Set of 5 Mason’s Ironstone cups, c.1835

July 26th, 2014

In the world of collecting, nothing pleases me more than stumbling upon items with matching inventive repairs, and this set of footed breakfast cups and saucers deliver five times over. Made in England by Mason’s Ironstone from 1830 to 1840, these heavy porcelain cups, measuring nearly 3-1/4″  tall, have the transfer printed “Conversation” pattern in the rare yellow scale color way. Each cup and saucer is marked in black transfer on the underside MASON’S PATENT IRONSTONE CHINA.

I purchased the set during my last trip to London from dealer Fergus Robert Downey who later told me that he has a sixth cup with an identical replaced handle, so I am hoping to one day have the complete sextet. I can’t imaging that all of the original handles snapped off of the cups at the same time, unless a particular breakfast got a bit too rowdy. More likely, one or two handles might have broken off, so in order to keep the set looking uniform, the remaining intact handles were removed and all cups were fitted with the same metal replacement. The metalsmith did a fine job, as all of the handles are well matched and expertly riveted to the cups.

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This cup, in perfect condition, shows what the original handles on my cups would have looked like before they took a tumble.

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Photo courtesy of Vanbrugh West Antiques

Georgian Castleford teapot, c.1810

July 20th, 2014

This handsome Castleford-style teapot with neoclassical design was made in England in the early 1800s. It is made of fine-grained unglazed black basalt stoneware with a hinged lid set in a scalloped rim and fastened with a metal pin. It measures 5-1/2″ tall and 8-3/4″ from handle to spout. Two different classical tableaux in detailed relief are on each paneled side, with acanthus leaves at the top and the bottom.

When this teapot was dropped over 150 years ago, the spout broke in two places and the knob came undone. Typically, fragile lids on teapots with this design snap off so I am surprised that this lid remains intact. A 19th century tinker repaired all of the broken bits by attaching two metal sleeves around the breaks in the spout and riveted on a new metal replacement knob. The metal repairs were originally painted black to blend in with the black basalt color of the pot, but time and age have peeled away the paint, leaving a pleasing patina to the metal. There is a later putty repair to a crack on the underside which is useless now, but I imagine it served its purpose at the time it was applied.

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This example with nearly the same form, shows what the original spout and knob would have looked like on my teapot.

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Photo courtesy of D. G. Barsby Antiques

Swallowed up whale oil lamp, c.1860

July 12th, 2014

This whale oil lamp is pulling a Jonah in reverse, as it appears that the “whale” has been swallowed up by its wood replacement base. Possibly made by the New England Glass Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the mid-1800s, this tri-mold pressed glass lamp with thumbprint pattern stands 7-1/4″ tall.

Whale oil was the preferred source of lighting in the early 1800s, and was also used for making soap, textiles, jute, varnish, explosives and paint. It fell out of favor by the third quarter of the 1800s as a result of the development of kerosene oil in 1846, a cheaper and less odorous alternative.

The lathe-turned wood base envelopes more than half of the lamp, which results in a whimsical, yet sturdy, home repair.

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This oil lamp with similar form shows what the original glass base on my lamp most likely looked like before it took a tumble.

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Photo courtesy of eBay

Chinese mug with fireworks decoration, c.1760

July 5th, 2014

In honor of Independence Day I am pleased to share with you a Chinese porcelain mug with a fireworks theme, made for export to North America and Europe during the Qianlong period (1736-1795). It stands 4-3/4″ high and is decorated in the Mandarin style with cloud-shaped cartouches executed in famille rose enamels, and containing floral sprigs and a family tableau depicting a child lighting fireworks.

I wouldn’t be surprised if during the first organized 4th of July celebration in 1777, a raucous party involving the lighting of fireworks forced this mug to fly off a table and crash to the ground, causing its handle to shatter and the bottom to fall off. Rather than throw out the expensive and cherished mug, it was brought to a local tinker who fashioned a sturdy brass replacement handle. To help insulate the handle from its hot contents, it was wrapped in decoratively woven rattan. The bottom was reattached to the body using five large brass staples with a bond so tight it could hold liquid without leaking. As china menders typically did not sign their work, there is no way to know who was responsible for this repair, but I imagine they each had their own signature style in weaving the rattan so that they could distinguish their work from each other.

These mugs of similar form show what the original handle on my mug might have looked like.

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Photo courtesy of Mount Vernon’s Mystery Midden

Miniature Chinese Kangxi teapot, c.1720

June 29th, 2014

This wee globular form teapot was made in China during the Kangxi period (1661 – 1722) and measures just 2-1/2″ high and 4-1/4″ from handle to spout. It has Famille Vert decoration of floral bouquets tied with ribbon in blue underglaze enamel, iron red and green washes, and gilt highlights. The domed cover, decorated with plum blossoms, has a tiny vent hole, just as its full-size counterpart would have. I believe that this was part of a larger tea set purchased for a child from a wealthy family, as only the upper class were able to afford imported Chinese porcelain.

Without seeing the coin to show the lilliputian size of the teapot, I doubt you would have guessed that this is a miniature. The exquisitely crafted metal replacement spout and rattan-covered bronze handle are superior to the more standard repairs seen on most other miniatures. It seems that someone truly appreciated the stellar repair work, as is evident by the teeth marks at the end of the spout. Perhaps this was just a child’s way of saying “This new spout tastes better than the old one. Thanks, and job well done!”

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This nearly identical miniature still has its original handle and spout, but I think my teapot is the more interesting one of the pair.

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Photo courtesy of eBay

Flight & Barr dish with 31 brass staples, c.1805

June 22nd, 2014

This high quality porcelain dish was made in Worcester, England, by manufacturers Flight & Barr. It is decorated with a wide Gothic influenced geometric border in gilt and burnt orange enamel. It measures 11-1/4″ by 7-7/8″ and dates to early 19th century. The underside has a beautifully hand painted mark in puce which reads “Flight & Barr, Worcester, Manufactures to Their Majesties,” as well as a small crown and an incised letter B.

After the dish was dropped and brought to a china mender for restoration, 31 brass staples were attached to make the dish complete and usable once again. The eight holes in-between the six staples at one end indicate that an earlier repair was made to the dish, but apparently they were removed. The second restoration, executed well over 100 years ago, was a success and the sturdy dish was most likely put back in service for use at the dinner table. But I would rather just admire it for the beauty and ingenuity of the repair and display it wrong side up.

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Making make-do’s in Eastfield Village, part 2

June 14th, 2014

I gave a lecture and participated in a workshop, “Period Make-Do’s and How to Reproduce Them,” this past Monday at Don Carpentier’s Historic Eastfield Village in East Nassau, NY. My friend Bibiana also participated in the workshop and took these photos of my presentation and of our work. Instructors included Master Tinsmith William McMillen, expert Blacksmith and Tinsmith Olof Jansson, and Master of all trades Don Carpentier, who guided us through completing handmade tin replacement lids for my Worcester teapot and Bibiana’s banded mocha ware mug.

This was my second workshop on the art of repairing antiques with antique tools and employing the same methods as those of Early American tradesmen. I am eager to continue my education in the craft of tinsmithing and learn more about how my great-grandfather, a Philadelphia tinsmith, most likely created a number of household items with inventive repairs of his own.

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Photos courtesy of Bibiana Famolare Heymann

“Not a make-do” Yixing teapot, c.1890

June 7th, 2014

I purchased this little teapot thinking it was an example of Chinese Yixing ware with an elaborate early repair. It measures 7-1/2″ from spout to handle and is about 4″ high to top of finial. The shape appears to be typically Yixing but the brass lid, spout and horizontal strap, as well as the unusual incised mark on the underside, made me a bit suspicious. Now I feel the teapot dates from the latter part of the 19th century and was made in China for export to the Middle East, and that the mark on the base is Arabic. The brass spout and lid were most likely a part of the original design to help prolong the life of the teapot and not added to replace broken or missing parts. Learning to know the difference between a piece with an inventive repair and a piece that was designed with metal mounts can be a valuable, though sometimes a costly, lesson. Luckily, I did not pay very much for this “not-a-make-do” teapot.

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Worcester “King of Prussia” mug, c.1757

May 31st, 2014

I purchased this first period bell-shaped Worcester porcelain mug from a dealer in the UK who has been feeding my compulsive desire for antiques with inventive repairs for many years. It has a black transfer print of Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia, along with military trophies, an angel blowing a trumpet, and a putto with a wreath. It is dated 1757 under his left arm and marked RH (for Robert Hancock) Worester and an anchor mark for Richard Holdship (a rebus for his last name.) The decoration was taken from Richard Houston’s engraving after a painting by Antoine Pesne.

This is one of those items that if I saw one in a shop in “perfect” condition, I would secretly wish it had an early repair, as I am drawn to strong graphic images on ceramics. Luckily for me, this one has a metal replacement handle, attached by a metalsmith after the original loop handle broke off, as well as two metal staples to help stabilize a crack.

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During my recent visit to the UK, I spotted the same transfer decoration on numerous pieces of ceramics included in many different museum collections. This jug can be found in the fabulous ceramics collection at the V&A.

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This mug, with similar form, decoration, and its original handle intact, shows what the handle on my mug looked like before it snapped off.

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Photo courtesy of Stockspring Antiques

Soft paste parrots teapot, c.1770

May 24th, 2014

During one of my early trips to the UK in search of ceramics with inventive repairs, I found this charming Chinese soft paste porcelain teapot decorated in the famille rose palette and painted with colorful parrots and flowers in polychrome enamels with gilt highlights. The teapot measures 5″ high and is 9″ wide from handle to spout and was made during the Qianlong period (1736-1796) for export to Europe and North America.

After a tumble, the fanciful spout, which most likely matched the bamboo-form handle, broke off and was replaced by a more streamline metal one with a decorative backplate. Curiously, the handle did not suffer from the fall and remains intact. There is no way of knowing what happened to the original lid, but it has been replaced by a 20th century silver plated cover that fits snugly but looks nothing like the porcelain original. If only this pot could talk!

This teapot with similar form shows what the original spout and lid on my teapot might have looked like before it took a tumble.

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Photo courtesy of Earle D. Vandekar of Knightsbridge Inc.