Restoration to pots can be a major concern for most collectors, buyers and sellers alike, due to the potential adverse effect on value.
As a committee member and some time seller, I have been asked many times my opinion as to whether a pot is restored or not, and while I have a knack for spotting it all of us carry with us the perfect tools for locating areas on a pot that have been re-painted, glued and in some cases professionally restored.
The best way to leave an enthusiast in no doubt as to whether a pot has been damaged and restored would be to X-ray it. X-ray can spot differences in the density between the repairing medium and the actual clay and shows cracks extremely well making it a perfect tool when looking for cracks or chips. Fig 1 shows a sugar bowl that had two large chips, filled, re-pained and re-gazed professionally, but on the film the restoration disappears and one can view the original damage.
Now of course no one has X-ray facilities available to them on a daily basis so we turn to the very tools at our disposal ‘24-7’ as they say: our senses.
A few guidelines follow.
1) Look the pot all over.
Concentrate on areas that are easily damaged such as rims, spouts, lids, handles etc, but don’t forget to look over the whole pot and take your time, don’t feel pressured or rushed.
Check handle attachments for signs that they have been glued back on.
The glaze is all-important so look at the light reflections in the glaze, even the best re-glazing will not be quite as shiny and dull areas often indicate this. Glaze is in fact a thin layer of glass all over the pot and as such the reflections should be sharp and crisp. Blurry or areas where reflections change from being crisp to fuzzy should be inspected further.
Glaze is also transparent and you should be able to see the slip or clay beneath, if it is opaque or cloudy it could indicate that a glossy paint has been applied.
Look at the colour of the ground and decoration; unlike looking at the glaze where artificial light is fine, daylight is the best too inspect colours but not always possible at an antique fair or TPCS meeting. Look for variations in colour.
2) Feel the pot all over
Again concentrate on areas like the rims, underneath spouts and any edges. Even the most professional job can be noticeable in temperature. As mentioned above glaze is glass and as such usually has a coolness associated, where most artificial glazes and varnishes, being synthetic, will have a warmer feel and can be less smooth than the original glaze.
3) ‘Taste’ the pot
Naturally I don’t really mean to lick the pot, however, as already mentioned the glaze is all important and an original glaze has a distinct feel to it when touched on the teeth exactly like a drinking glass, or bone china cup. The sensation has been described as a ‘ting’, and anything dull or in some cases ’tacky’ like the feel of varnish or nail polish is easily noticed.
4) Listen to the pot
Any cracks in a pot, and this goes for plates also, compromise the structural integrity of a pot so when struck with a fingernail or a pencil a dull sound is heard rather than a ring like a bell.
5) Smell the pot
Again synthetic glazes and paints sometimes, especially if still freshly done, will have a distinctive smell and I know of no pot that smells. Except for one of our experts who can tell an Aller Vale pot by the smell it has fresh out of the dishwasher, and the butter dish that was obviously used for years and years that had a rancid odour!
Restoration can be a good or a bad thing depending entirely on your personal feelings and what you should do about restoration or damage to a pot is an often-debated topic.
If you are considering purchasing a pot and find it to have some un-declared restoration or damage, then you could have grounds to ask the seller if a discount is in order. In the case of damage, if you wanted to get it restored, you should consider how much this is likely to cost and factor that in to the decision and the price you would be willing to pay. In the case of restoration you need to decide if you like the pot enough to live with it in the current condition and balance that with the price. My own personal feeling is that if you like a pot enough, or it is rare or special to you then sometimes living with some damage is better than not having the pot looking lovely on your shelves, and sometimes the damage is barely noticeable when displayed.
However you feel about restoration the very nature of our beloved pottery makes it prone to damage with soft clay, very brittle glazes and the effect of anno domini, damage is part and parcel of our collecting.
Updated 20 March 2008