English mocha banded jug, c.1840

March 27th, 2015

This mochaware slip banded jug with concentric thin black rings and wide drab and blue bands measures 6″ tall and has a flared base. It was made in England in the mid-1800’s and has a poorly made 20th century replacement handle made of clay compound formed over a metal armature. I applaud those who attempt to repair broken ceramics using the same techniques as 19th century tinkers but I would like to strip away the compound and expose the metal handle on this otherwise striking jug.

The original loop handle on my jug would have looked like the handle on the jug below with similar form and decoration.

Photo courtesy of Burchard Galleries

Chinese teapot with hinged lid, c.1770

March 21st, 2015

This globular form teapot with hand painted floral decoration in cobalt blue and polychrome enamels was made in China for export to the European market in the mid to late 1700s. It measures 5-3/4″ high and 8-1/2″ wide from handle to spout.

After the teapot was dropped it was taken to a china mender who added an unusual crimped edge pewter sleeve at the base of the spout. Additionally, a hinge was added to attach the lid to the pot. I have many examples in my collection with metal chains added to keep teapots and lids together, but this is the first time I have seen an elaborate hinge of this sort.

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Florence Upton decorated child’s mug, c.1905

March 14th, 2015

This English child’s mug, boldly decorated with characters created by illustrator and author Florence Kate Upton (February 22, 1873 – October 16, 1922), is made of porcelain and measures 2-3/4″ high. Her ubiquitous Dutch Dolls and Golly characters are represented here with strong graphics and in full color. The underside has an embossed lithophane image of a girl and boy, visible only when held up to the light. The printed registration mark on the underside dates this mug to 1905.

Second only to the Teddy Bear, the Golly was the most popular toy in Europe in the early 1900s. Although Upton wrote Golly as a lovable, benign character, the image and original name Gollywog eventually became a controversial figure, sparking outrage. Without a patent, other manufacturers copied the likeness and portrayed the character as lazy and evil, becoming a negative symbol and an embarrassment to the black community. The Guardian wrote an article in 2009, “From bedtime story to ugly insult: how Victorian caricature became a racist slur”, explaining the controversy.

Perhaps, during an all-doll tea party, the fragile mug was dropped by its young owner and the handle snapped off. Rather than being tossed out, the broken mug was taken to a china mender who reattached the handle using two metal cuffs and rivets. I am surprised that I don’t come across more examples of early repairs on children’s items, as I imagine many tiny hands had trouble grasping the precious ceramic toys they were given to play with, long before the invention of plastic.

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Chinese jug with silver handle, c.1770

March 7th, 2015

This Chinese export baluster form milk jug with sparrow beak spout was made during the Qianlong period (1736-1795). The Mandarin style decoration of a child visiting a doctor or dentist while his parents look on is finely painted in the Famille Rose palette using polychrome enamels. Jug measures 5″ high

It is not uncommon to find 200 year old examples of Chinese porcelain with inventive repairs, as they were used daily and accidents happened. What makes this one extra special is the finely made silver replacement handle. It is more common to find replacement handles made of tin with support straps or bronze wrapped with rattan. But judging by the fineness of the repair, the owners were most likely wealthy and took their broken vessel to a silversmith who made this delicate replacement handle. The jug also has a metal staple stabilizing a crack near the rim, further proof of its early, rough life.

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This jug of similar form and decoration shows what the original handle on mine would have looked like.

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Photo courtesy of eBay

Honeycomb pattern goblet, c.1860

February 28th, 2015

I don’t like to use the term “make-do” to describe antiques with inventive repairs, as I feel it diminishes the artistry and integrity of the piece. But this EAPG (Early American Pattern Glass) 5-1/2″ tall goblet in the Honeycomb pattern is a make-do in the best sense of the word, a fine example of Yankee ingenuity. Made in America between 1850-1870 during the Industrial Revolution, machine-made pressed glass examples such as this were mass produced and available to all.

Though more affordable than hand blown glass counterparts, this goblet was still cherished enough by its owner to be repaired after it broke. In this case, after the base snapped off, a simple unpainted and overscaled wooden base was attached to what was left of the broken stem. The result is a bit comical, as we are left with a short, stout goblet with an extra wide wood base that resembles half of a yo-yo.

This example with its original base shows what my goblet looked like before it took a tumble.

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Photo courtesy of eBay

Stapled octagonal crab plate, c.1750

February 21st, 2015

Most people I encounter are astonished the first time they see broken ceramics held together with staples. I was, too, at a young age when I saw a small stapled dish. The first words uttered are typically “how did they do that?” If you type that very question into my search box on this page, a post from a few years ago will pop up and help answer that much asked question.

Sadly, most pieces repaired with staples, aka rivets, are not signed by the menders so we have no idea who repaired them. I have seen 18th century English and American newspaper advertisements and calling cards from tinkers and jewelers offering their repair services, as well as early prints showing “china menders” with their tools. Today, antique ceramics with staple repairs are not uncommon but many rare examples are quickly disappearing, as restorers will carefully remove staples, fill the holes and erase all evidence of the original “honest” repair. Although I have dozens of examples of early staple repair on a variety of forms, I still get a thrill when I encounter a rare or unusual example untouched by a modern restorer.

This porcelain plate was made in Jingdezhen, China, during the Qing dynasty (1740-1760) and measures 8-1/2″ in diameter. It is decorated in the Famille rose palette and features a large blue crab, crayfish, flowers, and a border with gilt detailing. Early in its life it was dropped, cleanly breaking it in half. An experienced china mender reattached the plate using six small evenly spaced brass staples. Repairs such as this are so tight and secure that the plate can be returned to the dinner table without fear of it coming undone. That is, unless another clumsy person lets it slip from his or her hands.

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Another example, nearly identical to mine, is in the permanent collection of the British Museum. It was donated in the 19th century by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, described by Marjorie Caygill, historian of the British Museum, as “arguably the most important collector in the history of the British Museum, and one of the greatest collectors of his age”.

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Photo courtesy of the British Museum

Derby teapot with silhouettes, c.1790

February 7th, 2015

This striking oval porcelain teapot was made by Derby in England at the end of the 18th century and is decorated with neo-classic silhouette figures in black and gold as well as elaborately painted gilt decoration on the handle and spout. It stands 4-1/2″ tall and is 7-1/4″ wide from handle to spout and has a faint puce mark on the underside, dating it to around 1790.

It is not uncommon for teapots to lose their original lids over the years and I suppose that’s what happened to this pretty pot. In this case, a tinsmith fashioned a well fitting replacement lid in the style of the original. The raw metal was painted to match the original white body and gilt decoration was added. The resulting inventive repair is well done, hard to detect and allows the teapot to be used once again.

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The New York Ceramics & Glass Fair, 2015

January 24th, 2015

Each year I look forward to attending the New York Ceramics & Glass Fair at Bohemian National Hall, for me the highlight of New York’s Winter Antiques Week. This year the fair has expanded to three floors of exhibition space, including more glassware and contemporary pieces than ever before. I enjoyed seeing Martyn Edgell and his booth chock full of colorful English ceramics, including shelves of dazzling mocha ware pottery. Leon-Paul van Geenen was back this year with a few examples with early repairs, as well as white Delft pottery, many pieces included in his recently published book, Delfts Wit. A handful of early white plates were give a modern spin on Japanese Kintsugi repair, done by artist Bouke de Vries.

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Leslie Ferrin of Ferrin Contemporary had two booths of fine ceramics by leading international contemporary artists, including Vipoo Srivilasa, Sin-ying Ho, and Stephen Bowers, as well as modern examples incorporating inventive repair, which I was especially drawn to. Paul Scott, an English artist, has done extensive research and has published articles on the fascinating subject of early staple repair, incorporating it into much of his work. Francis Palmer and Mara Superior showed large vessels with Kintsugi repair and faux staples, making their pieces even more unique.

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It was heartening for me to see so many examples of antique and contemporary ceramics with inventive repair in such a prestigious venue. It gives me hope that beauty in imperfection is now being embraced by more artists, dealers and collectors than ever before.

Napoleonic War commemorative mug, c.1814

January 18th, 2015

I am a big fan of commemorative pottery, particularly ones with strong graphics and bright colors. Whenever I spot an example from afar in a shop, I secretly hope that it has some sort of inventive repair. Sometimes I get lucky. This creamware mug with printed transfer and hand colored decoration boasts the message “Peace of Europe Signed at Paris May 30, 1814.” Made in 1814 by Bristol Pottery in England to celebrate the signing of the peace treaty marking the end of war with France, this mug measures 4-3/4″ tall and 5-1/4″ wide to end of handle. Check out the details in photos showing the Bristol Pottery mark, the factory in the background, and ships with wood crates no doubt filled with pottery for export.

This mug possesses numerous battle scars, including chips, cracks, and the loss of its original loop handle. After the handle broke off, a 19th century tinker replaced it by drilling through the body and attaching a metal replacement with two square fasteners. To add insult to injury, the replacement handle is covered in rust, a result of further neglect. But if this mug were in “perfect” condition, I would not have purchased it.

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This example, with different copy and overglaze coloring, can be found in the collection of the British Museum in London.

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Victorian silver server, c.1890

January 11th, 2015

This ornate sterling silver serving piece has a carved mother of pearl handle with an etched monogram. It was made during the later part of the Victorian period (1837-1901), most likely in England. Although I can not say for certain, its asymmetrical form suggests it to be a jelly server. It measures 8-1/2″ long.

At first glance you may wonder why this seemingly “perfect” server ended up in my collection of inventive repairs, but upon closer inspection, you can spot a subtle repair. The mother of pearl handle cracked in half at a fragile stress point and was reassembled using pins and a silver mount. Also, the neck has been replaced with two wires clumsily soldered to the blade. In my opinion, the pattern of the four pins on the front and the wonderfully shaped brace on the back only enhance the original design, adding a unique charm to this piece.

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