to say just ignore this and just put it down to good old fashioned waffle. Most good tradesmen will clean their tools without hesitation and many still use older tools that many regard as collectable which also explains why many items are often found bright and clean.
I ask this question: would a Norris Plane recently used and looked after be worth less than one that has been retired to a collection for a number of years? Both in my opinion have good reasons why they appear differently but if both are fit for purpose and equal in function should they not hold the same value? I think they should so don’t get too hung up on the patina element.
On the other hand if an important early plane has been stripped of all its originality it’s not going to be desirable and therefore will be worth far less than a good untouched original.
The picture above shows a plane with a polished brass front plate, it was done only because someone had previously sanded it to reveal the name with rough sandpaper. In this case the brass will show better patina in time than leaving it as it was with scratches, so it wasn’t simply polished because there was some brass on it. This I hope illustrates an example of why some cleaning is better for an old antique tool. Note though that the rest of the plane retains its originality as cleaning this would have been detrimental to it.