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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Painted Outdoor Thermometer (Ca. 1900)

One piece I worked on recently that was unusual was an outdoor thermometer with a painted wooden back. When I received the thermometer from the customer, the wood back and the thermometer glass were in great shape but the paint had deteriorated to the point where the thermometer could barely be used. At some point in it's life someone wrote the indications on the side of the thermometer so that it could continue to be used, but even these had faded. The customer, who had owned the thermometer his entire life, remembered words written on the right side of the thermometer and one that could be clearly read was the word "blood". That was about it. What I was hired to do was to have the face repainted with the proper indications and if possible the words that had been lost. A real challenge!

I started by doing a little research into thermometers on the internet. After typing in several different search criteria I finally started to come up with some positive results. The first was a set of post cards from the turn of the century. There are photos of them below:

While these were a joke, the thermometers pictured in the images were similar to the one I had, and I could clearly see the words "blood heat" as well as several others that matched what I could see on my thermometer. I then found the thermometer below:
I was able to blow up this image to get a look at the font and the terms and all of the indications were the same as the one I needed to restore, with the exception of the highest temperature reading. A little more digging revealed that this said "Fever Heat" at a staggering 110 degrees. Quite a fever. Now I had all of the markings that I needed to get started.

For the actual painting of the thermometer and the words and numbers I turned to my friend Roberta Marovelli. Roberta is an extremely talented (this is an understatement!) decorative painter in the Washington D.C. area. For a look at her work follow this link:


Before Roberta could paint the thermometer back I needed to prep it for her by removing the original paint and repairing the damage. Below are photos of the process of the restoration from start to finish.

This first image shows the thermometer in the condition that I received it.
This detail shot shows the numbers written in on the side of the thermometer. It also shows the remnants of a blue paint around the molded edge.

This photo shows the indication marks that were still visible. These were transferred to ensure that the thermometer would give an accurate reading!
Here is a shot of the back without the thermometer in place.
While removing the finish, I found that the backing behind the thermometer had a gold paint behind it, which we decided to copy. After that I removed the finish and repaired the back. Here is a photo of the back being repaired.
The repaired back was given over to Roberta. Here is a photo of the back when it got to her shop.

Here is the back during the painting process.
These images show the back painted. after the indications and words were put in place, the paint was distressed and "dirtied" to give an older appearance.

These last two photos show the thermometer assembled and ready for delivery. All of the indications were in place and reading properly. This was a great project and I could not have done it without the talented hand of Roberta Marovelli. Thanks to her for a fine job!

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