Archive for September, 2013

Nelson commemorative jug, c.1805

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

This colorful “Dutch” shape jug with transfer decoration and overglaze washes was made in Staffordshire, England to commemorate Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died in battle at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. After he was killed by a French sniper, Nelson’s body was preserved in brandy while being transported by ship back to England for burial. Nelson become one of Britain’s greatest war heroes and is memorialized by many London monuments, including Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.

In 1797 during the unsuccessful Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Nelson tragically lost an arm. The ship’s surgeon, James Farquhar, wrote in his journal: “Compound fracture of the right arm by a musket ball passing thro a little above the elbow; an artery divided; the arm was immediately amputated.” Legend has it that within 30 minutes of treatment, Nelson was back in battle commanding his troops.

It seems this jug, too, has been to battle, as sometime in the mid-1800s it’s original handle snapped off and was replaced by a metal one. The itinerant tinsmith did a fine job fashioning a simple yet sturdy loop handle with thumb rest and small flourish at the bottom, which might have been his signature embellishment. It’s a shame that Lord Nelson couldn’t find a replacement for his own missing arm, as seen by the empty draped sleeve in his famous portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott.


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This jug, also commemorating the death of Admiral Nelson and with similar form, shows what the handle on my jug might have looked like before it was wounded in battle.

nelson jug

Photo courtesy of Toovey’s

Inventive repairs in Colonial Williamsburg

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

This past July I took a drive down to Virginia to visit Colonial Williamsburg, where I spent some time with Angelika Kuettner, Assistant Curator of Ceramics and fellow enthusiast of antiques with inventive repairs.  Angelika was most generous with her time and showed me recent acquisitions as well as some of her favorite pieces on permanent display in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum’s collection and research center. After going behind the scenes to view some recently acquired items, we walked through the public galleries, where I was pleased to see many examples of inventively repaired items and, in addition, a couple of historical references within the exhibit.

One large showcase, filled with ceramics, includes a small group titled Repaired Goods, with this explanation: “Ceramic tablewares could sometimes be mended in a manner that permitted continued use. The metal handle on the small Chinese porcelain cream jug, for example, is an early replacement that allowed it to function properly. Similarly, the silver mounts on the rim and foot of the German stoneware jug were no doubt applied to cover chips…Badly broken ceramic plates and dishes, however, were tossed on the trash heap, or, in some instances, mended with rivets so that they could be displayed but not used.” I believe many stapled pieces were indeed still used for years after they were mended and not just displayed.

Another well designed display, Good Housekeeping, has a sign which states: “It was the responsibility of the mistress of a well-to-do household to oversee the proper care of her family’s fine possessions…If broken or damaged, objects were often repaired rather than discarded. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many a craftsman in both Britain and America earned a substantial part of his livelihood mending and cleaning older metal, ceramic, and even glass objects. The shop records for the Massachusetts silversmith Paul Revere, for instance, document that he repaired a glass dessert pyramid, probably by attaching silver bands and rivets to damaged areas. More frequently, metalsmiths in Williamsburg and elsewhere took out dents, replaced missing parts, and cleaned and polished vessels of all sorts.”

I am grateful to Angelika, and the others in her department, for their appreciation of inventively repaired items, and for displaying them proudly alongside the “perfect” examples in the museum’s vast collection.

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Photos taken at Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum

Agate surface decorated teapot, c.1785

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

This handsome redware urn-shaped teapot was made in England in the late 18th century and stands 4-1/2″ tall. Its confetti-like agate surface decoration is inlaid with ochre, orange, brown, olive, blue, and white bits of clay. Encircling the middle is a slip-filled checkered rouletted band of pumpkin and brown. All that remains of the original handle, which must have broken off sometime in the 19th century, is a molded bearded mask terminal, set ominously askew. Growing out of its forehead is the lower part of a pewter handle, fashioned by a tinker to replace the broken original. This replacement follows the form of the simple loop-shaped original.

I found this piece in Maine a few years ago and was reminded of it during a recent trip to the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, where I spotted a teapot on display with similar agate surface decoration, shown in the last image below.

This teapot is another example of agate surface decoration, and although it differs in form and coloring, the checkerboard band decoration is similar to my collaborative whiteboard template.

agate teapot

Photo taken at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT.

Chinese bowl with metal bands, c.1800

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

This porcelain bowl was made in China during the Jiaqing period (1796-1820) and measures 2-3/4″ tall, 6-7/8″ in diameter. It is decorated with scrolling lotus blossoms in cobalt blue underglaze “pencil drawn” decoration, a style using cross hatched lines instead of color washes to show shading. It has a blue seal mark on the bottom, as well as an early collector’s inventory label.

At first glance this fine bowl appears unscathed, dare I say “perfect,” showing no noticeable sign of damage or repair. But upon closer inspection, one can see a subtle yet most effective inventive repair. Over 150 years ago when the bowl dropped and broke in half, two simple bronze bands were attached, one along the top rim and the other encircling the base, holding the broken pieces tightly together. Due to the exceptional quality of the repair, I believe a skilled 19th century jeweler was responsible for this delicate work, as the top band’s thickness is an incredible 2/16″ with invisible seams. But most amazingly, not a drop of glue was used to mend this bowl.