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. 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:

    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
    Best regards

  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:


    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:

    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,

  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

    The above discussion on an early repair may be of interest to you. This repair is fairly straightforward and does not have a particularly high high level of inventive character, but as one of the commentators indicated it may speak of the time is was made.
    Windows into the past are always fascinating.
    You have a great site. Thanks for all the interesting “repairs”.

  27. Deborah Polk says:

    Just happened on your site while researching a 3 legged flower shaped bowl. It is irradescent pink with roses inside. It has gold around the top and on the legs. It is stapled across the bottom of the bowl from side to side and a chip on the top has been stapled. I could send you pictures if you can help me with information.
    Thanks for any help you might give me.

  28. sure, please send photos

  29. mareth warren says:

    I am a sculptor working with ceramic and porcelain shards found on beaches on the west coast, USA. I have some pieces of staple-repair in my private collection and have always been intrigued with them. They are family pieces. I have been collecting shards for many years at the same beaches and now have enough pieces of the same cup or bowl or plate to start putting back together. I am wondering if you have any source material for the art of staple repair, videos, articles, books – anything that will help me in this project. Thank you so much for anything you can send my way.

  30. What a wonderful repair! Thanks for sending the link and for your support. Hope you continue to enjoy Past Imperfect.

  31. Vita Wells says:

    Hello Andrew,

    Of course, I love your website. For some years I collected antique and ancient textiles. The repairs were intriguing, taught me as much about technique as studying unrepaired work, and revealed volumes about the people who made them.

    Unrelated, except through my interest in our relationship with material objects:

    I’ve begun a project to cultivate repair as a social value. While focused in the East Bay, I’m working in multiple venues. Culture manifests across multiple venues. One of those is museums. (See organizing thoughts below.)

    In preparing to approach our local museums I’m researching what’s been done with repair in other institutions. I thought you might be able to offer some leads.

    I know about these:

    I appreciate your passion. So much.

    Thank you in advance,

    Central Thesis:

    We come to understand a culture better through examining its relationship with repair.

    Examining repairs from across time and various cultures, the exhibition explores:
    • What is repaired?
    • By and for whom?
    • Technologies of repair?
    • Why is it repaired?

    We are confronted with the questions:
    • What is our relationship with repair?
    • Is that what we want it to be?
    • What can we do about it?

  32. Hanneke says:

    Hello Andrew,

    In Holland (where I live) it was customary for many years (maybe from the 1950’s) to fix a broken spout of a coffee/teapot with a piece of ‘plastic spout’. Are you familiar with this kind of ‘inventive’ repair? It’s not old, but still… I can send a picture if you like?

    Regards, Hanneke

  33. Maureen says:

    Does anyone know what kind of “cement” is used to afix metal collars to things like glass bottles, hinge/collar set onto lidded powder jars, etc. It’s that white, hard dry opaque stuff that is only placed under the metal portion. Thanks

  34. Leslie LeFevre-Stratton says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Loved your most recent posting about the table leg – very funny!
    Ah …. back in NYC!
    Enjoy the holidays!

  35. Roger says:

    I have an antique 4 legs wooden stool that was used for milking cows.This stool must have 50 nails and pieces of wood added for repair over its long life. When i look at it it gives me great emotions, thinking of the person for whom it was so important to keep it alive, day after day as a working
    tool or maybe as a faithful friend.
    If you ever want photos just ask and tell me how to send.

  36. I would love to see photos! Thanks

  37. Tony says:

    I bought a large goose plate but the repair staples are badly rusted. One staple is on its last legs and one staple is missing. Do you know of anywhere I can buy staples for a big old goose plate please ?
    Tony, Ireland.

  38. Hi Tony, Unfortunately I do not have a source for buying staples, as they were custom made for each piece repaired. Try contacting a local metalsmith who might be able to create replacement staples. Good such and please share your photos with the new repairs. I am sure my readers will be interested to see the results! All best, Andrew

  39. hi there, I have been trying to research some jugs I’ve found out so far that they are crysanthemum ware from 1815, I am looking to restore these jugs, each has had quite sever damage to the mouth, they are cream jugs wrapped in a dolphin or serpent with images of hunting scene, horses and dogs on the outside (relief) D you have any advise, I am from the Manchester Wigan area.thanks for your great bog. x

  40. Lucy Baker says:

    I have a couple of damaged pieces you may like to see , one very large Chinese planter full of staples was handed down to me is especially “flawed but held up after several generations of kids in my family broke it to “pieces, it’s still intack though I don’t think I’d try using it as a “punchbowl or to put Koi or goldfish inside! Lol! It has a lot of “character” though! If you’d like pics, I’ll be happy to share!

  41. Yes, Lucy, please share! I’d love to see your photos. Thanks, Andrew

  42. Hello Angela,

    I just came across your message and I don’t believe I responded. So sorry! If you are still looking to repair your jugs I would try to locate an antiques restorer in your area. If there are none nearby, try contacting local antiques shops who might be able to steer you in the right direction.

    Best of luck!

  43. Hello Vita,

    Sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you (2+ years, yikes) and please know I usually respond much quicker!

    Thanks for your message on my blog Past Imperfect: The Art of Inventive Repair. And thanks for the link to Culture of Repair, which I just subscribed to. Wonderful work.

    Not sure if you still need anything form me but please let me know if you do.

    Wishing you all the best during these crazy times…

  44. Astrid Zimmermann says:

    Dear Andrew,
    searching the internet for some information I found your blog. More than 30 years ago, on a local fleemarket in China I came across an old repaired teapot made from clay. I fell in love right away and bought it. Somebody must have loved this teapot a lot since the damage obviously was major. But with tin and a lot of skill they repaired it beautifully. Since long I look for some information about my now very much treasured souvenir of my academic year in China. Maybe you can help. If you are interessted I can send you some pictures.
    With regards and all the best from Germany

  45. Richard Bruce says:

    Hi Andrew Such a pleasure to share in your collection. As regards the metal clip on handles & the HANDLE KIT!! You are probably aware of the custom of making up clip on handles to convert a tin can into a cup? the top is as the shower jug repair with two claws gripping the top rim of the utensil (wide spaced to give stability while the lower point of the handle is riveted thru the container. In the handles I have seen in NZ the lower part of the handle is grooved to grip the rim of the tin, the device depends on its own shape to SPRING grasp onto the top& bottom of the tin. This is a well known idea (if you know it) I have a modern version designed to clip onto a fruit jar for student drinking marathons(of course) alum extrusion marked ‘STIENWAY!” naturally! cheers “bottoms up”Think its American>