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Thoughts on professionally restoring early and rare LEGO items

BooBooLandBooBooLand Member Posts: 11

Recently, I've become interested in collecting early and rare LEGO items.  Sometimes I would see items for sale that are in what I would consider "acceptable" condition.  What I consider an example of "acceptable" may mean an early LEGO wooden truck with all the parts, but maybe 75% of the paint has been rubbed off due to age and play, including the LEGO logo.  Or, an early LEGO set box that is ripped or missing flaps.  You can still tell they are early LEGO items, but they're not really in a condition that can be proudly displayed.

Now, my question to the collectors in this forum is: what are your thoughts about buying these items in "acceptable" condition and then getting them professionally restored? 

Sure, I know it's always better to get "mint", "near mint" or "very good" condition items, but those are in short supply, even when you're willing to pay a high price for them.

I'm quite new to collecting so am not sure if restoring an item would "ruin it" in other collectors' eyes.  Are there certain types of restoration more "ok" than others?  For example, I guess removing pen marks off a box would be more "acceptable" than recreating half a label that's missing?  I actually think the types of restorations that they do in the TV show "American Restoration" is too much, but that's just me. 

Thanks for your thoughts!!!


  • Pitfall69Pitfall69 Member Posts: 11,454
    I don't know about restoring non-building block related Lego items. As far as restoring boxes, I don't think most of us would even think about doing that. I would just find a set that has a nice box. Many would say that the Lego set inside the box is what should be displayed, not the box.
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    I have to concur with Pitfall69.... it would have to be a very valuable set box in order for restoration to be worth the costs... and then it begs the question of originality if the box ever made it to the secondary market again.

    Here's an example of a box that may be worth restoring (if possible)... a 1954 700/4 Danish LEGO Musten basic set.  This set is probably worth about $1000-$1500, and if the blemish from the box top could be removed, then it might be worth the restoration cost.  But I cannot think of very many sets since the 1960s that would be worth such an expense (except of course some of the modern super sized sets that also command 4 digit prices).  (One of the new set images for my collectors guide upgrade.)

  • koozkooz Member Posts: 158
    Just be careful with any restoration attempts.  Case in point:
  • Pitfall69Pitfall69 Member Posts: 11,454
    I haven't had much luck restoring old vintage Lego either.
  • Pitfall69Pitfall69 Member Posts: 11,454
  • Niels_TNiels_T Member Posts: 43
    And now this thread is taking a turn. :D

    But the topic raises a good question.
    I myself got a tractor the other day, and the point was from the pictures in add, that I would properly rework it all. Have a decent tractor, but this 1 in the picture (again pictures are important, other thread) looked in really bad shape, but Logo intact, lots of rust. And had idea, get rust off, repaint it all, and get (I know an old hand sign painter) decals hand done, and have it for my self as display.

    But when I got the tractor it was actually not in that bad shape, still a lot of rust, and the cracking I saw wasn't so bad.  Hmm thought to my self, well not all that bad, maybe I just try remove rust and see and then have still original.
    (Rust on the lever thing and wheel bering's, but hard to see, sry)

    So took it very carefully a bit apart, and put metal in winager  and it's working.

    I'll up a before picture, but didn't get real close up before starting, and didn't take of part's, but will do some when complete.

    Thing is to restoring, well it's Your piece and can do what You want with it, think the main issue is if selling tell what have been done. But always raises question when maybe sold again.

    If my restoring just ends up using winager and it's organic, on original pieces, it's kinda just like a clean up, but if I did paint I would for sure tell.

  • LusiferSamLusiferSam Member Posts: 572
    Restoration is one of those things that has to be done with a great deal of consideration. I think the best piece of advice I've ever heard about restoration is that an item is only original once. Once you've chosen to restore item there's no going back and doing what's been done.

    As far as wooden toys go, I have no idea where or how you would find somebody to do this properly. Stuff from the 40s and the 50s was all machined painted with masks. I have no idea how you duplicate this look without a custom mask, which would add significantly to the cost. Many of the  logos were not painted on, there a decal of some sort. To do those correctly would also add to the cost.

    As for the boxed sets, I have to agree with Gary, in that most sets simply would not be worth it. Besides I'm not sure how you "restore" cardboard. Replacing it sounds more likely, in which case you have a reproduction.

    There's also the ethical issue of what happens when a restored items sold. But say you restore a wooded fire truck or tractor. So you know that this item has been restored, but then you die. And your kids go to sell this. They may or may not know or remember this item is not original  and sell it as such. Or that say the item's trade hands a few times and somewhere along the line the restoration has been forgotten or hidden. This creates a very slippery slope and one to which I don't have any good answers to.

    At the end of the day these are your items and your choices. I would only urge that people take extreme caution when it comes to restoration. If you want to know about the cost of restoring an item versus keeping original you need only watch Antique Roadshow.

  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    @LusiferSam I agree about the Antiques Roadshow... I've seen many pieces of Chippendale furniture valued at $15,000 refinished... with the comment that "had you left it alone it would have been worth $200,000 unrestored"!!    :o
  • Pitfall69Pitfall69 Member Posts: 11,454
    I think it all comes down to what the items are. You never want to clean old coins, pistols and rifles because that actually lowers the value.
  • BooBooLandBooBooLand Member Posts: 11

    I'm so glad I got a discussion going on this topic.  I've always wanted to know about people's opinion on restoration, specifically as it relates to LEGO.  Now, I want to address some of your comments...'s like you read my mind.  The box you have shown is exactly the type I was referring to.  In fact, it was the box for LEGO Mursten #700/3a.  When I saw the box up for auction, I somehow knew it was "special", despite my limited experience in early LEGO.  So, I seriously thought about bidding on it and restoring it and then slowly filling it with correct bricks and such to make it complete.  Then I thought I must be crazy cause that's gonna be ALOT of work and it may never work out in the end!  Plus, the bidding on that ended at a time that I would normally be asleep, so I gave up on the idea and didn't bid on it. 

    When I found out the winning bid was a whopping EUR201, just for the box that has a hole in it, I realized my hunch was correct and indeed it was "special".  I also kicked my lazy ass for not getting up and bidding on it.  But then again, I would never have known to bid over EUR201 for it so I wouldn't have won it in any event.

    The link is below.  Notice how the box cover is in very good condition, as is most of the rest of the box.  The only thing that I would have considered restoring on this box would be the big hole/rip on the side of the box cover, and perhaps removing the yellowed tape. 

    Here's the link: 

    Now, to address the issue of professional restoration vs amateur restoration...I actually found a place called Randy's Toy Shop that claims to do "museum quality" restoration.  I was blown away at what they were able to do with boxes.  Mind you, I don't know how many arms and legs it will cost, but perhaps for a LEGO Mursten #700/3a box, it may be worth a few.  Here's a link to the main page - you need to click on the "Box Repair" on the top left-hand corner of the page to see what they can do for boxes:

    And LuciferSam, I do understand that restoring items could cause an ethical dilemma if the item ever ended up in the secondary market again, and if people are selling restored items as if they were original.  Yes, that is an issue, and I can't seem to resolve it in my head. 

    Bobflip...perhaps you should open a restoration shop...I really like what you did with the Christiansen children.

    Similarly, Pitfall69, I just LOVE what you did with the dog...

    Niels_T - your tractor isn't that bad...some rust yes, but at least most of the red paint and the LEGO logo is still there.  The wood truck I was referring to had most of the red paint and all of the logo rubbed off.  Very sad...

  • LusiferSamLusiferSam Member Posts: 572
    I remember this auction.  I thought about it, but realized that there were no bricks.  It was only an empty box.  I never looked to see what the final price was.  I think €201 is too much for an empty box with that kind of damage.  But clearly somebody didn't. 
  • Niels_TNiels_T Member Posts: 43
    Well done renovation the Tractor, and I'll up pictures and You can tell if it was dumb.
    I used all original parts, just dismounted and put in winegar.

    Don't know if it would work with thin layer of coating, to prevent futher rusting. And then we are away from org. and this was meant to be total org.

    I tried use as gentle touch as possible and didn't get to much damage, I did't manage to knock of some rust of the clamp in bottom, but think is acceptable. Futhermore I did try drop a drop of winegar on round metal on top front, but still look liked is darkend wood surrounding, and stop, and think maybe only small little hickup, which is ok though.

    And regarding the paint job which I clearly didn't go for, but if I did, I wouldn't have done new Logo, just paint job, and gone around Logo.

    Here's it been taking apart, and clamp and nail still on, carefully liftet

    And here ready to assembly

    And here all together

    And Front, with little darker wood.

    Hope it is ok :smiley: 
  • IstokgIstokg Member Posts: 2,362
    @BooBooLand  I was looking for that image with part of one side of the box missing, but couldn't find it!  So we were thinking about the same box for restoration.

    I would tend to think that any restoration work would be noticeable, no matter how well done, but then again I'm not certain about that.  But yes, even a "noticeable" restoration would help (IMHO) increase the value of the box.

    But even an empty box has limitations, when those old boxes had inserts, that were an important part of restoring any set.  From the very first LEGO brick sets (the Automatic Binding Bricks sets of 1949-53) until 1965, almost all LEGO sets in rectangular boxes had the parts held in place with inserts... and the basic sets were also shrink wrapped.

    In my 2800 page Unofficial LEGO Sets/Parts Collectors Guide (now only available as a downloadable Computer Desktop document, with free future updates)... I talk about and show most all the older sets, and how they were packaged.  I also help folks who buy my guide... in reconstructing old sets to bring them back to their original state, even including buying the correct parts on the secondary market to do so.

    Here is an example of the largest of the LEGO Mursten sets that you and I both were talking about.... (owned by my Dutch collector friend Richard).   He bought a rather decent looking boxed 700/1 set, the largest of the 1953-55 LEGO Mursten sets.  The rather decent condition box top (for such an old set) ...

    And the contents.... which the owner was questioning if they were all original or not, and if anything was missing.... an impossible ordeal for him to determine.

    In my 50+ years LEGO experience (plus 8 years in contact with the Billund Archives and Collections), I have enough documentation (and over 16,000 old LEGO images, some thanks to the Billund Archives) so I was able to help him not only determine whether the items were original, but also show where "extras" were added to the set.

    I have been helping folks who buy my Collectors Guide... restore their sets now for a few years, with amazing results.   In this instance, I told the owner that two of the 3 cardboard inserts were actually upside down... and when I described how to position the bricks, it actually helped double the value of the set (from a purely aesthetic "pleasing to the eye" perspective)... should he ever want to sell it.   Here's the set restored to pretty much it's original state when the shrinkwrap was removed from the lower box, holding the bricks in place (although the cardboard inserts over the last 60 years have sagged a bit!)....

    In this instance, the contents were original (the art card was included in early sets for kids to make a picture frame, where the art card was held in place by the slots in the bricks built as a frame around it).

    The "extras" included in this set were some of the thin (older) Automatic Binding Bricks windows/doors.  A mix of those and the large "tall classic windows in white seen here, was original to this set, but at some point a spare parts box (700B) contents of 12 extra thin Automatic Binding Bricks windows/doors was added, due to the large number of them found in this set.  Otherwise everything else, including the very rare 10x20 thick baseplate was original to this rare set.

    Why would I spend my time helping buyers of my collectors guide with restoring their sets back to normal?   Because they offer up images of their restored sets to future (free to current owners) updates of my collectors guide!   :)   With credit given to them of course!   I also have a large network of old collector friends, who can help "fill" sets that are missing pieces.

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