Box House Antiques

Antiques and humidity

Winter is approaching :

With the onset of winter antique furniture may suffer in your centrally heated rooms. If you do not take some relatively easy precautions you may regret it!

In the old days rooms were heated by fires. The draughts resulting from fireplaces meant the drawing in of plenty of moist air from outside. This created some ‘balance’ in the humidity of the room, so low humidity was not really much of an issue.
Of course rooms were also not as ‘hermetically sealed’ as they are today. Also pre-1650 most furniture was in oak which is less vulnerable to varying humidity levels.

These days we all have central heating often coupled with double glazing. The consequent static ambient room temperatures will be much drier than outside. Low humidity will tend to absorb moisture from wherever it can, often out of your antiques.

Don’t think that as the years go by this problem diminishes. Antiques will have dried out to a degree but there will always be a residue of moisture which, when further extracted, will cause shrinkage. Wood only shrinks in one direction which is across the grain. This was often ignored by cabinetmakers at the time. Glues will not withstand the enormous forces at work and inevitably splits will appear, veneers will lift and you will have an expensive problem to face, quite apart from a resulting diminished value. Re-seating lifting veneers are not the problem so much as splits and warps; it takes a very experienced restorer to deal with splits and warping. I would venture to say that any split or warp, particularly in a table top, will dramatically reduce its value by as much as half or more. When really serious, the value can even fall to zero.

Much better to anticipate the problem. Install humidifiers. Do not expect distributing saucers of water or hanging containers from your radiators to do the job for you. Only an electrical humidifier will work. Initially the setting should be on low, gradually increasing to medium as you turn up the thermostats. Look carefully for any moisture residue on surfaces. If there is evidence of moisture settling, immediately reduce the level of the humidity being released into the atmosphere.

Best of all, overnight leave a window ajar (naturally considering any security risks) to create a balance in humidity. No need to leave anything open too long, all depending on the efficacy of your humidifier.

A small health benefit may be gained in how you feel once the humidity levels are dealt with. Breathing may become easier, and your eyes will thank you.