Restoring vintage lights

weedyacresAugust 27, 2013

I've been keeping my eye out for lights on ebay, and there are a few in my budget price range that need restoration.

Are lights like these (linked below) real brass that can just be polished up? Or is the finish a cheaper metal that I'll ruin if I try to do more than clean up with soap and water?

Any other tips for restoring lights?

Here is a link that might be useful: light in need of TLC

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You will find pretty much everything on FleaBay from nice real vintage lights, to old but crappy when they were new fixtures, to cheap Chinese copies to built-up monstrosities made of assorted unrelated parts. Look for a seller with 100's to 1000's of ratings and a total north of 99.5% satisfaction. Ask questions and get lots of pictures. We have had about a 50-50 rate of getting decent fixtures despite a pretty high level of vigilance. Solid brass is pretty unusual, so unless someone you trust says it is, it probably isn't. The good news is that the good fixtures once rewired with new sockets are much nicer than anything you can find new. Painted fixtures were common and can be completely appropriate in an old (or new old) house). You can also re-plate fixtures with brass, of for some bling, with (unbrushed!) nickel.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 1:50PM
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i've only bought one vintage fixure from Ebay. It was lsited as an antique boat light but I knew what it really was-a vintage porch light. That was fine...the seller shipped it in a padded envelope though! It's pretty dented and some of the "ships wheel" detail was broken. They refunded the $$ at least. I still have it, because I just couldn't toss it since it was vintage-although I don't know what I'll ever do with it!

Have you considered a salvage place, if there is one, near you? At least you'd be able to see the piece in person, and know it won't be shipped in a padded envelope, lol. You can also watch craigslist, I've seen a few nice pieces there. And surprisingly, antique shops. Some are WAY overpriced, but some are pretty reasonable.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2013 at 5:00PM
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You can message the seller and ask if a magnet sticks to the light. Solid brass is not magnetic; brass plating over steel or many other metals is.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2013 at 5:51AM
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Thanks for the tips on asking questions before buying.

I'm in a small town, so no salvage places locally, but I could check on my next trip to the nearest "big city."

If they are just plain metal (not brass), can they be restored? What's the process? Some have paint on them (from the ceiling), some have a bit of rust, some are just dingy-looking. How do you refresh them without losing the period charm?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2013 at 6:23PM
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OK, I asked 3 sellers to do the magnet thing, and they all came back and said "no, it doesn't stick." But one mentioned that it was "brass and pot metal" and I looked up pot metal and it's basically a mish-mash of non-ferrous metals. So the magnet test isn't definitive on the brass question.

In the meantime, I'm trying to look more closely at the photos and educate myself. Here are 3 I'm considering:

#1: Seller clarified several times that it's solid brass, and it's got loads of tarnish, and looks to my eye different than the "pot metal" fixtures that are common.

I'm considering it for my dining room, which is 13'x13', one side fully open to the living room. I was aiming for a 4-light and this is only a 2-light, but perhaps that's sufficient scale/light? It's got all the parts and pieces, so just needs a ton of elbow grease and polish.

Link is here, and it's got tons more photos if you're willing to browse and help me shop a bit:

#2: This one is a completely different style, and it's a flush mount with 5 lights. I haven't seen many like it in my short time browsing, and I think it's kind of cool.

I'm guessing it's NOT brass; only the iron curlicues attract a magnet.

#3: This is a mishmash of 3 different lights, seller says solid brass and they look it, also not much tarnish. Missing some pieces, but for $35 I could probably mix and match and come up with a full fixture.

I'd love opinions on both whether they're good value and whether they'd look good in my 1920 worker's cottage dining room with 8.5' ceilings.

Here is a link that might be useful: link to 2nd light

    Bookmark   August 29, 2013 at 11:50AM
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Those are CUTE!

The non-brass ones I've seen were stamped steel, painted with some sort of enamel or brass plated. The painted ones often had the floral decorations highlighted with various colored paint.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2013 at 3:54PM
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I used Brasso and elbow grease on my pan light. We found it in an antique store in Troy, NY, brought it home, scrubbed it up, and hung it. We love it. It looks perfect.

Be careful to check the wiring, though. They told us that it had been rewired, and the wire certainly looked new. But "new" doesn't mean "properly done," and the first time I tried to change a light bulb it exploded in my hand and blew the dimmer switch in the wall. Yikes. We took it down, and took it to a place near here where we had the wiring redone right, and new sockets put in. It still looks great, with the added bonus that it is no longer a fire hazard!

Here is a link that might be useful: Some pictures of our lighting restoration

    Bookmark   August 29, 2013 at 7:10PM
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I'm kinda liking #2. It's a little different from the others & might be nice on a lower ceiling.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2013 at 11:45AM
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I love the three almost-matched lights. The four-light for the dining area, three-light for the kitchen, two-light for the hall or one of the bedrooms. If they're missing bits, replacement parts are available from a number of on-line sources, as are shades. 8 1/2 feet gives you a little bit of room to play to get them hanging at the right height.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2013 at 2:47PM
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Well, I bid on the 3 brass lights but got outbid. I've put in bids on a couple others, and this one I just won for $40. It's a little different style than the ones above, so we'll see if I can make it pretty again.

Here is a link that might be useful: My future DR light

    Bookmark   August 30, 2013 at 10:55PM
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That's a charming fixture! The seller calls it "aluminum" but it's probably white metal or possibly iron. Most likely you'll want to repaint it, but try just cleaning it up first. Then use the decorative reproduction Edison bulbs in it and it will look great.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2013 at 9:41PM
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