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Repairs:- Updated December 2011*


The vast majority of pot lids were manufactured for household use with most eventually being discarded as rubbish. As a result, many of those unearthed today quite often display some form of damage and are in need of repair.

The outer areas of the flange and rim are frequently affected. Such damage can be repaired reasonably easily by china repairers and evidence is often undetectable to the untrained eye. So be sure to check all aspects when looking at any potential new purchase. Auction houses both online and bricks and mortar are popular places for repaired pot lids looking for new homes. With this in mind let's look at some of the different ways that lids are repaired and how to spot such work.

Types of Repairs

Repairs come in a number of forms and the final decision is usually dependent on the rarity of the lid and the cost involved. The more common lids can be repaired via a plaster of paris or similar material copying the contours of the lid and applying same as a filler. Simple economics warrant no further action and achieve a reasonable restoration, undetectable by most if well done. At the other end of the scale are professional repairers of fine china. Nowadays most often the repaired item has a room temperature glaze applied to protect all of the hard work. However, in bygone days the lid may have been re-fired which can make detection extremely difficult.

The most challenging and often expensive of all repairs are those that need graphics and/or lettering reapplied to the face. It may take two different repairers to accomplish this kind of fix. First, if the physical lid is damaged someone will be needed to repair the ceramic portion and then a second person with a calligraphy or artistic background will be needed to reconstruct the print and/or graphics. Unless this repairer has advanced calligraphic skills it is extremely difficult to reapply lettering in the exact font style, character size and colour consistent with other characters already on the face.

To reinforce the difficulty in achieving a good graphic repair, let's review the images below. The lid on the right was auctioned earlier this year (2011) in the Keith Mortimer Collection. It is also the example pictured in Keith’s latest Pot Lid reference (Pot Lid and Other Staffordshire Wares) #754.  The “Burning Lady” lid is quite domed and when found the two central figures on this piece had been worn away but are now replaced. Upon closer inspection you can see the artist who put these back has not got the pictorial quite right when comparing the left illustration to an un-restored example. This exercise demonstrates the importance of comparing an item for purchase to a known example or that in a good reference book. Unfortunately in this case the reference book image is incorrect.


Detecting Resurfacing or Sealing

After a repairer has spent his/her time fixing an item, the last job to do is to seal the repair so it becomes somewhat permanent. In days past a lacquer was applied. Lids from older collections now surfacing often have areas of yellowing which, often as not, is where the underlying repair has aged and discoloured. Currently a lot of folks are using a two-pack epoxy which very conveniently can be applied at room temperature.

Some ways to look for modern sealants is firstly by touch. When you pick up a pot lid the ceramic normally conveys a cold feel on the fingers or palm of the hand. An area that's had a sealant applied usually doesn't. Quite simply it feels slightly warm and certainly very different to other areas in contrast. After handling lids for a while one gets to know how a lid should feel and when something isn't quite right.

Epoxy can be quite thick and difficult to apply uniformly. Always take a look at the face of the lid from side on and see if the glaze shape is consistent. An easy way to do this is to reflect a bright light on the glaze and slowly rotate the lid on its horizontal axis and look for variations, gradual dips and humps if you like, in the reflection as you turn it.

Of course looking at the lid to see if the surface glaze seems unusually thick is another telling point. Direct sunlight is the best light source as some epoxies have a matt finish and don’t reflect light as efficiently as a fired glaze.

Detecting Cleaning

Identifying if a pot lid has been cleaned is important for the long-term. Many modern cleaning agents contain chlorine and salts. Both of these substances crystallize over time, expand and cause glaze flaking and cracks. If you're unsure of what this looks like, when you pick up a lid and it feels chalky and on closer examination it has a white powdery like substance leaching from it, this is an early stage of deterioration and needs to be attended to immediately. If not addressed, eventually the piece of pottery may completely break down and turn to powder.

Occasionally at shows you may see an older more experienced collector sticking his tongue onto a lid as if tasting, which he was. This is not something I recommend but some swear it’s the best old school way to determine if a lid has been cleaned in acid. Today, soaking the lid in distilled water or rainwater (not tap) is the way to go, using litmus paper to gauge the PH with 7 being neutral. Continue to soak in this chemical free water if there is a considerable variance on either side of the scale.

Some folks utilize the humble toilet cistern to help clean their lids. By placing them directly in same, each flush of fresh water washes over the lids and automatically replicates the process of regularly changing the water. This is a very effective way of flushing out impurities but is only recommended if your water supply does not contain chlorine.

Detecting repairs to Pottery and Porcelain

I start by running a fingernail over the face and sides of the lid looking for any uneven areas that may be obvious to the touch. It’s amazing what this process finds that one’s eyes do not! Any such irregularities call for a prompt and closer inspection with magnification. To my knowledge, the most conclusive way to check for repairs is by study under a microscope. This is an instrument from which no repairer can hide his handiwork. These come in a variety of forms. Some collectors now carry a small USB version with their laptop to assess prospective purchases. A more practical means for a bottle show warrior is a strong magnifying glass and ultraviolet light.

Detecting repairs with Ultraviolet Light

Ultraviolet light is a handy tool that can definitely aid in identifying repairs. Essentially, the wavelength of light a particular lamp emits in turn fluoresces the compound used to repair. While technically that's how it's supposed to work unfortunately there are many variables. These include differing wavelengths of UV lamps as opposed to those that only fluoresce at a certain wavelength band. To overcome this, a lower wavelength lamp is needed. Somewhere at the 250 nm range is optimum. These will fluoresce pretty much anything man-made but are expensive and need to be used carefully with skin and eye protection.

The differing wavelengths of UV lamps is a very important aspect to understand. Several auction houses now advertise an item has been reviewed under ultraviolet prior to sale. Unfortunately if one of these more expensive UV lamps has not been used, the condition report will be less than conclusive.

It should be noted also that not all repair materials fluoresce, however with practice this absence can be used as a tell tale sign just as looking for something that glows.

Additional information and images of what can be seen under UV can be found on the repros page.

Crazing – (minute cracking of the glaze)

Let me start by saying that crazing is not desirable when buying a lid. Most genuine pot lids are over 100 years old and have some degree of crazing depending primarily upon the quality of manufacturing process used, in addition to where it has been stored or found. It is easy to repair a lid but not to put back the crazing, hence areas where crazing starts and stops should be viewed with suspicion. I have not seen a repair to date with artificial crazing but it’s probably being done. I am aware that some repro lids are aged by opening the kiln door while the lid is still hot. Others use chemicals that heavily etch in crazing. Always examine fully to ensure any visible crazing is consistent with other antique lids you have seen of the same age.

Some modern reproduction items display crazing that has been achieved by applying an over-glaze print.  

The following image over emphasizes origional crazing by shining a bright light source cross axis and presents yet another perspective to confirm complete origionality.

Detecting Repairs with Photographic Software – Image Inversion

Most photo editing programs have an option to “invert” an image which involves a normal colour image being viewed as a negative. Most pot lids are printed on white pottery. White is very hard to pick up subtle differences in colour with human eye compensations. Reviewing pot lid images as negatives can be very beneficial, particularly on items online. With so many auctions posted on the net with great images, this type of reviewing is becoming more popular.

One word of caution, looking at images this way does have some limitations. The way a particular photograph was composed is extremely important. Areas of shadow or reflection can show up not unlike repairs. This isn't a big deal as a quick e-mail to the seller asking about a particular attribute, or for additional photos, should quickly clear up any doubt. Let's take a look at a few images and see what some reviewing in this manner can unveil.

The first item is a shaving mug by HP and WC Taylor. I bought this on eBay just before returning to Australia. I was very happy with the item but unfortunately I couldn't see it until I unpacked my container two and a half months after the auction had ended. Having shipped my items in summer from Florida, everything in that sealed metal box became quite hot. Unfortunately, or fortunately whichever way you look at it, the repair became very obvious after the journey. Take a look at the bottom of the inverted image .The cloudy area in black is exactly where the hairline cracks appear. Clearly this item at one time was dropped.

The next is a HP and WC Taylor shaving lid owned by a friend. This item I know has been repaired and I think most folks would pick this up, however when you invert the image the outer rim lettering becomes more evident to have been redone, in addition to the area under the figure’s shaving arm.

The next image is a rare lid and one from Montréal ,Canada. This one had been split in two and rejoined digitally. Again, most advanced collectors will pick this up but for those with a less trained eye, inverting the image shows cloudiness through the transfer from one o’clock to seven o'clock.

The next is a Royce and Easterly lid and jar. This was in an auction house in Pennsylvania towards the end of last year (2010). The first thing of concern is that the colour of the face doesn't match the base. This can sometimes happen with a substitute base, or staining. When you look at the inverted image though, the colour is very cloudy and the face of the lid has been resealed. Sometimes this manufacturer’s lids are known to flake and perhaps that's what happened with this one. If you take a look at the unevenness of the black on the face (cloudy areas) what you should see is a consistent colour all over. Unfortunately when you add a coating to lids, it can be very hard to apply it evenly.

The following is how to navigate to "invert" in Photoshop.

Detecting Repairs with Photographic Software – Modifying Colour Channels

The above is something I found whilst formatting images for this website. Adjusting the various base color channels and saturation can display aspects that the naked eye cannot detect. This particular image retouching was done via adjusting Cyan +20% and reducing Magenta and Yellow 80%. Depending on the image, these values will most certainly change however it is an interesting exercise to try to potentially expose something unseen.

As you can see from the topics above there are many ways that lids can be repaired. A good rule of thumb to use is the rarer or more expensive the lid, the more likely it is to have been fixed. Hopefully you will find some of these techniques beneficial. New ideas most welcome!

Greg Dean