JerseyCity Frankie

Ship Dragon by JerseyCity Frankie - scale unknown, RESTORATION

I was asked to clean and restore this interesting old model. Clearly long neglected but also clearly a pretty old model worth saving. She had a solid hull and a few cast metal fittings. No blocks or deadeyes and everything else hand made. I single diameter of rigging throughout with repairs in cotton cord and copper wire. The name on the bow was obscured but probably "Dragon". There was an odd, fairly large, brass disc nailed to the Starboard Bow with a number on it.




gieb8688, druxey, mtaylor and 2 others like this

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Anyone in restoration will tell you that you should do as little as possible when restoring an old artifact, don't change the way it would have looked, don't damage what is already there. Your job is to clean and repair everything and then maybe make some new things to replace what could not be repaired or things that were missing, but in all things, don't leave a trail of footprints showing you had a hand in doing anything. Remove your personality from the job, you are not trying to do an interpretation of what YOU think it should look like, you are trying to make it look like it actually did look back in the day.

Clearly I was going to have to clean everything and then I was going to have to repair the spars and bring order back to the rigging lines.

In cleaning old artifacts there is wisdom to guide you too. They say never use a harsh solvent when a milder more gentle and less destructive cleaning solution will do. This is one of the things that made this project interesting.

I started with brushing the dust off with paintbrushes and then Q-tips. I got a lot off but underneath there was more, and it was intractable. So I moved up to using some warm water. Wiping away with G-tips I got a bit more off, but not too much more- I was beginning to buff the dirt, not remove it.

SO I moved up to dish soap. Again, some slight improvement but not much.

Then I went to Denatured Alcohol. Ditto the above. The alcohol was not helping.

I went to the art supply store and got a product called "Cleaning Solution for Paintings" by the Webber company- said to be able to remove "aged varnish" from paintings. It did, a little, remove more of the crap clinging to every surface. But I was a long way from seeing anything clean on the model.

WackoWolf, druxey, mtaylor and 2 others like this

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By now I was well acquainted with the nature of the hard dark sooty coating on the model, and it was beginning to puzzle me. Why was it resisting the solvents? By this time I was using turpentine and thinner on cotton swabs, but it was not really cutting the hardened gunk.

Take a look at the photo of the Bowsprit and you will see that there is old thick white paint that has flaked off in spots, exposing the dark wood underneath. But it looks like the surface was varnished AFTER the flakes came off. I began to develop a theory. My theory is that the model was dirty and dusty and THEN someone decided to varnish it WITHOUT cleaning the grime off, varnishing over the dirt and sealing it in. I decided to go up to even harsher cleaning agents. I tried Nail Polish Remover. This is really getting serious at this point and I am wondering if I have crossed some ethical line. But on the other hand, nothing I have used so far is working! I go to Home Depot and look at all the solvents they have in the paint department. I buy a bottle of a product called "Goof Off" which is designed for removing graffitti. THIS is what finally worked to remove the thick nasty varnish. The fumes were awful but the Goof Off cut right through the gunk and finally I could start to see the color of the model.



mtaylor, gieb8688, druxey and 2 others like this

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My theory is that some unscrupulous antique dealer mixed up a concoction of dirty varnish- that's right I think he was actually mixing dirt INTO the varnish then applying it- to give the antique ship model some degree of the "patina of age". its the only way to make sense of the dark thick varnish. It had pooled on the decks, I had to scrape the decks (after applying the Goof Off) with a single edged razor blade to get the hardened gunk off. The model was screwed to a simple wood plank. The dark varnish had pooled around the hull and when I removed the plank you you could see the outline of the hull. The guy had just POURED varnish all over the model. When I finally got down to the surface of the model, some nice color was exposed. A pretty shade of green that had been invisible under the varnish was now exposed. The deck had a great warm yellow tint.

I wound up completely disassembling the entire model and cleaning the components one by one. None of the rigging could be saved, it was all crumbling to powder.




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Then I revarnished using an archival reversible varnish intended for painting restoration. it can be painted over but it can be removed with alcohol at any point in the future. MSA varnish from the Golden company, I use it on everything I restore now. I think I was able to use all the original spars- I just had to drill and pin them in a few places. Someone had in the past done a crappy restoration with a lot of copper wire used to hold broken parts together, and very thick white glue of some kind. To get thick white glue off I soak cotton balls in alcohol and clamp them to the glued area with a clothespin. After a while the glue softens and can be pulled out.

I matched the colors as well as I could and hit all the chipped off areas, confident that the isolating varnish I had used would preserve the model in a way that my work could be removed if someone wanted to go back to the way she used to look. I can't imagine why they would but on the other hand I would have felt the marks I was making on the model should be allowed to be second guessed by someone down the line at some point.






IgorSky, yvesvidal, mtaylor and 6 others like this

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Something I notice in all the restorations I do is that when they are done, they have wound up being a LOT more work than I thought they would have been at the outset. This one in particular turned out to be the worst one in terms of underestimated work. If it had just been a dirty broken model it would have been pretty easy in comparison to what it wound up being. That thick hard filthy varnish added weeks to the project. On the other hand, it now looks great. Nothing looks more broken and damaged than a three masted ship model with some or all of the upper spars snapped in half. Once you fix those things you instantly see the value in the model, the transformation is ALWAYS dramatic. it gives you a nice feeling to look at the before and after photos.

Edited by JerseyCity Frankie
robin b, WackoWolf, druxey and 2 others like this

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