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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Who licks old china?

Only the simple and the humble were abroad at that early hour: purveyors of food, in cheerfully rattling carts, or hauling barrows with the help of grave and formidable dogs; washers and cleaners at the doors of highly-decorated villas, amiably performing their tasks while the mighty slept; fishermen and fat fisher-girls, industriously repairing endless brown nets on the other side of the parapet of the road; a postman and a little policeman; a porcelain mender, who practised his trade under the shadow of the wall...
Arnold Bennett – Sacred and Profane Love (1905)

The photo shows a porcelain coffee pot made in Bristol in the 1770s and as you see it is not quite in pristine condition. An old repair uses metal staples and wire inserted into holes drilled into the porcelain. Bennett’s Italian porcelain mender would have employed the same technique. 

I recall an expert telling us that the staples were inserted hot so that when they cooled they contracted and clamped the pieces together. A skilled job, especially when we consider that where staples were used in this piece, the holes were not drilled all the way through even though the porcelain is very thin.

Missing bits appear to have been filled with plaster which you may be able to see in the right hand image just below the lid. These old stapled repairs are quite common, especially for old Chinese porcelain. Presumably the owners still wished to display the piece even though its value would be much reduced. Was the servant responsible usually dismissed I wonder?

Today a restorer would take out the staples and begin all over again with modern adhesives and resins. The repair would not be easy to see without close inspection, as we discovered on a couple of occasions before we learned to be wary.

One way to tell is to lick suspect areas with the tip of the tongue which is sensitive enough to detect slight temperature or texture differences between porcelain and resin. The teeth are able to detect slight differences too. Any dealer will know what you are up to.


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