Inventive repairs at the Ashmolean Museum

April 18th, 2014

Last week I took a day trip to Oxford and made a beeline to the Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s oldest public museum, which houses a world renowned collection of ceramics. Much to my delight, it also contains dozens of examples of porcelain and pottery with distinctly different types of early repairs. Amongst the “perfect” ceramics on display, and the ones with obvious repairs and replacement parts, are many examples with metal mounts, which I will tackle in a future post.

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V&A Ceramics Galleries

April 12th, 2014

I spent many hours wandering the ceramics galleries on the top floor of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, searching for examples of ceramics with inventive repairs. The refurbished galleries opened in 2009/10 and are filled with over 30,000 of examples of ceramics in floor to ceiling glass cases. The last time I was at the V&A the original wooden showcases were still in use and I took photos and made notes of the pieces that interested me. Now there are monitors in every room with photos and descriptions of the entire collection available online. The transformation of the old galleries to the current design is so dramatic that I think I gasped out loud when I stepped off of the elevator on to the 6th floor and saw the seemingly endless rows of vitrines for the first time!

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What the Dickens?

April 7th, 2014

I am back at my hotel in Notting Hill, resting up after taking on the National Gallery, the British Museum, and the Charles Dickens Museum all in one day. Needless to say, I spotted many a “make-do” at the two large institutions, but I was surprised to find a 19th century cut crystal and silver ewer with staple repairs to the base hiding in plain sight in Charles Dickens’ dining room!

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English Ceramic Circle lecture, London

April 5th, 2014

I was invited to give a talk and show examples from my collection this past Thursday, April 3rd, at the English Ceramic Circle (ECC) at Bonhams in Knightsbridge, London. The ECC was founded in 1927 and is “the oldest society dedicated to the study of British ceramics and enamels.” Thankfully, the lecture was well attended and I enjoyed meeting many members, as well as viewing pieces from their own collections, that they were encouraged to bring in.

I was introduced by ECC president Roger Massey, who explained to the crowd that he was made aware of my blog a few years ago by a ceramics dealer. He was told about a “mad American” (crazy, not angry, I assume) who collects antiques with early repairs and that he should have a look. Roger apologized to me about the remark but I rather like it!  After the talk I was invited to dinner and chatted with other members, including Nicholas Panes, Honorary Treasurer.

Thank you ECC for your warm welcome, and a special thanks to Stephen McManus who extended the invitation. I look forward to becoming a member of your marvelous society.

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Photos by Mark Randall

Inventive repairs at the Rijksmuseum

March 30th, 2014

Past Imperfect goes international, as I am in Amsterdam, the first stop of my European jaunt and research tour. I have just returned from spending a few hours at the gorgeously renovated Rijksmuseum, home of world renowned art and a collection of exquisite Dutch ceramics. While most pieces I saw were jaw-dropping, they appeared to be intact and had in fact, not been dropped at all. So, no inventive repairs for me to drool over. But I did see one 17th century jug with a metal sleeve covering a broken handle, but the repaired end was turned away from the front of the vitrine, so no one could see it…except for me. Sadly, it was too dark to get a good photo of it.

I did spot this early Delft bowl with religious decoration that was just sitting on a shelf without any mention of the HUGE, early metal staples holding it together. Yes, I thought you’d like it, too.

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I also stumbled upon a wonderful oil painting, Prince’s Day by Jan Havicksz Steen (1625-1679), depicting the birthday celebration of Prince William III of Orange-Nassau on November 14, 1650. I always imagined that many a “perfect” jug and tankard became candidates for inventive repairs after long days and nights of rowdy celebration. If you look closely, you can see a barmaid holding a jug in her right hand with what appears to have a replaced pewter handle and support straps along the middle and bottom. I have seen repairs such as this on German jugs of the same time period, so I was excited to see it included in this painting.

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This coming Thursday, April 3rd, at 6PM, I will be giving a lecture in London at Bonhams for the English Ceramic Circle. Please come see me and say hello.

Creamware Masonic jug, c.1800

March 22nd, 2014

This wonderfully graphic black transfer printed creamware jug, of ovoid form with loop handle, was most likely made in Liverpool, England, at the turn of the nineteenth century. It stands 7-3/4″ tall and is 8-1/4″ wide from handle to spout. Large jugs such as this were commonly found in fraternal lodges and used for dispensing alcohol after the main order of business was performed. One side is decorated with Masonic imagery and the verso is decorated with emblems and a verse from The Entered Apprentice’s Song.

One night, over 100 years ago, a candidate was hoodwinked* during an especially tense initiation ritual and this jug must have fallen to the ground. Unable to repair the broken shards, a Mason brought it to a metalsmith, who fashioned a beautifully proportioned replacement spout, as well as a reinforcement rim and base. This is the first time I have come across a repair done in this fashion and I am impressed with the delicate craftsmanship. I also like how the color of the metal, which appears to contain some pewter, matches the color of the faded transfer print.

*Hoodwink, which today means “to trick” or “to deceive,” was originally used in the Masonic Lodge to describe a blindfold. Hood means “cover” and wink means “closed eye.” A candidate was hoodwinked during an initiation ceremony as he was led through a room, unable to see, in order to focus on the words he was hearing. I bet many a make-do were born during such hypnotic rituals!

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This jug with similar form and decorations shows what my jug would have looked like before it was repaired.

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Photo courtesy of Skinner

Russian Gardner cups & saucers, c.1900

March 15th, 2014

To celebrate the conclusion of my work on Season 2 of The Americans, a television show on the FX network set in 1982 about a pair of Russian spies living as Americans in Washington, D.C., I am posting this pair of Russian tea cups and saucers. They were made by the Gardner factory at the turn of the 20th century and are decorated with gold leaves, and hand painted flowers in white medallions, set against a deep red ground. They are part of a larger tea set, many of which were exported to the Turkish Empire and Central Asia. The cups measure about 2″ high, with an opening of 3-1/4″, and the saucers have a diameter of 5-1/4″. Both cups were broken and repaired by a china mender in the early to mid 1900s, after Sascha dropped the entire tea service while entertaining Anastasia and Vladimir. неуклюжая девочка!

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Cup 1 (top) with gilt leaf decoration, has hand cut metal staples that still hold the two broken pieces tightly together. It has a factory mark stamped in red on the underside.

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Cup 2 (bottom) has a yellowed replaced chip, possibly from another cup. Once repaired with metal staples, the cup is now held together by a sloppy glue job, although the empty staple holes are still visible.

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This partial tea set was also made by Gardner and includes a cup and saucer much like mine.

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Photo courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

Coffee/chocolate pot with multiple repairs, c.1800

March 9th, 2014

This unusual form porcelain coffee/chocolate pot was made in China during the Jiaqing period (1796-1820) for export to North America and Europe. Standing 7″ tall, it is decorated in blue underglaze, depicting people on bridges, walls, pagodas, and flowers. Its tall form suggests it is a coffee or chocolate pot, but it might just be a tall teapot. If anyone has more information to help identify the original use of this pot, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you.

If you know anything about me by now, you know that I love finding antiques with multiple repairs, and this pot is a doozy. This survivor has been fitted with a replaced silver spout, a replacement handle of bronze with woven wicker wrapping, and a lid with a tin collar.  That each unique repair is made from a different material suggests that the original owner must have been clumsy, as I feel the repairs were made at separate times during the 19th century. But I am glad this pot was cherished enough to warrant three individual trips to the china mender and/or tinker to extend the life and service of this little gem.

This pot with similar form is intact and shows what the original handle and spout on mine might have looked like.

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Photo courtesy of LiveAuctioneers 

“Sailor’s Farewell” Sunderland jug, c.1830

March 2nd, 2014

This small pottery jug, decorated with black transfer prints and verses of the popular Sailors Farewell, was made in Sunderland, England, in the early to middle 1800s. Standing 6″ tall, it is embellished with polychrome overglaze washes and pink lustre accents. The front and rim have floral prints and the reverse side is decorated with a black transfer print of the poem A Birth-Day Thought, written in 1809 by Charles Lamb (1775-1834):

I envy no one’s birth or fame,
Their titles, train, or dress;
Nor has my pride e’er stretched its aim
Beyond what I possess.

I ask and wish not to appear
More beauteous, rich, or gay:
Lord, make me wiser every year,
And better every day.

Over one hundred years ago when the jug was dropped, resulting in the loss of the original loop handle, it was taken to a tinker who made a metal replacement. The owner must not have liked the incongruity of the raw metal handle strapped to the delicate ceramic jug, so the handle was painted in copper tones, to help ease the offensive blight.

This jug with similar form and decoration shows what the handle on my jug would have looked like with its original handle intact.

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Photo courtesy of Carter’s

Cauldon porcelain tyg, c.1910

February 23rd, 2014

This beautifully painted three-handled porcelain tyg was made in Staffordshire, England by Cauldon, c.1905-20. It is hand painted in polychrome enamels with gilt detailing in the Highland Cattle pattern, signed D Birbeck. It is marked in green on the underside CAULDON LTD England and measures 7″ high, with an opening diameter of 5-1/4″.

Tygs are muli-handled drinking cups designed to be passed around and shared by many drinkers. The space on the rim between the handles delineates a surface for each drinker, a more sanitary solution to a single handled mug. Tygs date to the 15th century and were popular into the 17th century, but today they are used for decoration and the nasty old habit of sharing a beer in a traditional mug lives on.

We will never know if this fine tyg suffered its many breaks as a result of being thrown across the room during a bar brawl or if it merely slipped from grandma’s hands as she was dusting it. But thankfully it was brought to the attention of a china mender, who pieced the puzzle back together using 17 metal staples.

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