The Centers for Disease Control recently published a research paper on the dangers contained in antiques. As a longtime museum professional and professional Ph.D. appraiser, there are many dangers of which we all need to be aware when handling antiques.
One of the most common and overlooked dangers is simply old-fashioned germs. Have you ever thought about where that old tin lithographed lunchbox featuring Roy Rogers’ image has been all these years—a hot attic, dirty garage, or smelly basement? Did you ever consider that perhaps the holiday sleigh bells stored in your grandpa’s barn that you cherish from childhood may have been the site of a field mice fiesta with the party goers carrying all types of potential diseases?
Dispose of Dangers
More often than not, antiques are incorrectly stored in areas where germs breed and bacteria may spread. Although it is both unfortunate and commonplace, damp basements, outdoor sheds, and attics are often homes to antiques. One way to protect yourself from the mildew, mold, and host of other germs and active bacteria that may be growing on your grandmother’s old collectibles or that flea market find is to wear disposable gloves whenever handling vintage objects and antiques. This includes objects discovered at yard sales because there you will be probably handle someone else’s old, deteriorating, and possibly improperly stored antiques. On a most basic level, disposable gloves are a good way to provide a barrier and to protect yourself from the various germs that may be infiltrating an antique.
While I am an outspoken advocate of the standard museum policy that everyone should wear gloves when handling vintage and antique objects, I know that many other antiques appraisers and self proclaimed experts rarely participate in this wise and common practice. It is not only a good idea to preserve objects for future generations as we keep objects free of dirt and oils from our hands, but gloves protect us too.
Message about Mercury
While I think gloves should be standard issue with antique collectors and appraisers, the recent report from the CDC commented largely on another specific culprit found in some antiques. When it comes to antiques, the CDC wants you to be aware of the dangers of mercury. Mercury may be found in antique clocks, barometers, lamps, and even mirrors. Over the last decade or so, the public has been made aware of the dangers of mercury and now, in those objects dating as far back as the 17th Century.
For example, some antique barometers used glass tubes partially filled with liquid mercury and many clocks also retain mercury in their works and pendulums. Mercury’s reflective qualities made it useful in the crafting of mirrors in the old days. Also, some antique floor and table lamps were stabilized or weighed down with mercury. Dangerous mercury exposure may result from spills as antiques may break over time and with age. Those liquid beads of mercury that scurry around on the floor when unexpectedly released should make you scurry, too.
In certain states, antiques with mercury are prohibited from sale. Approximately 12 states have restricted the sale of mercury-added products and this applies to the sale of some mercury-containing antiques.
Smart and Safe
When it comes to antiques, your intelligence is your first line of defense. Consider protecting yourself from the various harmful aspects of collecting antiques. Of course, after protecting yourself, remember that proper protection and professional preservation of your antiques will provide both safe and fascinating objects for the enjoyment of future generations.P
Celebrity Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antiques appraisal events worldwide. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on Discovery channel’s hit TV show, Auction Kings. Visit DrLoriV.com, Facebook.com/DoctorLori, @DrLoriV on Twitter, or call (888) 431-1010 for information about your antiques.