15 February, 2008

Mail Call -- Annunciator Mailbox with Speaking Tube

Just inside the front door of our building and to the right is a two-unit mailbox with old-fashioned speaking tubes (called an annunciator, I'm told). It's set inside an oak wood frame. We had assumed the doorbell portion was broken, because when you push the buttons nothing happens.

The speaking tubes themselves are kind of primitive, rather like those old tin-can and a string phones we made when we were kids--do kids even make those anymore?--and they do work, although they probably haven't had much use in years.

The main door to The Box House has a deadbolt, and the current working doorbells are on the outside of the building. Nowadays, you can't even get into the stairwell unless you have a key or someone comes down to open the door. In the 1920s, when the house was built, nobody would think to put a lock on the entryway door.

At some point in time, the Previous Owner painted the brass portion with metallic gold paint. Although the intention was noble, the gold paint looks a little off. So I decided it needed to be stripped.

Quicker than you can say "special delivery," I unscrewed and pulled off one of the mailboxes. Lo and behold! (I love when I get to say things like lo and behold) the wires to the doorbell had simply become detached. Ted hooked them back up and the doorbell worked. I made him unhook them again so I could take it away and strip the paint.

I took the mailbox to Menard's to see what they recommended for stripping it without ruining whatever patina the brass might reveal. They didn't have any particular recommendation, so I took it home again and decided to try this SoyGel paint remover, which the manufacturer indicated would work on metal.

I slathered on a thin layer, and it already began to dissolve the paint before I could finish coating it. Twenty minutes later, I was wiping the paint off with a damp rag.

The patina itself doesn't look all that great, kinda splotchy and rust-colored in spots. Now I'm at a crossroads, should I get a brass polish and spiff it up or leave the very mottled patina as is--or should I have left the gold paint on in the first place? The paint looked bad, spiffing it might not work, and if it does it might look too shiny, but I'm not entirely pleased with the actual patina of the brass, either. It has what looks like brush strokes through it. (The photo makes it look better than it really is.)

The one on the right is painted gold;
the one on the left has had the paint stripped with Soy Gel.

When I pulled out the name label of the Previous Owner, behind it was another label, with the P.O.'s old address, which is literally just around the corner from The Box House. Ted and I got into one of those stupid four o'clock in the morning debates over whiskey as to whether the P.O.'s pulled out and brought over the entire mailbox and annunciator from their old place, or just the labels. And why would they keep the old address label anyway? I had to boot up the City of Evanston's Web site, which has pictures of all properties, to see what the house looked like. It was an old frame house with a porch, possibly divided into two units, which maybe had an annunciator. (Kinda neat to know where the previous owners previously lived, at any rate.)

Anyway, as to the further-polish-the-brass-or-not debate, I think we'll have to ponder it for a while before deciding definitively what to do with it. Mom votes to keep it as it is, sans paint and all splotchy. I'll finish up the other mailbox and reattach them both, and probably not get back to it for a year or more.


Jennifer said...

Oh, it DEFINITELY looks better stripped. I would either leave it as-is, or polish it up and give it a new patina using a quick aging process.

Anonymous said...

If it were me, I'd polish the brass up nice and shiny and then let it acquire a new patina with use. It doesn't take that long and you won't have the splotches. Shiny brass is pretty anyway.