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Bohemian Tango Cordial Set

Antiquing in the Sixties
by Bob Brooke


Back in the 1960s, most people didn’t go antiquing as they do today. Collecting antiques was for those who could afford it. And the antiques they collected were old, over 130 years old to be exact. After World War II, most Americans were looking ahead. They didn’t want old things, especially furniture.

People who couldn’t afford actual antiques chose to up-cycle old pieces to blend in with their new suburban lifestyle. And there was plenty of old furniture to be had. The Great Depression left most people seeing anything old as less than progressive. People considered pieces from the last half of the 19th and early 20th centuries as used furniture that could be bought for a song in thrift shops and used furniture stores.

And even those who could afford antiques turned to up-cycling to furnish mountain cabins and seashore houses, both to live in and to rent.

ut these pieces had spent their remaining days in hot attics, damp basements, and old barns. Not a good place for wood. Finishes were dirty and often scratched. What to do? The answer was simple—antique them. Antiquing in this sense meant painting over the old pieces to make them look “old” and worn. Today, it’s called “up-cycling,” and it was all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the 1960s, magazines like American Home had frequent articles showing readers how to make tired old pieces look like new—not through refinishing and restoration—but through painting. People transformed a variety of old tables and wooden dining and kitchen chairs, vanities, and sideboards into trendy pieces that brought charm to the simply styled 60s and 70s interiors.

The process was rather simple. Antiquing kits were all the rage. They contained two cans of paint—one with a water base and one with an oil base, actually an oil glaze. Each kit contained enough water base paint to give a relatively large piece of furniture two coats and enough oil glaze for one coat. Both types of paint came in contrasting colors chosen by the kit manufacturer. This process didn’t give the same as the "distressed" look of the 1980s and early 1990s.

The base colors in the kits came in a variety of hues—orange, red, mustard, aqua, green, and so on. The base color came in a quart can and the glaze or translucent top coat in a pint can. After covering the piece of furniture with the base coat and letting it dry, the user then applied the glaze coat, wiping it off to the desired effect with the cheesecloth that came with the kit. Being an oil base, the glaze didn’t dry right away, allowing the user to work the paint until achieving the desired “antique” results, accomplished by wiping the open surfaces to produce “highlights” while allowing the glaze to remain in the cracks and crevices in the carvings.

Unfortunately, a lot of really good antiques—dubbed old fashioned by forward thinking homeowners—were ruined by antiquing them. It wasn’t until the 1980s that restoring old furniture came into vogue. It was then when both amateur and professional restorers discovered how difficult it was to remove the antiquing paint that antiquing kits fell out of favor.

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