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Painted Milkglass & Shades
A working lamp deserves to be used, or in the very least ready for use (in the event of blackout or electrical failure). Always maintain your lamp with a correctly fitting wick and the font at least half full of kerosene (or a quality scented synthetic lamp oil). Be wary of using the very dark blue kerosene you buy in hardware shops these days, it has a lot of gum in it and puts your lamp as risk (clogging and jambing the wick raiser and burner). Leaving a lamp for long periods without kerosene in it risks the brass in the font from drying out and developing stress cracks (remember the brass is thin and is well over 100 years old). You will also find the wick decays, and in central draught lamps the raising devise will jamb and the wick raiser will fuse to the central draught tube. If you lamp develops a leak - fix it or get it fixed rather than 'leaving it till later'. Your lamp will deteriorate quickly if left in such a state.
Metal lamps and Patina
A particular winge of mine are those who sell brassware as having 'original patina'. Old brass (and nickel and copper electroplatings) has a look of age about it due to its manufacturing process but Patina?? Lets face it, metalware does NOT patina - it just gets dirty and tarnished - and that dirt and tarnish can damage the brass and/or electro plating. Generally lamps do not have a 'patina' - they are just plain dirty. And a dirty lamp is NOT nice to view.
Some lamps were made with what today appears to be a paint. This process is known as 'Japaning' - a coloured laquer applied to the metal. Although often black in colour, Japaning exists in many colours from bright reds, deep olive greens etc. with the base metal most commonly brass (at least with Miller Lamps). Metal shades often made of a thin steel are also often found japaned in various colours (most often a olive green) UNLESS YOU HAVE AN EXCELLENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE FINISH DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CLEAN THESE LAMPS, PARTICULARLY DO NOT USE STEEL WOOL OF ANY GRADE. Best would be to obtain some advise so as to not damage the original finish.
The nickel on nickel Miller lamps is Nickel electoplated on brass. Devistating to the nickel plating is dryness, corrosion from salt air and heat.
To clean such lamps is best to use warm soapy water (dishwashing liquid) and a soft cloth. If your lamp is particularly dirty and grubby - as one might find after years of neglect then instead of the soft cloth use very fine (0000) grade steel wool (00000 if you can get it is better) An old toothbrush is also handy for getting into the corners and crevices. Rinse in clean warm water and dry off the lamp with a soft cloth. This is a once off treatement, as to do it often would risk wearing away the nickel plating. Once clean wash regularly (at least once a year) with a soft cloth in warm soapy water (dishwashing liquid) and dry with a soft cloth.
If the nickel is damaged, there is little you can do about it. Either leave it alone or you can rub it back carefully with the very fine steel wool to remove the corroded nickel, you will end up with a 'brass patch' but the appearance will be better then the corroded nickel and you will prevent further corrosion.
Once cleaned dry thoughouly with a soft cloth. The 'shine' is purely dependant on the existing condition of the nickel.
If you live in a salty environment, or a very dry environment (either way - a harsh one) it is a good idea to coat the lamp with a fine film of Orange oil wax or similar. If you do this, wash your lamp at least once a year to prevent this film becoming a build up of muck and grime.
The brass on Miller lamps requries no real special or unique care. Polish as regularly as suits with a suitable brass polishing cleaner (follow directions of the polish but if your lamp is particularly dirty and grubby - as one might find after years of neglect then instead of the soft cloth use very fine (0000) grade steel wool (00000 if you can get it is better) An old toothbrush is also handy for getting into the corners and crevices). For many liquid polishes such as Brasso it is recommended that, once the lamp has been polished and buffed to shine, to wash it down in warm soapy water with a soft cloth and toothbrush to remove the residue of the polish from within the embossing, then dry thoughly with a clean soft cloth. The chemicals from some cleaners, particularly Brasso etc can harm brass over time if not removed.
As with nickel, if living in a harsh enviornment (very dry or salty (coastal)) giving your lamp a rub down with a suitable Orange oil wax and leaving a fine film of wax will help prevent corrosion - but it is improtant to clean and polish your lamp at least once a year to prevent this film from becoming a build up of muck and grime.
If cleaning your lamp (particularly hanging lamps) do not be concerned if the brass appears to be of different colours - this was common in the late 19th centuary - brass is an alloy and they didn't always get the 'mix' perfect or the same. If it annoys you - seek out the bits of the colour you like and replace them - but such is easier said then done. Brass with a higher copper content is known as 'rose brass', with the lighter brass being 'yellow brass'.
I DO NOT RECOMMEND THE USE OF ANTI TARNISHING LACQUERS - they give the brass a 'fake shine' look and in time become scratched and flaky. To remove the lacquer requires the lamp to undergo serious restoration. Perhaps if you dont love your lamp enough to keep it nice, clean and polished then let somebody have it who will.
Milk Glass and shades
Cleaning milkglass is relatively straigtforward so long as it is realised that the glass is very thin and delicate. Transfers and hand painting on the milkglass do present particular difficulties however. If just dirty, wash your milkglass in warm soapy (dishwashing liquid) water. If there are stubborn marks, again use 00000 or 0000 grade steel wool but WITH EXTREME CARE. Only you can make the decision of what is best, and if it is worth damaging the painted pattern for the sake of a clean lamp - and if you go too far, you cant come back again. Once clean rinse in warm clean water and dry with a soft cloth.
The biggest problem with cleaning milkglass are the shades. You will often find shades (be they from table lamps but more commonly large hanging lamp shades) that look 'light brown' or a 'fawn' colour and is often very even. IT IS NOT ORIGINAL. What it is is years and years of dust baked onto the milkglass surface from the heat of the lamp. A quick way to identify this phenomenon is to check in under the lip of where the crown sits (that is, where dust cannot fall) - if in there is white, then the brownness is baked dust. This can be very very difficult to remove, especially if the shade also has a handpainted or transfer pattern. UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING I DO NOT RECOMMEND THE AVERAGE COLLECTOR TO ATTEMPT THIS BUT SEEK ADVICE. I AM HAPPY TO BE OF HELP.
If you have hanging lamps, and use them, keep the shade clean - dont over clean them (again each time you clean a shade you are risking the paintwork). Before lighting your lamp, do the finger test on the shade, if you can clearly see your fingermark, and there is muck on your finger, give the shade a wipe with a clean damp (warm NOT hot) cloth.