For as long as I can remember…

…I have been fascinated with old broken things embellished with interesting repairs. My parents, dealers in antiques since the early 1960’s, would sometimes find items with quirky repairs in box lots from auction houses. Many dealers, like my parents, took these “damaged” pieces home to display, as they knew their discriminating customers were only interested in adding pieces in perfect condition to their collections.

As a child, I was intrigued by an early Staffordshire ABC plate on display in our kitchen; broken in half but somehow miraculously held together by a few metal staples on the back. I remember seeing in museums large urns, vases and platters with numerous rivets, looking a lot like Frankenstein’s monster. Pottery, porcelain and glass items with this type of repair are often referred to as having a “museum repair”, achieved by carefully drilling tiny holes on either side of a cracked surface and attaching a series of hand forged metal staples or rivets on either side of the cracks. Evidence of this type of primitive repair dates back to at least the first part of the18th century.

In my teens, my mother took me to an antiques dealer‘s house, filled with extraordinary folk art. I can still remember my first look at a collection of teapots high up on a shelf, each with a distinctive early repair. It was the first time I had seen handles, spouts and lids replaced with ones made of metal and wood. It wasn’t until about ten years later that I purchased an antique ceramic jug with a replaced tin handle and started amassing a collection of my own.

Determined to find examples for my new collection, I searched through antiques shops and flea market, asking dealers for pieces with early repairs. Although I explained that I was interested in the items for the repair itself, many dealers were offending at the notion that I thought they might be carrying less than perfect goods. Eventually one dealer said to me “Oh, you mean you collect “make-do’s”. I had never heard that expression used before but I soon learned that the term “make-do” is associated with items featuring, most commonly, folksy or crude home made repairs. I soon learned that I was not alone in my appreciation, as I met other collectors and dealers from around the world sharing in my passion for these often neglected antique orphans.

A dictionary definition of “make-do” states: “something that serves as a substitute, esp. of an inferior or expedient nature: We had to get along with make-dos during the war.” The origin is from 1890-95, much earlier than I suspected. As the term seems to have a taken on a negative connotation over the years, I much prefer using the term “inventive repair” to describe the embellishments on the pieces in my collection. In the pictures that follow, you will see examples of my own flawed beauties amassed since my first purchase in 1983.


 

75 Responses to “For as long as I can remember…”

  1. J. James says:

    Stumbled upon your blog while researching make- do whale lamps. Very interesting and now will look at such pieces with a fond eye.

  2. Susan Clickner says:

    Love make-dos, have many. Porcelain, cast iron and brass. Appreciate your collection, look forward to seeing more. Thank you, Susan

  3. Estjer says:

    Hello,
    I have a Cauldon Ltd cup and saucer. I bought it for the same reason you state in your post: the quirky repair. The cup split in two pieces, and was stapled back together so perfectly it can hold water with no seepage.
    I am trying to find more info on this type of repair.
    Love your blog!

  4. elliot says:

    I call them “enhanced” pieces…. many look better after their repairs than they did in original form.

  5. I lived in Africa as a missionary for two years and was given an antique English tea pot by a dear friend from england when I left to return to the states! I broke the handle and created a small chip the other day! My heart broke as the person who gave it to me is very special and lives in england now.We had many fine chats and cups of English tea while I was living in Kenya as a missionary! Can you please fix my precious teapot?

  6. David Richards says:

    I have a remarkable iridised Carnival Glass Bowl that was broken in two and riveted back together many years ago. The remarkable thing about it is the precision of the repair that leaves the front display surface almost perfect with no damage to the original iridescent finish which it is of course impossible to touch up or replace in any way. I’d love to know how this was actualy done on hard but fragile glass. I’d be happy to send you photos of this piece for your inventory – is this possible please?

  7. Kathy says:

    Interesting site I collect staffordshire China 1840’s
    And it is great to see a piece saved and repaired.
    Hard to find some early examples of early China . Is that display still at the New York museum and if so for how long.

  8. Alan Whitehouse says:

    Hi! Found your site just after getting a make-do! A C19 Yixing pot, with history: reached UK via Seychelles, from Singapore. Googling confirms mid-C19 export from China to Singapore/Malaya, where lid was replaced. This, made from brass/copper/tin, search suggests made from stamped brass tray or lid, reusing the metal. Brilliant patina! Agree totally these much better than perfect collectibles! Alan

  9. Juan says:

    Hi, I collect Chinese ceramics from Song, Yuan and Ming;,I buy them in China.I have good examples of very old repairs. I would like to send them to your blog
    How?
    Best regards
    Juan

  10. Richard R Bruce says:

    ALWAYS makes my day to check out your great examples! Somehow it is very significant that for many reasons repairs have been made to damaged items. Love ,fear, reparation,nostalgia,desperation, placation, inventiveness ,determination to keep useful or complete a set. All these emotions flood the mind when we see a repair! How Human… Love your site

  11. N. Brown says:

    I recently purchased my first stapled piece. It appears to be an old imari bowl. However, I haven’t been able to find any information on the age of the repair, or of the bowl itself. Is this something you might be willing to help me with? I can send high quality photos, measurements, anything you need.

    Thank you for your time!

  12. lynda emery says:

    Hello,

    Today at a car boot sale, for £1, I bought a Carlton lustre ware bowl with butterflies on …beautiful ! The back stamp says “Armand ” and it has fishes swimming in a circle on the base, number 2099 and a letter p under that. It also has a large crack and a smaller one, wonderfully stapled together. To my mind, this does not detract at all from its beauty.

    If you can tell me any more about it ( maybe, its age ) , I would be most grateful.

    I like your way of thinking, by the way …best wishes, Lynda Emery

  13. L Diane Higley says:

    So glad I happened on your website while trying to figure out how to fix an old teapot (only one I found to go with my 1920’s china had a broken spout). Thinking about putting brass around it to make it usable and safe. Really appreciate all the time and effort you put into this website–it is such a delight to go through it and see all the inventive things people have done to preserve something they loved or needed. Thanks so much!

  14. Frances Houseman says:

    I recently inherited a large collection (50 pieces) and don’t know what to do with them. Any ideas?? Auction, eBay? ? Some I am keeping but the majority will sit in boxes not being appreciated. ..

  15. Liberty Dime Antiques (Chris) says:

    Hi Andrew: I inherited a love of creative repair and “make do” pieces from my mother who was an antique dealer from the 60s through the 90s. I just picked up a wonderful early Blue Willow platter with some great old staple repairs. I was searching for others interested in similar objects when I chanced on your site. Great stuff!

  16. George Sweeny says:

    Thank you for recognizing and capturing this crafty historical attitude so adroitly!

    I have been looking at a Chelsea grape lustre sugar bowl with make-do handles for a while, but your collection forced me to finally purchase it.

    Glad I did. Thank you!

  17. Hanna says:

    Your repair suggestions are fantastic.
    Saving beautiful objects and still enjoying the display.
    Thanks a million.

  18. Steve Foskett says:

    Today I came across my first stapled piece, a Qing plate with staples very similar to the one one your site “Chinese porcelain plate with staples, c.1710
    Sunday, February 28th, 2016”. With the same repairs with the staples going through the plate.

    I can send photos and measurements, if you wish to use with your site. Any information you can give would also be most appreciated.

    Thank you for your time!

  19. Melanie Amey says:

    Good morning! I’ve just stumbled upon your website after trying to research a teapot I have purchased (within a set). The set is probably only from the 1920s /30s. It’s by Booths. I was drawn to it because of its unusual metal piece on the spout. After reading your website I realise this was a repair which makes me love it all the more! I just wondered whether these are still usable? As I am unsure of the metal I wasn’t sure if it could be toxic? I can email a photo if that helps.
    Thank you for such an informative site.

  20. Katherine King says:

    Andrew,
    Your writing on “make-do” antiques was so informative and I thank you
    for your site.
    From the looks of your New York shop you certainly do not have any
    “make-do” pieces there. Absolutely lovely and how I wish I could
    walk through all of it!
    Thank you,
    Katherine

  21. I repaired china for Taber Willcutt in the 70’s and made and removed many “stapled” pieces for customers. Calling the repairs “staples” is sort of a misnomer as the metal is a solder type product heated and poured into the groves to make the connection looking very like a staple at end. To remove and do an invisible repair meant that the reverse was done i.e. the metal was heated and removed in molten form. Then a new connection was made, sanded and painted.
    The grooves are cut with a diamond dremel wheel and made ready for stapling.

  22. Thanks Marcia for this interesting information. I’d love to hear more about it and will contact you soon. Best wishes, Andrew

  23. Marta says:

    I just love the whole philosophy behind your blog and your collection. “Make it do or do without,” right? I sell vintage housewares and I too have found that most collectors are looking for a perfect specimen. This is especially true selling online. I often keep the imperfect pieces for myself. Still beautiful, still useful, despite a chip or crack or dent. To me, it speaks to how much that object was used and appreciated by previous owners, and I love that feeling of connection.

  24. Margaret says:

    As an objects conservator with a specialty in ceramics, I find the repairs fascinating (and sometimes frustrating to undo!). For extra fun, see the Klein method, which suggests putting a necklace or bracelet on a ceramic figure with a join on the neck or arm…I can send you images….

    Love your website, and collection!

  25. Hello Margaret! Much appreciate your comments and would love to see your images. Thanks, Andrew

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