I can't stand the rain. Two dark, grey, soggy days--and I need a sunny day to bathe my new figure (see the Scuffle in the posting below). Bath time is one of the joys of new ownership...so let me explain.
Have you ever thought how filthy figures get? The colorful coating on our figures is essentially glass, and you can only imagine how disgustingly dirty a glass would get if it was passed from hand to hand or just stood on a shelf in your home for centuries. If you strip away that dirt, you reveal a figure that can be as amazingly fresh as the day it left the kiln. So when I get a new figure, I just yearn to wash it. But the moment must be right. A sunny afternoon when the sunlight streams through the window over my kitchen sink is perfect for this loving ritual. Some figures wash up quickly, but others have black, grease-like dirt lingering in crevices and these need more time. Because I wouldn't dream of airing my dirty laundry/figures in public, I show you a photo of someone else's dirty figure--from an auction listing. Would you want anything this dirty in your collection?
Gross, isn't it? And can you imagine the dirt that is pasted in all the nooks and crannies of a bocage? Sometimes it is so black and gooey that I know the figure must have stood near a fire place. Because I get to photograph other people's figures and view them magnified I really see the dirt. Sometimes, dirt is so apparent during photography that I carry a little dusting kit with me to try to discretely dust off a figure, very superficially at least, while my host or hostess doesn't notice. One charming English collector made no fuss. Before handing me each figure, she dunked it in a bucket of water...of course, I then had water drops to cope with instead of dust bunnies.
So what do you do to wash a figure? For years I was terrified because I had been warned that any restoration would immediately fall off, and several books warn of the dangers of using all but the correct water and detergents. So let me start by saying that you follow my advice at your own risk and if in doubt, please ask a professional restorer. I simply go to the sink, slather on some dishwashing detergent, take a large soft brusn (mine is made by Haggerty for cleaning silver without scratching it), and wash the figure in comfortably warm water, scrubbing away at any obvious dirt. I rinse very well and am always careful to keep water away from areas that have been restored. I don't think splashes of water will hurt, but you don't want to soak restored areas. In fact, I soak nothing. A quick wash and dry does it. Then I look again for any residual dirt. Usually, it is tucked in areas my brush couldn't reach. I take a tooth pick and dig it out. All that black grunge is usually quite easy to remove. Finally, I place the figure in the sun to fully dry....and it GLOWS! Take it from someone who hates housework: cleaning a figure is the most rewarding form of washing up.
For the record, I have friends who use things as diverse as ammonia solutions and electric toothbrushes to scrub at their figures and so far so good. I prefer to be cautious. But I reckon that anything that comes off with my gentle cleaning shouldn't have been there in the first place.