Early repairs in ancient Italy

March 20th, 2022

I just returned from a memorable trip to Italy and in addition to eating my way from Rome to Naples, I spotted quite a few examples of inventive repairs. Although I didn’t find many make-do’s hiding in plain sight in the many museums I visited, I did find these outdoor repairs.

In the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum, I came across a pair of partially buried earthenware jars with multiple cracks at a thermopolium (cook-shop.) Both jars have multiple butterfly inlay repairs made from what appears to be wood or resin.

As you can imagine, the ruins of Pompeii are home to many early repairs. I mean, the city itself is practically one giant make-do. Long ago, most of the important artifacts were moved to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, yet I was still able to find a few early repairs left behind.

This large cylindrical jar with a rolled rim and a decorative foot was sitting next to a trash receptacle and showed many ancient battle scars. Overscaled iron rivets have done a terrific job of holding it together for hundreds of years.

The Fountain of Mercury in region VI of Pompeii is host to a quartet of enormous iron clips.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Roman Forum, where I found a bird sitting serenely on a carved chunk of stone with large metal braces.

Parian jug with ornate handle, c.1850

March 6th, 2022

This unglazed Parian porcelain cream jug measures 3.5 inches high and is decorated with a molded relief design of water nymphs. Although I believe it was made in the mid-1800s, it has a later Art Nouveau feel to it. It is marked on the underside with the incised number 463.

There’s no doubt this is a lovey little jug, but it would be nothing without its ornate replacement handle, added after the original broke off. Typically I find small jugs such as this with simple metal tinker-make handles, so I was surprised to see such a fancy replacement. I appreciate the ingenuity of the repairer for attaching the top part of the new handle over the remains of the broken original and adding a band around the base, rather than drilling though the jug. Even though the original handle was much smaller than the replacement (see last photo), I much prefer the juxtaposition of the two material mashed up together on my unique jug.

Here’s an example of the jug with its original handle intact.

Photo courtesy of eBay

Glass whale oil lamp with carved wood base, c.1840

February 20th, 2022

This colorless free-form conical glass whale oil lamp was made in North America, circa 1840, and stands nearly 5.5 inches high. Oil from the sperm whale was a popular lighting fuel source in the 1700s to early 1800s but by the mid-1800s, it become expensive and scarce. Lard oil, a cheaper and more readily available option, was used as a replacement but gave off a lower source of light and emitted a bad odor. By the 1860s, kerosene was found to be the most popular and practical oil of choice and lamps were redesigned to accommodate the new lamp fuel.

Over 150 years ago, the original base broke off this fragile glass lamp and a 3 inch square wood replacement was added. Repairs such as this were most likely done at home, using found objects at hand. Wear from holding the lamp at the base indicates that it was used for many years after it was repaired.

This intact lamp suggests what the original base on my lamp might have looked like.

Photo courtesy of Invaluable

James Giles decorated teapot, c.1760

February 13th, 2022

This small white porcelain teapot has traveled the world since it was first produced in China in the mid-1700s. Soon after it was made, it travelled by cargo ship to London where it was decorated with flowers in polychrome enamels at the James Giles Workshop, circa 1755-1765. I purchased the teapot a few years ago from an antiques dealer in Virginia and now it resides in New York. It measures nearly 5.5 inches high, 7.5 inches from handle to spout.

You all must know by now that the reason I purchased this lovely teapot is because of the make-do repair. After the original spout broke off, over 200 years ago, a jeweler attached an elegant silver replacement. Repairs such as this are not uncommon, and I image jewelers kept a stock of silver spouts ready for action for when the inevitable happened.

This teapot with similar form and decoration by James Giles suggests what the original spout on my teapot would have looked like.

Photo courtesy of eBay

Bangkokian Museum, Bangkok

February 6th, 2022

In December 2018, Mark and I took a trip to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. In addition to taking in the lush landscapes with breathtaking views, I spied many an inventive repair at local museums and historical sites within in the cities. The small and charming Bangkokian Museum in Bangkok boasted a few make-do’s hidden in plain view. In addition to spotting the more familiar staple/rivet repairs on ceramics, I was surprised to find an unusual repair on the glass display cabinet, effectively and efficiently using wire and metal coins to stabilize cracks in the glass. Definitely a first for me!

© Kevin Miller / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo courtesy of Bangkok Info Guide

Glass candle holder with rustic metal repair, c.1870

January 29th, 2022

This pressed flint glass candle holder measures 7 inches high and has a hexagonal base. Although I have difficulty accurately dating glassware, I believe this is an example of American flint glass from the mid to late 1800s. If anyone can more accurately identify it, I would be most appreciative.

As you can imagine, the reason I purchased this candlestick is because of the rustic iron metal replacement top and bobeche, added many years ago when the original broke off. The repair is crude and most likely done at home, using whatever materials were at hand. Looks like it did the trick, as the top reveals many years of continued use. Bravo to the unsung repairer who made-do, allowing the broken candle holder to function again, rather than simply tossing it into the waste bin.

This pair of similarly shaped candle holders suggest what mine might have looked like when it was still intact.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Bordewich

Lowestoft pearlware jug, c.1780

January 23rd, 2022

I spotted this diminutive pear-shaped sparrow beak cream jug in an antiques shop in Dublin, Ireland in 2015. It is decorated with the Pagoda and Trees pattern, hand rendered in cobalt blue underglaze. A delicate lattice border embellishes the inside rim. Made in England by the Lowestoft factory around 1775-1785, the jug stands 3 inches high and has an incised number 4 on the underside.

After the original handle broke off over 200 years ago, a tinker made a metal replacement supported with horizontal and vertical straps, much like an iron girdle. Although the small but mighty jug is in poor condition, I felt compelled to rescue it and bring it back to America, where it now lives among friends with similar battle scars. 

This jug with similar form and decoration shows what the original handle on mine might have looked like.


Photo courtesy of English Porcelain Online

Ice cream serving spoon, c.1900

December 11th, 2021

I scream, you scream, we ALL scream for antique ice cream serving spoons with inventive repairs!

This heavy metal ice cream serving spoon with wooden handle was given to me nearly 10 years ago by my friend Bibiana. It was most likely made in the US, circa 1900, and measures 14 inches long.

Rather than throw the spoon away after the wood handle split, it was repaired by simply wrapping wire around the broken. Presto! Within just a few minutes of twisting wire, the spoon was able to scoop ice cream again. 


Chinese teapot with puce flowers and metal handle, c.1760

November 21st, 2021

This globular teapot with puce floral enamel decoration and orange bands was made in China in the middle to late 1700s. It measures 5.5 inches high, 7.5 inches from handle to spout. At some point in its early life, the handle broke off and a bronze replacement, with the remains of rattan wrapping, was attached. Most teapots I find have one form or another of metal handle protection to help insulate delicate hands from the hot contents. Many examples in my collection have intricately woven patterns using more than one color of rattan, and I imagine the customer would have been charged more for these finer artistic flourishes.

This teapot with similar form and decoration suggests what the original handle on my teapot might have looked like.

Photo courtesy of Hampshire Cultural Trust

Small blown cordial glass on metal base, c.1800s

November 7th, 2021

This small colorless free-form blown cordial glass goblet measures 4.5 inches high and was most likely made in America or England in the early to middle 19th century.

After the base broke off, a sweet replacement base was fashioned and attached to the remains of the knob stem. I applaud the tinker who made this simple yet elegant repair on such a small goblet.

This similar cordial glass suggests what my goblet would have looked like before it was fitted with its replacement base.

Photo courtesy of iCollector