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Featured Article/Paper Number 5

by Dr. J. Darragh M. Elliott, M.Sc., Ph.D.



So you just bought a new work of fine art at an auction, and now you have it home. In this instance, take a close look at the work of art. Does the description in the auction catalog match the painting that you bought exactly. Is the signature exactly that as stated in the catalog and if dated, is the date exactly the same? Auction houses make mistakes too with so many items to catalog. Your work of art might read in the catalog John James Turner 1794, but on the painting the signature might read Turner or J. J. Turner, or it might be a monogram. The date might read 1894. If the signature or the date is different, take it back to the auctioneer, and either ask for your money back or offer to purchase it at a much lower price, as it is not that as stated within the catalog. The alternative is for the auctioneer to have it authenticated by an independent authority.

Now, again look at the painting. Is it dark and dirty looking. If it is, then no doubt it requires cleaning, and you will want to find a good restorationist to do this for you. Generally speaking, a oil on canvas painting should be cleaned at least every fifteen years, and if there are smokers in the house, as usually in the case of older paintings, it is quite likely there were, and they will more than likely in this instance require cleaning. If there are currently smokers in the house, consideration should be given to have the paintings cleaned by a professional every ten years.

Now turn the painting over and take a close look as how the painting was hung. Possibly there was some sort of old fitting on the back, or as with most paintings there is a wire running across the back secured by two screw eyes. Now is the wire attached to the screw eyes properly? On a number of paintings you can easily see that the wire was run through the eye and wound back upon itself. This is definitely NOT the way a wire should be attached to the back of a painting. Simply because over time, the weight combined with any little vibration in the house or from simply dusting the painting, can cause this to loosen and eventually all of a sudden, without any warning, your painting comes crashing down onto the floor and the frame can be smashed, as well as the painting damaged. Now your into an unnecessary bill for having the frame and possibly the painting repaired. Therefore, first make sure that the wire is of a great enough gage to carry the painting. You do not want to use a thin wire to try and hold a heavy painting. It might hold it for a while, but again, with vibration or the slightest movement it can snap, and down comes your painting crashing to the floor.

Obviously, you want to make sure that you have a strong enough wire to hold the painting. If you feel that the wire currently on the painting seems somewhat weak, frayed or thin, then you should replace it with a new wire of sufficient strength to hold the painting properly.

There are various gages of braided wire available for different size paintings. The next thing that you will want to do is check the screw eyes that are screwed into the picture frame. Are they large enough and are they tight. If they appear to be very small in ratio to the size of the painting, then you will want to replace them with larger ones. If they are loose, then you will want to install them elsewhere on the picture frame.

In order for your painting to hang correctly, the screw eyes should be located somewhere between 65% to 75% of the distance of the frame as measured from the bottom. Assuming now that you have to install a new length of wire, in our opinion, although some may differ with us, is to run the wire through the eye, bring it back over and run it through the eye again, bring it back over again and again run it through the eye, then bring it back over, and under the long piece of wire, and up, over and down to tie a knot. Then up, over and down through the circle again to tie a second knot. With the bit that is left over, wind this around the long piece of wire, until the remaining portion has been wound completely around the long length of wire.

Next you should stretch it across the picture frame and run it through the screw eye on the other side. You do not want this to be taught so back it off so that it is a little slack, and then cut the wire so that there are about four to six inches (depending upon the size of your picture frame) left over. Then proceed to tie the wire exactly the same as you did on the other side of the picture frame. Now your painting is ready to be hung. We should mention that there are all sorts of different fasteners available to hang paintings. Some can be very expensive, some can have a security system built into them, and others can be very sophisticated to reflect a certain decor, etc. However, this method is the most commonly used to hang a normal sized work of art in the average home. With large paintings, it is best to have a professional hang these, as they can not only be heavy, but can be cumbersome. Fasteners attached to the wall and moveable ring hooks attached to the frame are another method used to hang larger paintings. With these type of fasteners, the painting is hung in such a manner that it is completely flush against the wall.

Now that any new or old painting is ready to hang, you have to find a place to hang it that it is not in the direct sunlight or otherwise the suns rays will cause the colors within the painting to fade. If it has to be in the sunlight somewhat, you want to make sure that you move it to another location every six months, and then bring it back to its original location for six months. The last things to consider before you hang your painting are the hooks that you are going to use. First, are they strong and large enough to hold the painting and second, are you going to use one or two? Generally, one is only used, however this can allow the wire to slide on the hook and with enough vibration, even from an adjacent door opening and closing, can cause your painting to hang off center or lopsided. Therefore, if you are hanging your painting where vibration can occur, then it is best to use two hooks instead of one to reduce this from happening. If you use two hooks, they both have to be attached to the wall at exactly the same distance from either the floor or ceiling, but the main point is, that they be level with one another. If on a stairwell, then they both have to be at the same level, or the painting will hang lopsided.

The most common type of hook is attached to the wall by a nail that runs through it. To hang this, first pick up the nail that will be hammered into the wall, and with the nail in your hand, place your hand behind the painting and hold the wire in the center. Then with your other hand, hold the frame and lift the painting up to the area on the wall that you want it to hang. Then, mark the wall with a little scratch made by the nail that you are holding. Now you have the height for where the hook will be attached to the wall. To attach this, place the hook on the wall, and then insert the nail through the hole designed for it at the top of the hook. In this manner you will have set up both the nail and the hook at the correct angle so than when the nail is hammered into the wall, it is not likely to chip out a chunk of drywall, and thereby weaken the area where the painting will hang. After all of this, you certainly do not want it coming down again. This method can be used for the random hanging of paintings, prints and photographs.

The lighting for the painting has to be considered before the painting is finally hung. The most common form of lighting is that of the picture lamp. This item screws onto the center of the back of the frame and protrudes out over the frame. The lamp is adjusted to light up the painting. There are different sizes of lamps designed for different sizes of paintings. One of the most common problems with this type of lighting is the wiring. Some lamps come with a switch within the wire that too far from the painting itself to be of much use, other than the lifting up of the wire until you come to the switch.

A easier way in the long run is to remove this switch. For a single painting attach a screw on type of switch onto the back or edge of the frame. Preferable one that attaches to the back of the frame. The type of switch should be the kind that can be held between the thumb and forefinger and twisted to turn the picture lamp on and off. In this instance, all that is necessary is, to cut one of the two lamp wires. Attach one of the cut wires to one of the switch wires and the other wire to the remaining switch wire. Be sure to use a proper connector. Joining the wires together and wrapping then with electrical tape can result in an eventual fire hazard. Particularly, as over time, the tape can become dry and brittle. With the remaining wire, this can be plugged into any wall socket.

When there is not a wall socket nearby, the wire can be dropped from the side of the painting, where it should be if the switch was installed correctly, and it can be covered with a "U" shaped plastic rod that has double sided tape on one edge to be able to stick the complete rod to your wall and hide the wire. These items come with connectors, various corner connectors etc. If you are hanging a series of paintings, a male plug can be attached to the lamp wire behind the painting. A female plug can be attached to the main wire. The main wire is then run to the next painting and covered with the same "U" shaped plastic rod. Be sure to connect the main wire in line and not in series. In series means, that if any lamp burnt out, then none of the lamps on any of the paintings would work. In line means, that each lamp wire is taken from one main line. The main line can be run along the wall, or the top of the baseboard etc. to the nearest wall plug. Here you could either place a switch, or install a wall plug with a switch contained within it. The later looks better, and is safer to operate. Make sure that the number of lights on the same wire do not overload the circuit or are to many for the thickness of the wire. If a fair number of paintings are being lighted from one electrical source, then increase the gage of the wire to account for the extra power required to light all of the paintings, and make sure that the gage of the wire to the wall socket is sufficient to carry the required electrical wattage. These are the more simple ways to light paintings, however, with the use of a qualified electrician all sorts of other types of lighting can be installed from pin lighting, to track lighting to pot lighting etc. It all depends upon your budget, the type of home or office, and how fancy you want to become. Lastly, and most important, do not adjust the picture lamp in such a manner that the light bulb is very close to the painting, and do not use a higher wattage light than is called for on the picture lamp. The resulting factor can be that the heat from the light bulb can burn the painting, or even start a fire.


There are generally three methods to display your porcelain collection. You can just set your figurines on a table, fireplace mantle in any open space area. With this method you run the risk of them being knocked over and broken, or they can be dropped when cleaning, or pieces can be broken off when dusting even with a feather duster, as some figurines are extremely fragile. With dusting, it is better to blow the dust off, rather than try to wipe or whisk it off with a duster. Obviously, the more valuable the figurine, the more steps should be taken to protect it and clean it.

The next method is to set them in a display case or cabinet. Here lighting can be used to further enhance your porcelain collection. Dusting is not required as often. To display your figurines within a display cabinet, if you have a number to display, place the larger ones at the back first and the smaller at the front next. In this manner, all can be seen at the same time, without the larger one's hiding the smaller one's. If the back of the display cabinet is lined with a mirror, this reflection can further enhance your porcelain figurines.

The last method is to have a display case built particularly, if the figurine is a large, expensive and fragile figurine. The display case should be of a box like nature, being of a square or of a rectangle, and should be made of at least " clear acrylic plastic and be five sided and measured to be made in such a manner that it will easily fit over the figurine. The open side is the bottom, designed to permit the case to fit over the entire figurine and its base, if it has one. The use of " or thicker acrylic allows for the installation of felt pads on the bottom of the display box to prevent the acrylic from marking any furniture or other item that it rests upon. This method almost eliminates the need to ever dust the figurine, as only the case requires dusting from time to time.

To clean or dust this type of case, never run a dust cloth over it, as this can scratch the acrylic. It is much better to remove it from over the figurine and wash it. Dry it with a soft towel. To install or remove this type of case, it must be held directly over the figurine and lowered straight down into position. To remove it, carefully raise it straight up until it is clear of the figurine. Do it slowly and carefully to avoid hitting the figurine.


While it is nice to leave silver candlesticks or other items on a table for display, these tarnish and require cleaning at least every six months or that of a shorter period of time. Depending upon how many items are displayed in this fashion, the longer the time is required to clean them. There are many different methods of cleaning silver, silver plate, Sheffield plate etc. The best method to use is, the one that is easiest for you and that will not scratch your silver. The alternative, is to display them in a "silver cabinet" being; a display case or cabinet. Make sure that it is as air tight as possible to increase the time before tarnish can occur and the consequential required cleaning. The case can also be lit to further enhance your collection. Again, if it is a large piece of silver, it is wise to consider having a display case built as suggested for displaying large items of porcelain figurines. Particularly with major silver dining room table centerpieces. These cases are removed in time for the meal to be served at the dining room table, but otherwise remain over the centerpiece to protect it. It is best not to display flatware, unless it is very unusual. Keep it in a cabinet or in the alternative, wrapped in the properly designed cloth silver pouches and stored in a drawer cabinet or sideboard.


The first thing that has to be taken into consideration for bronze or marble sculpture is the size, the subject and where it will best fit within your home. Here again, the very first thing to do with these items is to place felt pads on the bottom to protect whatever they are about to be placed upon from being marred or scratched. Some of these items can be very heavy, and with felt pads on the bottom, they can be easier to move into the correct position without marring or scratching the surface of whatever they are going to be displayed upon. The next thing is to decide the best area of prominence for the sculpture. If this is a large bronze or marble sculpture, more than likely the floor is the best and safest place to display it. A 30" to 35" bronze can easily be displayed upon a pedestal depending upon the size of the base. Some alternatives to pedestals, can be tub tables, end tables etc.

It is always best to display these items in a manner that they are out of the way and cannot be easily knocked over. If a large 35" bronze sculpture was knocked over and fell onto someone's foot, it could easily break a number of bones in the foot. Another alternative is, to attach them to whatever they are being displayed upon to prevent a accident from occurring. Small bronze and marble sculptures can easily be displayed upon a end table or as a centerpiece.

In handling either a bronze or marble sculpture, it is always best to wrap it is a cloth or use cotton gloves. Once a fingerprint is left on a bronze sculpture for a long enough period of time, it can be very difficult to remove without removing the patina. In the case of a marble sculpture, the oil on ones hands can permanently stain the marble particularly, if it is not polished.

Many bronzes are being sold today that are considered to be cheap reproductions. These and others that have worn areas have had various types of polish or stain placed over the worn areas. To detect this is, to examine the bronze carefully to determine if the patina finish is of the correct nature. If you are suspicious, take a cloth and rub it over the suspected area(s). If a brown or other color comes off on the cloth, you know that it is not of an original nature, and quite possibly not original. It is only logical to assume that the seller wants to have the bronze "looking" or appearing to look in the best possible condition to obtain the highest price possible for the item.


When purchasing a collectible plate at auction or from a dealer, the plate should come with the original box and certificate. If these later two items are not available, then the price of the plate can be severely discounted. Therefore it is necessary, after removing the plate from the box, to store the box and the certificate in a safe dry place.

There are four basic methods for displaying collectible plates. The most common used is, to purchase a wire plate hanger that the ends thereof clip over the edges of the plate from the back of the plate. In the use of this method, while installing the hanger, be careful not to chip the edge of the plate. On the plate hanger, there is a area for a picture hook to fit into. The second method for displaying collectible plates is that the plate has been made with two holes within the rim on the back of the plate. Here a wire has been passed through these holes and joined to form a loop in order that the plate can be hung from a picture hook. The third method is, to place the plate in a plate easel and set the easel on an end table or other display area. The fourth method is, that the plates are placed into a frame that is often covered with glass. These types of frames can be designed to hold a number of plates, but one or two plates are normal. The frames can be designed to enhance the display of the plates. As the frames can be somewhat expensive, unless one specifically wants to display their plate(s) within a frame, consideration should be given to only displaying the more valuable plates within these types of frames.

There are a number of ways to display collectible plates on walls. One is by subject, another is by ability of execution or quality, and another is by the artist. Within each of these areas, it is necessary to determine beforehand how the eventual display will look after they are hung on the wall(s). With this in mind, it is best to make a drawing or sketch of the whole wall and draw in the current furniture, windows etc. within this area.

Then make a few drawings of the display of the plates on the wall in different positions until you arrive at a design that is acceptable to you, and one that will most effectively display your collection. Without this work being done beforehand, you can end up with a display that does not appeal to you, doesn't look right, or simply is not in the correct perspective. Also you can end up having done a lot of work in attempting to display your plates correctly, as well as creating a lot of unnecessary nail holes in the wall that will have to be filled and can require that the entire wall be repainted before your plate collection can be hung.

Once you have arrived at a design for hanging your plates that is in the correct perspective and is acceptable to you, then it is time to measure out the wall in ratio to your design and mark where each plate or picture hook will be placed. This can take some time to get it exactly right as you may have the sizes of the plates to consider particularly, if all of the plates are not of the same size. While doing this, as measurements may be required, it is best to first remove all the furniture, lamps, etc. away from the wall to avoid making mistakes and possibly hitting a lamp or other item with your elbow and knocking it over. (Possibly another breakage problem that could have been avoided.) When you have the markings in place, then it is a simple task to install the plate or picture hooks and hang your plates. Then replace your furniture, stand back and admire the display of your collection.


While there are all sorts of collectibles that can be displayed there is almost a different method used to display every different kind or type of collectible. If you are into decoy ducks for example, you might want to consider installing a shelf or ledge within the room that these are to be displayed.

However, or whatever the collection is, as a collection, it is usually best to keep it together in one or more areas. This does not necessarily mean that the entire collection has to be displayed entirely within only one area. But within each area that the collection is displayed, keep this part of the collection together for the best effect. Many fabulous collections have been badly diluted by scattering them, as done by placing one item(s) in one room and another in another room etc. This is fine for objet d'art, but not for collections. Paintings should be displayed in such a manner that they suit the decor of the room from both a subject and color perspective. Prints and photographs would also fall into this same category. The trick is, to create a even flow of furniture, decor and collectibles to run from one room to another. Or to have a room(s) set aside entirely for a particular collectibles such as French furniture being displayed with French objet d'art and French paintings etc. If you are collecting early American and/or Canadian furniture and artifacts, you certainly do not want to mix them with modern abstract paintings unless they will fit in with the decor or you want them to stand out for a particular purpose.

The most obvious method is to display paintings (contemporary or old) is that they be of a subject that will fit in with the period. In this case, paintings of a landscape or early farm scene would be of a good example.

There are many other methods used to display collectibles, as there are many different types of collectibles that can be displayed, and only a few can be mentioned within this article. Only those collectibles of a more common nature have been discussed, and designed to make the display of collectibles as easy as possible. To display the large and/or very expensive types of collectibles, it is always best to consult a professional.

This article is designed on the basis of the "do it yourself method" for collectibles only, and is not intended to infringe upon areas of interior design or interior decorating. For the more elaborate methods of coordination for chinches, fabrics, curtains, rugs, furniture etc. it is best to consult a professional within these fields of expertise


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