Antique toys and games may have connections to family history, a nostalgia that makes them highly collectable, or still, be in use as everyday entertainment. From academic games of chess to open air play with games of croquet, our conservators are expert in sensitively restoring pieces which may date back generations.
Jaques of London is a family business that has been creating toys and games since the 19th century, known for producing the Staunton chess pieces in 1849 which are iconic standards of the game today. In 1857 they also played a part in inventing the modern game of croquet, along with being the first publisher of popular games such as snakes and ladders (1888), ludo (1897), happy families (1851), and tiddly-winks (1888). Since restoring one of their Staunton chess sets in 2020, we have decided to look further into the conservation of such items and the options which are available for their preservation and continuity for centuries to come.
When it comes to the restoration of antique toys and games it is important that this is done in a way that preserves its historic integrity, whilst in some cases still allowing it to be used as intended. This creates a need for long-term structural stability with methods that are sensitive to the original materials and visual impact.
Wooden toys and games can be met with various damages, from water exposure and insect infestation to organic decay and instability due to age and frequent use.
Our trained conservators are experts in maintaining the original features whilst allowing the item to survive for future generations. Our team is open to exploring conservation options for all varieties of toys and games, welcoming any enquiries for a professional assessment that will establish the treatments available.
Chess set restoration
The wooden sets we know today are often of the ‘Staunton’ variety, this was a product of the great resurgence in the popularity of the game by the end of the 18th century through to the Victorian age.
Last year our team was contacted about a Staunton chess set, one of the original sets produced by Jaques of London in the 19th century. The game had been found in their father’s attic after many years. The wooden materials were boxwood and ebony, but most significantly the style of the knight pieces was identified as the ‘Anderson Jop Jaw’ dating it to the 1860s.
The box which housed the set was in a worsening state of damage, with the important Jaques label of the set being brittle and falling away. Upon assessment from our specialist conservator, the recommendations were to stabilise the edges of the box, as well as to colour match the polish of any new elements to make this seamless. The label could then be re-adhered with conservation solutions and sealed to preserve it for the future.
Some areas of the pieces were missing or had chipped off over time. Our conservator hand-carved new sections of the damaged pieces, this included two pawns and two bishops. The colour and detailing were matched exactly and replaced onto the originals with conservation approved methods.
The result achieved the goal our client had for this restoration, to be able to continue playing with the set with the peace of mind that it was stable and well preserved for himself and for future generations.
Where chess sets have elements of marquetry or veneers, our conservation team are able to stabilise any lifting elements. They may either replace missing areas with matching pieces, or re-adhere loose pieces which have been saved. These will all be colour-matched to the original and put in place with non-acidic conservation methods.
Our conservation team is also able to restore any historic ivory elements with a synthetic substitute. This will keep the pieces stable and well preserved, as is the case with the conservation of ceramic items which can be seamlessly repaired.
Where water damage or staining has occurred, our team can work to reduce any visual disturbances and instability left by this. Any paintwork which may have been affected or worn down over time can also be gently retouched or reapplied with artistic and historical accuracy.
Antique croquet set restoration
A croquet set will first be analysed by our team for repair, and we will take into consideration whether the pieces are destined to be used again by future generations or to be preserved for display and historic or monetary importance.
An antique croquet set that is intended for further use can be restored, with paint reapplied or retouched, as well as re-varnished with specialist pigments that colour match the original.
Any prior repairs, such as household glues or adhesives, can be removed, as the chemicals in these elements may lead to decay. Instead, conservation approved solutions can be put in place which has a neutral PH level, taking away the risk of acidic deterioration. Where metal pins may have rusted or become lost, our conservator can sensitively replace these with appropriate supports. The aim will be both to stabilise the pieces and ensure that they are free of any precarious contaminants.
Chips in the balls can be restored with a method to smooth the surface, they will then be cleaned and if required the painted areas can be reapplied with seamlessly colour-matched pigments.
Where the croquet set is very old and is only for display or collection purposes with historic significance, our team will ensure that the integrity of the piece is of the utmost importance. In this case, any surface contamination will be sensitively cleaned and supports will be applied where required. Any elements which are connected to its past, such as worn down areas or slight discolouration due to frequent usage, can be left in place if they are of importance to the story behind the set.
Antique game restoration
Traditional games such as bagatelle, cribbage, or wooden varieties of board games such as snakes and ladders, can be restored and missing pieces can be replaced with an aim for these sets to continue being used by future generations.
The small pins on a bagatelle board or the wooden pegs in a cribbage set may easily go missing over time. Alongside the conservation of the game, our conservators can replace these with new pieces which have been handcrafted in our studio to perfectly match the original.
Marquetry, where inlaid pieces have been adhered into the board, may become disturbed by water damage, as well as changes in humidity or temperature. It is important to keep hold of any loose areas, as our conservators are able to reapply these with specialist solutions. Do not use household adhesives to do so, as they may contain acidic elements which could discolour and deteriorate the wood. Any missing elements can be replaced with specially created copies in a matching colour and varnish.
On board games where there is a layer of paper on top of the wooden surface, our paper conservator can help to stabilise any raised or fragile areas. If there are areas of paint that have been worn down or have areas of flaking and cracking, our team can consolidate this and use conservation approved pigments to reapply missing areas. Flaking paint can also be reapplied if loose pieces are collected, this will help to maintain as much of the original piece as possible. The same is possible for any worn areas of gilding, which can be professionally reapplied.
The joins and bends of a board game may become weak over time. Our conservators can stabilise these to allow for future play to continue, by either replacing or restoring any rusted or decayed elements, ensuring that they are strengthened. Colours and pigments may have worn down on the folded lines, these can also be reapplied where possible with conservation-grade pigments.
Contact us about wooden game restoration
If you have any questions about wooden toy and game restoration, our team would be glad to assist. Our conservators have a knowledgeable focus on areas that can assist towards the complete restoration of a specialist item. If you have a piece that is in need of repair or preservation, please contact us via [email protected]