Vintage Equipment: How Much Restoration?

Don't jeopardize historic value when restoring vintage equipment

| January 1999

  • Original paint is an asset worth protecting.
    Original paint is an asset worth protecting.
  • The McCormick-Deering Primrose cream separator was built in five sizes
    The McCormick-Deering Primrose cream separator was built in five sizes
  • In most cases, original paint should be preserved.
    In most cases, original paint should be preserved.
  • Wire-brush, rusty wrench, drill setting-scale
    To restore, or leave as-is? Draft horses harness hames of the same design (shown at the top of the photo) are shown in a deteriorated condition at left, wire-brush burnished at center, and brushed and painted at right. At center: An unrestored, rusty wrench at left; a burnished grain drill setting-scale plate at center, and at right, a gate latch that has been burnished and coated with linseed oil. At bottom: An unrestored pitchfork at left; a painted and slightly weather single tree at center; and at right, a pitchfork with an oiled handle and painted metal.

  • Original paint is an asset worth protecting.
  • The McCormick-Deering Primrose cream separator was built in five sizes
  • In most cases, original paint should be preserved.
  • Wire-brush, rusty wrench, drill setting-scale

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."



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