Vintage Equipment: How Much Restoration?

Don't jeopardize historic value when restoring vintage equipment

| January 1999

If you're a collector, chances are you've been faced with the question of how much restoration you should do on a collectible. Many people prefer to keep vintage equipment "as is," while others want their pieces to look like new. If you opt for restoration, go carefully, experts say. 

Many of the recommended techniques apply to all categories, whether your treasure is a cream separator or a windmill, stationary engine or wrench, or even an antique tractor. Paul Dettloff, Arcadia, Wis., and Sam Stephens, Warminster, Penn., are avid dairy items collectors. The two also serve on the board of directors of the Cream Separator and Dairy Association.

Don't paint, pinstripe, replate or make reproduction parts if the item is still in its original condition, Paul says. But you'll often need to clean and apply preservatives, Sam adds.

"Probably 90 percent of the cream separator collectors just keep them original," he says, "unless they're a total rust bucket."

Collectors learn from each other.

"I have picked up a few tricks from the gas engine people, as they've been several years ahead of us," Sam says. "They value original paint, decals and the like, much more than a nicely restored piece."