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.

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

  1. Marcia Pevsner says:

    Love your blog! Love your collections.

  2. Jim Horne says:

    What a great idea, I too have been attracted to these ” poor relations ” and have a small collection.
    Best
    Jim

  3. Eric Stott says:

    I just today picked up a small 1830’s english pitcher with seven rivets- and I thought it was a lot for one piece! Your wonderful site has opened my eyes.

  4. Julia Fraser says:

    You are brilliant!

  5. Glynis Patterson says:

    When did the staples stop being used? I have a teapot that my husband inherited from his grandmother. I think it’s older than something she may have purchased and suspect it came from his great-grandmother. It has staples holding the handle on.

  6. admin says:

    It seems like staple repairs died out by the 1950’s, as more sophisticated methods of repair were developed. Too bad, as I am still intrigued by the method and the results! Thanks for your interest and keep checking for new posts. I have many more items with staple repairs, as well as research photos and illustrations.

  7. Glynis Patterson says:

    Thank you.

  8. Helen says:

    I have recently inherited a white rose bowl from my mother which has been repaired using staples. It has always intrigued me but I don’t know anything about it. Are you able to help with identifying the manufacturers marks please?

  9. angela says:

    Hi
    I wanted let you know I featured your blog and some of your really wonderful collection in a post:

    http://bit.ly/bk0LaX

    What a great idea for a blog. (I absolutely love and covet the repaired glassware especially.)

    Next I’m looking into mended textiles…

  10. I stumbled accross your web-site and I think it is wonderful. We ahve recently reopened our Ceramics Galleries here at the V&A Museum in London. These house over 30,500 pieces of ceramics! In a gallery devoted to ceramics materials and techniques, we have made a display about historic repairs of ceramics.
    I particularly like your clip-on replacement handle. Could you mail me the patent number please?

    Best wishes,

    Reino

  11. Bob Vogel says:

    Mr. Baseman,
    Thank you for giving a name to something I’ve been casually collecting for years. And, thanks to today’s NYT article, I’ve discovered someone who finds uniqueness in the mis-used and discarded. There is truly “beauty in the eye of the beholder.” I am now a fan.

  12. Liz Kellar says:

    Found you through the NY Times article. So glad to see I am not the only one fascinated by repaired pieces. One of my favorite finds is a vintage 1920s office chair repaired with a giant welded iron bracket…

  13. I was delighted to see the NYTimes piece. In 1984, I did my first exhibition of repairs. I’ve repeated shows on that theme at least 4 more times over the past years. Among the most enthusiastic viewers, were the museum conservators, and they have continued to follow my growing collection. I hope you’ll check our web site, http://www.amesgallery.com I will send you an article from Country Home, August 1988. It takes it’s title, On the Mend, from our exhibits. Thank you and please thank Ms.Lippke for bringing your collection to light.

  14. Andrew Davidson says:

    Congratulations on the NYTimes piece – bringing your fascinating collection to a wider audience. I look forward to seeing the Copland teapot appear in the blog sometime in the future.

  15. Hello Sir, What a find ! your website on Make Dos – prefer the other name of Museum repairs though. I have come across a Japanese Blue and white Plate that also has a repaired cracks with 15 staples keeping this rather large plate together. I have tried to ID this plate to give it an age but so far have failed to ID the period. I believe it may be Meiji 1868-1912 period, but could be way off. With such an old repair technique it could be even older. I was wondering if you would allow me to email you some clear photos of the plate, to see if you recognise the period it was made. There is no maker`s mark to make Identification easier. Would you please have a look at it for me?
    Regards
    Bernie from the UK

  16. matt says:

    Andrew, Great article, great collection, great eye! The dog is my favorite, it is almost impossibly poignant.

  17. David says:

    Hi Andy-Great article and eye-opener. I have 2 staple-repaired plates which I now have a renewed interest in.
    Don’t you think that some of the objects were repaired with a certain conscious artisan’s sense in addition to practicality? I think your Delft ewer is such an example.
    Will look forward to your blog (probably my first).
    David Cohn

  18. Frank Thomas says:

    How may I subscribe to your wonderful blog?

  19. Stephanie says:

    Hi there – I live in Knysna, (South Africa), and have a couple of staple repaired china pieces inherited from my parents (a Japanese milk jug and a small Woods Ware tureen). Would you perhaps know if there are any collectors in South Africa who might find these items of interest? Your site is quite delightful and I’d like to find a good (appreciative) home for these pieces. Many thanks & regards – Stephanie

  20. Helen says:

    Hi,
    I’ve recently been buying ‘stuff’ from a local auction house in Amersham. A couple of things in job lots are not perfect but quite old, including some late 18th / 19th century teapots in cheap job lots (£30 – 40). I love them, one is a Wedgwood drabware with a spaniel finial and slightly sheared off spout (I didn’t notice at first) another is a chinese export teapot (apparently!) but the pictures on it are quite worn. However I love them because they have come so far and must have been loved. That is why I your collection is so unique, not throwaway like todays pots but repaired out of necessity or because they were wanted.
    …and they are so quirky!
    Helen
    PS – just read the email above from Reino – if you are ever in London – the V&A is a marvellous place to visit – could spend days in there and as you go in – note the bomb damage from the war on the outside of the building!

  21. Jaap says:

    I really enjoyed looking at your site, thank you for creating it! Would you consider the possibility for people to upload pictures to the site themselves, together with their comments? Or send you the images and you post them? I have a couple of pieces with repairs, e.g. a coarse earthenware crock from Austria which has been repaired by weaving a course mesh of wire around it, keeping the shards in place. Obviously not waterproof anymore but good enough for dry goods.

  22. Christian Lechelt says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I found your blog by accident, looking for some English ceramics. Then I spent half of the day looking at your collection and reading all your posts. It’s just everything: interesting, funny, exciting and simply amazing! Thank you very much and I recommend your blog to friends and colleagues. I’m looking forward to future posts!

    All the best,
    Christian
    (art historian and porcelain collector from Germany)

  23. don Faits says:

    Hi Andrew, after collecting for nearly 50 years I have just begun to realize the value of my stapled repairs examples, I have repaired stoneware, redware and woodenware, and I thought that I wasquite singular in my appreciation of that art… anyway, I have bee unable to find any desctiption of the actual process of stapling stoneware, there must be more to it than there seems, can you please elaborate for us?

  24. Hi Don, please check out a previous post “How did they do that?” http://andrewbaseman.com/blog/?p=1818 which illustrates the process of staple/rivet repairs. I hope this answers your question. Best, Andrew

  25. Amanda says:

    Hi Andrew, I have been involved in the antique world since I was fourteen (years ago) and have spent many happy hours in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I came across your site whilst researching and have to say it’s a joy. So lovely, to see these wonderful antique ceramics still being treasured. Thank you, Amanda, London, England.

  26. Eileen says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I was researching a etched pattern on a melon shaped, hand blown pitcher when I came across your site! It is now in my favorites and I can’t wait until I can sit down and go through the archives! Nice job and thanks for sharing!!

  27. Mara Kaktins says:

    Hello Andrew,
    I am the new ceramics and glass analyst here at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home. We have conducted excavations on site and uncovered ceramics associated with his mother, Mary Ball Washington. One of my first goals was to take a look at her tea and tablewares. Interestingly, I found ample evidence that she was gluing together broken vessels. We have at least four vessels at this point (an enameled punch bowl in a Cockpit Hill-type floral motif, a similarly enameled teapot lid, and Royal rim platter and plate, all creamware) which exhibit glue residue. In my searching for information on 18th century mending I came across your blog (love it, by the way!). I was wondering if you had any information on 18th century glues or the practice of mending ceramics in general. I’ve noticed that not much has really been published on the subject, captivating though it is. Any information you may have would be very helpful! Thank you, Mara Kaktins

  28. Simply Iowa says:

    Oh My!
    You…are Amazing!!!
    Love It All…
    {and…honey…after seeing Your Collection… You don’t need…One…of two pieces… in My…TINY… Collection {of…2…: ) }!!! WOW!!}
    Thank You…for Posting this…
    Love…Everything… Including Your Web Site!
    {did I say…” WOW” ??? }
    Very Nice!
    Love to Ya!
    Barb C.

  29. Marie-Hélène says:

    Hello,
    These objects are fantastic !
    Your collection and your blog are fantastic too !
    Thank you very much to share.
    Marie-Hélène
    Curator
    France

  30. Diana says:

    I knew I couldn’t be the only person with a soft spot for metallic repairs to china! Thank you so much for this site.

    Living in Los Angeles, I like to buy “pre-broken” pieces because of the earthquakes (and they suit my tiny budget too). Perfect objects are just anxiety-producing and professionally restored pieces, with their infilling and over-painting are somehow quite cross-making. I like to be able to see what happened.

    Thx again for all the wonderful images 🙂

  31. Diana says:

    You might enjoy the Chinese repairs shown here to jade piece and and a neolithic repair to a white agate earring:
    http://www.friendsofjade.org/display/ShowJournal?moduleId=395351&categoryId=27465&currentPage=9

    And the repairs shown here to a Palaeoeskimo soapstone pot found in Labrador:
    http://elfshotgallery.blogspot.com/2010/12/soapstone-repaired-with-chert-bow-ties.html

    I’ve seen many examples here of historic repairs to soapstone pots made by the indigenous Tongva People of Los Angeles using asphalt from the local, naturally-occurring tar seeps together with cordage threaded through holes drilled for the purpose.

  32. Ginger G. says:

    Thank you for validating what I’ve thought for years…that anything that was repaired, kept, loved and used was priceless. I hear so many people disparage items that have the lovely old staples-as if they were poor relations. They “don’t want it unless it’s perfect”. Are any of us perfect after years of living? I don’t think so. To me that adds a little mystery and wonder about each piece. Some repaired pieces are so lovely they should be displayed staple side out!

  33. Jo says:

    A beautiful site, I’m so happy to find it exists.

  34. Moni says:

    Thank you for giving these pieces the publicity they deserve! Every piece tells a story and I have long been quietly spreading the word to collectors NOT to discount or disregard these pieces. In some ways they tell more of a story than a perfect piece, and now restoration processes are not as rigorous, as too much can make a piece look too new, and not used. It’s wonderful, have signed up for your updates. Brilliant. I have a mended elegant pottery jug with staples and treasure it…

  35. frankie haley says:

    I have 4 blue and white china plates with rivet repairs that are looking for a good home, any reasonable offers accepted

  36. Patricia Ferguson says:

    Just to alert you, many of the clobbered pieces on your beautiful website, are probably English, early 19th century, rather than Dutch, and some of the mounts on some of the Chinese Kangxi period and Swatow porcelain are probably Qajar period, Iran, mid-19th century, rather than Amsterdam.

    A really fascinating group of objects! Much appreciated.

  37. Ulrich Linnemann says:

    Hello Andrew,

    a fascinating subject — I have found your blog yesterday by chance. Being a German collector of ceramics mainly of 18th and 18th c origin, I have often found repaired objects and kept some of the pieces as found, i.e. with their antique repairs. There are already some scienetific German articles about the subject – I will send you some objects in the future for the others that are alike interested in your scope of interest. Go on – I stay being curious …

  38. Cindy Redinger says:

    I found my first repaired piece this week at my favorite hard goods thrift store. I can not place the mark, have been researching. I wonder if you or one of your readers may recognize it. OXFORD H & B.

    No dates or numbers other than the above.

    I love this serving dish, and do not think I will be selling it. Maybe a new fetish?

  39. Klaren Mueller says:

    Hello.
    I found your site while researching a make-do memory lamp (originally kerosene oil) that has been in my family for generations. It is quite amazing in that the pieces of glass, small beads, bits of pottery and jewelery are so close together that the ceramic can hardly be seen. I also have a vase of the same style, but it is badly cracked and much of the decorative bits have fallen off, although I still have these pieces. Anyway I can post a photo for more information? Thank you.

  40. […] “Past Imperfect, the art of inventive repair” is curated as a museum of past repairs. Yet, beyond the ingenuity and inventiveness of many of the repairs and the obvious expertise of the collector, one is struck by how the line between repair and creation starts to blur as repairs intervene heavily into the aesthetics, and even the utility, of many objects. […]

  41. Janet cooper says:

    For some reason your Saturday night email/blog stopped coming aways back…I requested once more…please keep sending.

  42. Philip Dixon says:

    Sometimes I thought that I was the only one who liked these items ,I am a “chiney mender” and have been so for 35years often trying to purseude a customer, usually a dealer to keep a piece as it is with metal spout, ratan covered handle or rivets and even on one occasion stop them cleaning a jug with years and years of tobacco staining probably from living in a pub because it was part of its history. I too have bought some of these items just to keep them as they are and just like the cobbler our own items would be the last to be repaired as we actually prefer what I would call an honest repair, maybe just turning the crack to the wall Your site is excellent, I recognise so many of the types of repair and look forward to reading more.

  43. Lisa Orr says:

    Hello Andrew! I am a potter who has always been attracted to repaired pottery. I wonder if you know someone who could teach some potters some of the processes involved in some of these repairs? Maybe a jewelery artist? Thanks for any leads! I really am glad to see your collection.

  44. Mckinley says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I am a final year student in the process of writing my dissertation which is themed around ‘the function of ceramic repair today’. I would be so grateful if you would be willing to answer a few question relating to this topic. The questions are as follows:

    1. In this era of mass production and cheap ceramic goods readily available, why do you think people still repair pottery?

    2. In your opinion when damaged domestic wares are transformed into jewellery, light hangings and other objects are these ‘true repairs’?

    3. Would say the works of contemporary artists’ such as Hans Stofer http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/image_bank/images/192551
    who glues back objects with ‘no nails glue’ and Zoe Hilyard who wraps fragments in silk then sew objects back to original form http://www.zoehillyard.com, a type of ceramic repairs?

    4. Is the the make-do objects equally as valuable as the Kintsugi repairs monetary or philosophically?

    Thanking you in advance for your time and help. Your site has been the inspiration for this paper as it questioned the motives behind ceramic repair today and its function.

    Mckinley

  45. SeaWitch says:

    Just found your blog and so glad that I did. I also adore repaired pieces and have a few myself. My favorite is an Italian decanter that I remember as a small child. It was my mother’s piece and she loved it for the same reasons that I do…it was important to someone enough that they repaired it with staples.

  46. Mckinley says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Many thanks for your speedy reply and your valid points to aid my research. I will definitely forward the completed paper to you and I hope to do a good job in highlighting how amazing the ‘unknown’ restorers of the past were. I attend Buckinghashire New University in the UK.

    Best wishes
    Mckinley

  47. Gene Shepherd says:

    I have been looking for someone to do this type of repair work to some wonderful knobless lids, etc. Can you reccomend a craftsperson who can? Love the blog – I am new. Gene

  48. Nancy says:

    I found a rather large transferware pitcher at auction in New Hampshire about 25 years ago and bought it in spite of the metal staple repairs to the lip and handle. In addition to it being a lovely piece, I loved that someone had thought so much of it to have it repaired to make it useful again. After reading your blog I am pleased to know that serious collectors also value such repairs.

  49. Michael Swanson says:

    “Make Do” repairs fascinate me. Is it the contrast between the repair metal
    and the repaired ceramic or glass? The unimbarassed functionality of the
    repair?
    About 15 years ago there was a new book illustrating the use of wire to
    repair ceramics, I think the word WIRE was in the title. What is that book?
    I’m sure everyone knows.
    Thanks, Mike Swanson

  50. Michael Swanson says:

    Moderation?

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