Bohemian glass pokal, c.1851

January 19th, 2020

I bought this striking alabaster glass pokal with sterling silver overlay from a dealer a few years ago and have loved looking at it ever since. It was made in Bohemia, today the Czech Republic, in the middle of the 19th century and stands 16 inches high. Etched on the lid is “Andenken von (Souvenir of) G.W. 1851”. If anyone knows what G.W. stands for, please let me know.

Over 150 years ago, a well constructed pewter replacement base was added by a skilled metalsmith after the original glass base broke off. The muted pewter tones compliment the tarnished silver decoration on the pokal. 

Make-Do’s at the movies

December 29th, 2019

As I work in the film industry as a set decorator, it’s nearly impossible for me not to scrutinize the decor when watching a movie or television series. Although it is fun to see what other decorators have done to help establish the characters, it has become a bit of a curse, as on occasion it distracts me from following the plot. As my eye wanders away from the actors and on to the set dressing seen in the background, I have spotted some interesting inventive repairs along the way.

Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker, 2019. Kintsugi helmet.

This past week I saw the latest Star Wars movie and immediately noticed a kintsugi helmet worn by Adam Driver as villain Kylo Ren. Jen Glennon writes in Inverse: “The Rise of Skywalker is finally here, bringing with it the return of Kylo Ren’s nouveau-Vader helmet, shattered during a Last Jedi tantrum. In the months leading up to the release of Episode IX, keen-eyed fans compared the visible red cracks on Kylo’s helmet to the Japanese practice of kintsugi, or mending broken objects with visible seams of gold or silver, transforming a break into a unique design element.” So glad to know that kintsugi has made its way into one of the world’s most popular movie franchises and is being seen by millions of people.


Mary Poppins Returns, 2018. Cracked Royal Doulton bowl.

After the Banks children accidentally break their mother’s beloved Royal Doulton bowl, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) takes the childern and the broken pieces to her cousin Topsy Turvey (Meryl Streep), a “woman who can fix anything,” to repair the damaged heirloom. Naturally, an elaborate song and dance involving broken antiques ensues.


The Crown, 2016. Mug with early replacement handle

During the first season of the sumptuous series The Crown, I spied with my little eye a Chinese porcelain covered mug with early metal replacement handle in Winston Churchill’s yellow-walled sitting room. The room is filled with many other pieces of antique ceramics, paintings and fine furniture. I wonder if Churchill actually owned antiques with inventive repairs or if the set decorator, Alison Harvey, added it in to help comment on the character.


The Piano, 1993. Make-do finger.

*Spoiler alert! This fantastic make-do hand prop (literally) is integral to the plot of Jane Campion’s masterful movie starring Holly Hunter as Ada McGrath. The polished silver steampunk appendage, seen at the end of the movie, allows Ada to play her beloved piano once again.

Happy Holidays!

December 22nd, 2019

Wishing you a SMASHING Holiday Season!

Flynt Center, Historic Deerfield, MA

December 15th, 2019

Last August I stopped by Historic Deerfield, a beautifully preserved Colonial Village in Northern Massachusetts, and found many a make-do scattered throughout a collection of ceramics and glassware on display at the Flynt Center of Early New England Life.

Here are some of my favorite pieces:

Thanksgiving dinner with stapled Canton platters

December 2nd, 2019

This past Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving in Massachusetts with Mark’s family. The table was beautifully set with 18th century blue & white Chinese porcelain and decorated with small orange gourds and bright red berries, a lovely contrast to the deep cobalt glaze.

After the meal, I was delighted to discover that the turkey was served on two large platters, each with multiple early staple repairs. These platters, along with much of the tableware, were used by Aunt Carol’s family for generations. Most impressive was that after over 250 years of use, the repairs remain watertight. Nothing makes me happier than to see antiques with inventive repairs still in use today!

Child’s Whieldon style teapot, c.1755

November 24th, 2019

They say big things come in small packages and this tiny Staffordshire creamware teapot with double make-do repairs is no exception. It was given to me last year by my friends Abe and Frank, who like me, share a love of 19th and 18th century antiques. I was surprised that they were able to part with it but I’m certainly glad they did.

This teapot was made in England in the mid-1800s and measure 2.75 inches high, 5.25 inches from handle to spout. It is decorated in the style of Thomas Whieldon, with a sponged pattern in dark brown, green and yellow underglaze. It was most likely part of a larger child’s tea set, which might have included a coffee pot, creamer, sugar, cups, saucers, and plates.

It is not surprising that fragile playthings for children ended up broken. I mean, what would you expect? Although this survivor is chipped and minus its lid, it’s a miracle that it is still around after over 260 years. I especially love the double make-do repairs, as a metal replacement handle with support bands and tin spout were added after the original ones broke off.

The original handle, spout, and lid on my little gem most likely resembled those on this miniature teapot of similar form and decoration.

Photo courtesy of Ruby Lane

Westerwald jug with pewter bands, c.1800

November 3rd, 2019

This Westerwald stoneware pottery jug with pewter mounts was made in Germany, c.1800. It is decorated in an ornate scroll-like relief pattern with cobalt and manganese glazes. The pewter bands around the neck are a later addition to help stabilize multiple cracks, and the original pewter top has the engraved initials of H. R. It stands 13.5 inches high, 5.5 inches wide.

I would love to find out more information on this striking jug so please post any insights you may have.

I’ve had trouble finding an accurate “before” photo so instead I’ve included a wonderful German oil painting c.1675, featuring an early stoneware jug, similar in style to mine. Now, if only it had an early inventive repair…

On the hunt for inventive repairs at The Art Institute of Chicago

October 13th, 2019

I am currently working in Chicago, IL on the Aaron Sorkin movie The Trial of the Chicago 7. The last time I was here was in December 1984 (I was an infant) working on a new production of A Christmas Carol for the Goodman Theatre. My most vivid memories from then were how cold it was outside and how much I enjoyed the Art Institute of Chicago. Eager to return to the museum, I spent a good part of yesterday taking in as much as I could. Naturally, I was on the hunt for anything with an inventive repair, and found a few choice examples.

Goblet (Pokal). Germany, c.1660. A silver disc was used to secure a broken stem.

Container Depicting Warriors, Rulers, and Winged Beings with Trophy Heads. Peru, c.180 B.C./A.D. 500. Before this enormous container was more recently restored, I imagine animal sinew was laced through the large holes, hundreds (thousands?) of years ago.

Bencharong (Five-Colored) Ware Covered Jar. Thailand, c.1850. Look closely for a braided rattan band securing a large crack. I have never seen this method used before and am eager to find more examples.

Although the Chinese export porcelain depicted in this painting by Raphaelle Peale, c.1822, appear to be intact, I’d like to think that when the artist dismantled the still life tableau, all of the fragile pieces fell to the ground and had to be stapled back together. Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Chinese export tea bowl with staples, c.1770

September 29th, 2019

This porcelain tea bowl was made in China, c.1765-1775, during the Qianlong Period. It measures 1.75 inches high, with a 3 inch diameter opening and is decorated in the Mandarin palette, with polychrome enamels featuring a couple on a terrace. 

After the fragile bowl dropped and broke into 3 pieces, it was repaired most likely by an itinerant “China Mender” using 3 small metal staples, aka rivets. Unlike most examples where the rivet holes penetrate the surface about half way, these holes have been drilled all the way through.

I bought this, along with a mismatched saucer, from one of my favorite shops in London and was told by the owner “… we bought this little saucer yesterday with a lovely metal ‘plate’ tinker repair and supporting bar, the bar is etched with little line decoration, I don’t think I have ever seen a repair like this before, it does come with a bog standard riveted tea bowl, we would split them but the bloke we bought them from told me they had been together on his mother’s mantlepiece for at least 70 years, and I am a bit sentimental like that.”

The last photo shows the tea bowl along with the saucer, which I posted earlier.

Antiques Roadshow, May 2010

September 15th, 2019

I’ve been watching the Antiques Roadshow since it first aired in 1997, hoping to spot anything with an inventive repair. I finally got my wish in May 2010 with a Native American Tlingit ladle made of mountain sheep horn, c.1800.

The ladle was appraised for $75,000 in 2010 and I imagine it has appreciated in value over the past 9 years.

APRAISER: These would have been considered family heirlooms of the Tlingit people. That’s obviously not the shape of an original horn.
GUEST: Yeah, I wondered, is it carved out?
APPRAISER: Boiled until the horn fabric is soft and malleable, and then pressed into a mold, tied down and left to dry, and then it retains that shape. Right in the middle, there are little cracks and what we might call staples.
GUEST: Uh-huh.
APPRAISER: Although the material is not metallic, it’s baleen, from a whale’s mouth.
GUEST: Wow.
APPRAISER: So where it began to split, we see a Native repair.
GUEST: That’s cool.

Images courtesy of Antiques Roadshow