Chinese ceramics at the Frick, Pittsburgh

May 19th, 2019

Last year while working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I sublet a house in Point Breeze, just around the corner from The Frick Pittsburgh. I immediately bought a membership and whenever possible I attended exhibits, walked the grounds, and ate in the cafe.

Last August, to coincide with the opening of Crazy Rich Asians, I posted about the ceramics I used as set dressing in the movie. I received a comment from Sarah Hall, Chief Curator, Director of Collections at the Frick, who mentioned that the collection included a pair of large peach vases, similar to ones I used in the film. Soon after, I met with Sarah and Dawn Brean, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts, to discuss an upcoming exhibit Dawn was planning and asked if I would like to write a piece about ceramics used in Crazy Rich Asians.

Flash forward 6 months and I am pleased to report that the exhibit recently opened and will be on display as a part of their permanent collection through early 2020. If you are in the area, please stop by and check out the wonderful exhibit, as well as the rest of the museum and beautiful grounds, and Clayton, the former home of Henry Clay Frick, industrialist and art collector.

Chinese mug with double handle, c.1770

May 5th, 2019

This Chinese porcelain cylindrical mug with chips, cracks, and a missing handle survived many a battle over the past 250 years, as is evident by its multiple scars. It was made during the Qianlong Period (1736-96) and measures 5 inches high, 9 inches wide from handle to handle. The delicate decoration, including three oval cartouches with flowers and figures in a port scene, is hand painted in the Rose Mandarin palette using pink, blue, green, orange, and brown enamels.

It seems many years ago a tinker took pity upon the poor broken mug and brought it back to life by fashioning not one but two metal replacement handles. Supported by horizontal and vertical support bands, the handles have the remains of the rattan supports and woven rattan coverings. This just proves that although you may be old, wounded, and weary, you may still be able to live a long life with dignity.

This mug, of similar form and decoration, shows what the original handle on mine might have looked like.

Photo courtesy of Bukowskis


“Stippled Medallion” glass spooner, c.1865

April 28th, 2019

I purchased this humble flint EAPG (Early American Pattern Glass) spooner in the Stippled Medallion pattern many years ago while visiting Mark’s aunt and uncle in Framingham, Massachusetts. It was made by Union Glass Company in Somerville, Massachusetts, just 20 miles northeast of Framingham, between 1860 and 1870. It measures 5.5 inches high, and has a diameter of 3.5 inches. After its original base snapped off, a simple turned wood base was made (most likely at home) and the spooner was returned to the dining table and put back to use.

I spotted it at an antiques shop, sitting on a shelf among other “perfect” glassware, with a faded price tag of around $10. I assume it had been gathering dust on that shelf for many years, watching as dozens of nearby pieces came and went, feeling as an orphan must feel seeing others taken away to start a new life. It’s a good thing I found it and added it to my collection, or else it might still be sitting on that shelf, anxiously eying each customer and hoping “maybe this is the one…”

This example still has its original base and shows what mine looked like before the crash.

Photo courtesy of eBay

Coffee pot with metal lid, c.1810

April 21st, 2019

This pearlware pottery baluster form reeded coffee pot was made in England in the early 1800s. It is decorated with delicate flowers and ribbons in shades of pink, green, and orange and stands 9.5 inches high. The underside is marked with a tiny orange leaf.

At some point in its early life, the original lid broke or went missing and the base cracked. Fear not, as a tinker made a tin replacement lid with a brass knob and attached a tin band around the base to repair the crack. Want another cup of coffee? Yes, can do!

This coffee pot with similar form and decoration, shows that the original lid on mine would have looked like.

Photo courtesy of Etsy

Gugelhupf cake mold with wire net, c.1830

April 14th, 2019

I have seen hundreds of tinker-repaired metal replacement handles, spouts, and lids on antique ceramic teapots, jugs, cups, and sugar bowls throughout North America and the UK. What is harder find are cracked items with woven wire repairs, which I have come across in Italy, France, Germany and Eastern Europe. The most famous region for wire repairs is Slovakia, where tinkers still repair broken vessels and embellish new ceramics in the same manner as it was originally done, hundreds of years ago.

This heavy hafner earthenware gugelhupf cake mold was made in Germany during the Biedermeier period (1815-1848.) It measures 10.5 inches in diameter and is 4.25 inches high. The woven wire encases the mold like a net, keeping the broken pieces in place. Although this type of repair is certainly not invisible, I feel the additional layer of what appears to be a fish net adds much to the visual appeal of the piece.

Wire repair in Slovakia dates back hundreds of years…

…and is still being done there today.

Chinese Imari cup with dated silver rim, c.1720

April 7th, 2019

This porcelain cup was made in China during the latter part of the Kangxi period (1662-1722) and measures 3.25 inches high. It is decorated with flowers and leaves in the Chinese Imari style and with a palette of blue, iron red, and faint traces of gilt highlights.

At some point in the middle of the 1700s, the cup broke and was brought to a silversmith, who not only rejoined the 2 broken halves using 3 metal staples, but also added a thick silver rim with scalloped bottom edge. The rim is inscribed: “In Remembrance of a Friend,” along with a date “Jan 8, 1766” and monogram “JM.” Sadly the silversmith did not leave his hallmark, but I am thrilled he added the date. Now, if only we knew who JM and his friend were…

This example shows that my cup may have had a matching top.

Photo courtesy of Bidspirit

Inventive repairs at the Grand Palace, Bangkok

March 31st, 2019

This past December, Mark and I took a trip to Bangkok, Cambodia, and Laos, in search of regional culture and delicious food, but not necessarily in that order. While walking the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, I stumbled upon several large ceramic planters, each with large metal staple repairs and banding wires. I imagine only I, and the fine readers of this blog, would have noticed these make-do’s hiding in plain sight.

Sir William Nicholson still life painting with broken jug

March 24th, 2019

Odd, but I keep coming across the same pottery jug, each with a different replacement handle. It’s just one of those things. There must have been a design flaw in the manufacturing of the handles, rendering them too delicate to support the jugs once they were filled with liquid. I feel bad for the unsuspecting original owners, but am selfishly glad that there are so many examples out there with inventively repaired replacement handles.

This jug was made in England, circa 1850, and stands 6.5 inches high. It is decorated with pink lustre and polychrome enamels and has a stag and spotted hound in relief, along with an impressed mark EPSOM CUP, on one side, and a pair of stags on the reverse.

I was delighted to come across this image of an oil painting: Cyclamen, by Sir William Nicholson, 1937, which features the same Emsom Cup jug with a missing handle. I wonder if he ever had the handle replaced and if so, I hope to find it and add it to my collection.

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And finally, here’s a jug with its original sprig-form handle, showing what my jug looked like before the handle snapped off.

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

Click here to see an earlier posting featuring a pair of Epsom Cup jugs with metal replacement handles.

Rescue me, Marie Kondo!

March 17th, 2019

Today I take you behind the scenes and into my office/research center/storage room, where the bulk of my collection of nearly 600 examples of antiques with inventive repairs is kept. As you can see, the shelves are filled to the rafters. Mind you, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Fearful of the direction I seem to be heading in, I took an online test, Hoarding Symptoms Test for Adults, and thankfully discovered that I am not in danger of becoming a hoarder. At least for now.

Pin cushion, c.1900

March 10th, 2019

For years I have resisted buying a single make-do pin cushion, the most prolific of all repairs. I am not a fan and think of them as the “Hummel figurine” of the inventive repair world. I will admit that on a couple of occasions, during moments of temporary insanity, I came close to buying one for my collection. But last year at an antiques shop in Pittsburgh, I caved in and bought this sad little example.

At home repairs like this are the most common type of make-do, with endless variations made from broken household items, including oil lamps, goblets, and candlesticks. This one was most likely made in America during the late Victorian era and stands 4.5 inches high. The base is made from a broken cut glass decanter stopper and the top is made from a ball of fabric covered in colorful wool yarn. I will try hard not to succumb the next time I encounter another one of these.

This collection of make-do pin cushions, each with a different glass base, have yarn tops similar to mine.

Photo courtesy of Live Auctioneers