November 2011

Removing Water Marks from your Antique

The upcoming blogs are going to be about the care, restoration or repair of your precious antiques.  While it’s always best to let a professional handle these delicate matters, these blogs should answer some questions about whether a piece is salvageable or ready for donation to your local thrift store.

First we are going to investigate the ‘water stain’.  While usually all water stains are treatable, some can be much more difficult than others.  If a water stain is white, that’s a good sign.  If it’s dark, well, that’s a different story

Water and other kinds of liquid can cause ring stains in finish and wood. Shellac finishes are more susceptible to this problem than other types. Stains that are in the finish are usually white, while stains that have gone through the finish and into the wood will appear dark or black.

Dark water stains can’t be removed without refinishing, and even then, they are difficult to get out. You may be able to remove the finish, bleach the stain, and refinish the surface.

White water stains, or those still in the finish, can often be removed without stripping the finish. The longer the stain is in the finish, the deeper it will penetrate into the surface. The deeper moisture penetrates into the surface, the harder the stain is to remove, so it’s important to remove water stains as soon as possible.

Finish discoloration that’s caused by moisture is a result of moisture being trapped in or under the finish. To remove water stains, you must get rid of the trapped moisture. This can be done in one of two ways: Use a chemical called an amalgamator to soften the finish long enough for moisture to evaporate before the finish hardens, or use an abrasive to cut into the finish to the depth of the moisture, allowing moisture to escape and causing the stain to disappear.

Remove water stains using amalgamator

Amalgamator is an alcohol-based mixture sold by finish and touch-up supply stores to soften an area of the finish and cause the moisture stain to dissipate. The technique for applying the amalgamator to the finish surface is similar to that used for French polishing. If you can’t get amalgamator, try using denatured alcohol instead, but be careful not to cut too deeply into the finish.

Removing Water Marks from Antiques

1) Apply amalgamator to a pad
Use a soft cotton rag to make an applicator pad. Ball or roll up the rag in a comfortable size to hold in one hand (about the size of a large egg). Smooth out the part of the rag that will make contact with the finish surface. There should be no wrinkles or creases. Apply amalgamator to the pad, allowing it to soak into the rag.

2) Disperse the amalgamator
Tap the padding rag into the palm of your other hand, causing the amalgamator to spread into the rag until the surface of the rag is damp, but not wet.

3) Pad the stain
Pad over the surface of the finish on top of the stain with a pendulum-like stroke in the direction of the wood grain. Briefly touch the padding rag to the stain surface, and then lift it off, keeping the pad in motion when it’s in contact with the finish surface. The water stain may not immediately disappear, so continue to pad the area, adding more amalgamator to the rag if necessary. The trick is to keep your padding rag damp enough to soften the finish but not wet enough to cut through the finish to the wood surface.

4) Blend-in the repair area
When you finished to remove the water stains, allow the area to dry. Next, rub the finish down with #0000 steel wool to blend the sheen. Paste-wax the finish if necessary.

Remove Ring Stains Using Abrasives

You can use any of a number of fine abrasives to remove water stains from the finish, including #0000 steel wool, rottenstone, pumice, and 600-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper. Adventuresome refinishers have even used toothpaste or cigar ashes as abrasives. The depth of the stain will determine which one will work for you. Start with a mild abrasive. If that doesn’t work, go to sandpaper. However, the less cutting into the finish to remove water stains, the better.

Removing Water Marks from Antiques

1) Rub the stain area using steel wool 
Rub #0000 steel wool over the stained area of the finish, rubbing with the grain and using firm pressure. If the stain is shallow, this may remove water stains. If not, go to Step 2.

2) Rub the area using sandpaper
Use 600-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper and a felt block to sand the stained area if steel wool doesn’t get the stain out. A little soapy water or mineral spirits will work as a lubricant for the sandpaper. Use firm pressure and sand the area well, rubbing in the direction of the grain. If the stain doesn’t disappear, go to a coarser wet-or-dry paper (500- or 400-grit), but remember that coarser papers may dull the sheen in the repair area and can even cut through the finish to the wood, so be careful. If you use a coarser paper, follow it by sanding with 600-grit paper to try to bring back the sheen.

3) Rub the area, again using steel wool
Rub out the finish using #0000 steel wool and paste wax, if it’s needed to blend the repair area with the rest of the finish.

As a last word of advice, all these techniques require skill and a delicate touch.  While I have posted these methods, I assume no responsibility if you damage a piece.  Consult a professional and let them do the work.

At the Antique Warehouse we can fix almost anything.  If you like, send us a photo by email no larger than 100K, and we can estimate how much it will cost to have your piece looking great again.

Happy Holidays to you all.

Mark LaFleur

Can You Spot a Fake Antique?

Spotting a fake Antique is no easy task.  We know. We spend all our lives separating the real from the fake.  We have to do it in a split second at times, particularly when we’re buying in France.

When I first got into this business I was making mistakes all the time.  Larry of course, was in it much longer than I, and was constantly pointing out the areas of ‘newness’  or ‘fakeness’ that had tricked me.

Almost nothing gets by me now.  It took years to train my eye, so don’t expect to become a ‘pro’ after reading my blog.  I will point out things to watch for,  but a trained eye will always have an edge over someone who is a novice.

Reproduction antique style mirror

This may look old, but in fact it’s brand new. We’re Okay with that. We bought it! But we also sold it for what it was. A good quality reproduction produced within the last 20 years. It also sold for a fraction of the price of the good antique ones.


This may sound odd, but the first thing I consider when looking at a piece is who or where am I getting it from.  There are people and venues I trust, and those that I don’t.

That doesn’t mean I let my guard down completely, but I can relax a little more. However, this is not always the case.

I remember trusting this one dealer.  I had bought many things from him the past and been pleased with my purchases. That is, until I bought what I thought was an old 19th Century wooden Chandelier. It looked gorgeous. I thought it was a wooden hand carved ‘Italian’ piece from the 19th Century or earlier.  It was red on gold and really stunning.

He had it hanging quite high in his warehouse and I asked if it was old. He said it was.  So I bought it quickly without any hesitation, trusting him at his word.

It wasn’t until it arrived in Vancouver that I discovered the grim reality.  It was a fake, a big fat fake.  The worst kind.  An expensive fake. I had paid a lot for this piece and I would have had to retail it for around $5000.

Not only was it new, it was plaster painted to look like wood.  And broken to boot!  Unfixable, unsellable ( except for a huge loss ) and unbearable.

Mistakes like that cost me big time.  Not only in money, but also in sourcing. It’s hard to find honest Antique dealers anywhere, but particularly in France. And now, with the economic crises it’s become much worse.  You really have to know what you’re doing.

I called the French dealer who duped me,  and had a heated exchange with the guy.  He told me I never asked if it was old.  That’s the thing I hate the most. Challenging my intelligence.  I knew what I had asked and I am not that old that my memory’s slipping that much.

'French' fake armoire spotted in a Vancouver Store

This ‘French’ fake was spotted in a Vancouver Store ( Not ours of course ) Look at how poor the carving looks and the plastic like finish. Not a great look and this Armoire was over $5000!!!

Suffice it to say, I never bought a thing from him again.

I would have let it go if he had offered me a refund or credit, and above all not challenged my mental faculties.

But refunds in France ( except in large department stores ) are unheard of.  NOTHING is exchangeable.

So trusting the source is paramount on my list.

Larry and I did a Research trip around the world about 6 years ago.  We purchased an around the world airline ticket so stopped in many ports of call. Buenos Aires was the first stop, Thailand was the last.

We saw so many reproductions in Thailand that I seriously have no idea what a real Thai antique would look like.  We liked Buenos Aires but decided we couldn’t trust the shipper and heard horror stories of complete containers disappearing without a trace.

Fake Antique Chairs in Bangkok

These chairs were being sold as Antiques. The only problem is every dealer in this Antique Mall had the same ones. Upon closer examination NONE of them were old!

In Bangkok, we hired a guide took us to some antique dealers who didn’t have one piece that was old.  In fact several dealers were selling the same thing, the EXACT identical piece all claiming it was old.  Like these chairs featured in the photo.  Every dealer had this exact same chair, and upon closer examination all these chairs were NEW.

This same guide insisted on taking us to stupid things like jewelry dealers and tailors who virtually pounced on us like unsuspecting lambs.  The guide insisted that we get clothing made, and buy jewelry, because he got a kickback.  Needless to say, we cut our tour short and bolted for our Hotel.

Frankly, the poverty and child begging was so disturbing that we could hardly wait to get out of Bangkok.  My impression of Thailand, particularly Bangkok was not good to say the least. We are truly blessed to live in Canada.


Second most important thing after trust, is the overall appearance of the piece.  If it looks too perfect there must be something wrong.  Perfection in a piece is not a good sign unless it’s very very expensive.  Something in fabulous condition is rare and you and I will pay a good penny for perfection.

Fake Antique Armoire

Looks at how the overall appearance of this looks too perfect. It has an almost ‘plastic’ appearance. This Armoire was spotted in the same store as the Armoire above.

Antiques are old, and age does things to furniture.  Age warps, splits, and wears down wood, etc.  You want to see all that when you buy something.  It’s called the ‘patina’

That doesn’t mean because it’s warped it’s old.  Warping can come from new furniture not being aged properly.  I mean a warp, like on an old table that is solid plank.

Splitting usually occurs on solid woods as well.  It’s almost inevitable that a split will occur on anything that’s solid wood and over 100 years old.  In fact, you should seek out splits.  They’re a good thing, and do not harm the integrity of the piece.

Real antiques are imperfect and the flaws are inconsistent due to natural use and human construction. Reproductions are symmetrical, smooth and the flaws are contrived rather than authentic.

Example of Distressed or Faked Aging

Here is an example of distressed or faked aging. Wood would simply not go white like that and be so consistent. Also the carving is poor and not detailed.  And the price?? Are they kidding? Incredible for a poor quality reproduction.

WOOD: Look under chairs and drawers, anywhere unexposed, to see if those parts are constructed with a different type of wood than the rest of the piece. Real antiques are usually made with more than one type of wood. In the past, carpentry materials were harder to obtain, and it didn’t make sense to use expensive wood in places where no one would see it. On the other hand, reproductions tend to be made from the same type of wood from top-to-bottom.

SIGNS OF WEAR: Genuine antiques will show signs of wear in places that would naturally sustain the most contact. For example, the bottom end of chair arms should be more worn than the upper part or underside of the arm. Scratches, stains and dents will be unevenly distributed on a piece whose flaws are the result of normal use. If the patina is too perfect, there’s a good chance it’s a reproduction.

CONSTRUCTION: The use of modern materials like fibreboard, staples and Phillips screws all indicate a reproduction.

GLUING: Older antiques have reinforced joints in addition to gluing. Look for dowels, mortise or tenon. If a piece is exclusively attached by glue, then it might be a reproduction.

ODOR: Real antiques will smell musty and sometimes mildewed. Reproductions might smell fresh with the scent of the wood still discernible

Chinese antiques are among the worst to determine authenticity.  Absolutely a nightmare in some cases.  Dealers will have a real Antique, then break it in parts, and re attached the severed parts to several new pieces to create several ‘antiques’ instead of just one.  They know where a specialist will scrape or flake a tiny piece to see if it’s old.  They do this even to sculptures. You know those lovely Chinese terracotta horses you see.  99% are not old. Decorative but not old.

I remember having a client introduced to me as a ‘Chinese Collector’ with lots of money and interest in collecting high quality antiques.  I spent tons of time with this guy, emailing him photos from Parisian dealers I knew,  touring with him, showing him my sources ( in Vancouver ).  We went to a store, Panache, who is owned by a lovely dealer Joan Bilchik who is an expert in the area.  He hummed and hawed at her pieces but said nothing.  I asked him after we had left if he liked anything she had and he said he’d think about and suggested that some things were probably fake.

I asked Joan about the authenticity of her collection and she assured me they were all authentic.  I know Joan so I know she was telling the truth.

Then this same client and I went to an auction to see some Chinese antiques. The auction house had evaluated one particular piece for $50,000.  It was a Chinese scroll painted by a Chinese artist.  The client told me it was a fake and wasn’t worth more than $200.

I immediately called the owner and alerted him to what this supposed ‘collector’ and expert client of mine had said.  He was frantic, turned the whole place upside down trying to authenticate the piece.  Turns out it was real.

I felt like a complete ‘you know what’, and immediately dropped this client. That was the end of my dealing with individual Chinese collectors.  Please don’t get me wrong. I do have some lovely Chinese clients who do buy furniture, not necessarily Chinese Antiques, but are great clients whom we have a great relationship with. It’s just that there are so many fake Chinese antiques out there that it boggles the mind.  And even the experienced dealers have a difficult time separating the real from the fake.

Chinese 'Antiques'

These are supposed Chinese ‘Antiques’ that you see all over Vancouver. They are NOT old, and not good quality.

We come across Antique Chinese furniture in France and if we are lucky enough to get it at a good price we buy it.  Other than that, real Chinese antiques are few, rare and very expensive.

Any dealer who claims to have ‘real’ Chinese antiques at a cheap price is lying through his teeth.  They DO NOT exist.

This photograph on the left is example of ‘Chinese Antiques’ that simply are not old.

I hope this week’s blog helps shed some light on the tricky business of fakes vs. real Antiques.

You’re best bet… leave the spotting of fakes to the pros.  They can do it with ease now so you don’t have too.  If you trust your dealer, that’s all you should concern yourself with.

Happy Hunting!

Mark LaFleur