Much has been said and written about restoration and conservation as a means of preservation and enhancement of damaged ceramics but little has been noted about conserving the repairs. The materials used in restoration have a limited life span before discoloration, the breakdown of adhesives or flaking or cracking of fillers or paints takes place. The life of a repair can be extended by following these fairly simple guidelines in after-care and display.


1) Any functional or utilitarian object, old or new, which has been restored or conserved in any way should revert to decorative display only. Adhesives, paints, and fillers used in their repair are easily degraded by warm liquids, foodstuffs, or detergents and may be toxic if ingested.

2) Soft bodied ceramics including soft paste porcelain, earthenware and archaeological ceramics may be bonded with a water-soluble adhesive. This adhesive will dissolve or soften if the object is washed or soaked in water resulting in separation. To be safe, all restored objects should only be cleaned with a damp cloth or dusted with an artist brush. Once repaired, inquire of your restorer or conservator about the conditions of aftercare specific to your object.

3) Because all restoration and conservation involves the use of synthetic materials and not original clay, glaze or enamel, their aging characteristics are quite different from the relatively inert ceramic materials. The problems of yellowing paints, fillers and adhesives are accelerated by the presence of ultra-violet light. This exposure can be reduced by display out of direct sun- light and installing ultra-violet filters on indoor lighting. To insure the longevity of a repair, temperature and humidity extremes should also be avoided in storage or display.

4) Any objects restored with over-spray or heavily retouched with the common melamine urea formaldehyde paint medium should not be stored in the dark for long periods of time as they may quickly yellow. Over-spray restoration is the most problematic of all repairs and has inherent aging problems due to the extent of "over" restoration extending beyond the area of damage.

5) Avoid handling objects by their handles, rims, finials or sprigged attachments as there may be firing faults, hair-line breaks or previously bonded with adhesives weaker than the ceramic, all of which may fail.

6) Avoid the use of metal spring loaded plate hangers if the piece has been rebonded or has hairline breaks. The pressure exerted across the back face of the plate may separate the old break. Easels or springless plate hangers are preferable in any case. Cushion metal hangers with plastic tubing to prevent chipping at the rim.

7) Accession numbers should be applied in discreet areas over a reversible acrylic base coat. Collection stickers or tape should not be placed over enamel, luster, gilt surfaces or restored areas as damages may result when removed.

8) Any objects which exhibits efflorescence or flaking glazes should be kept at a constant relative humidity of 40%.

Unfortunately, more damages are caused by many well intentioned restorers in the process of "restoration" than the problems they profess to correct. Verify the course of treatment before consenting to restoration. Are cleaning agents and repairs reversible? Will any original material be removed or damaged in the process (i.e. drilling or sanding)? Will original surfaces be obscured? Doing your homework is the best insurance of all in preserving your ceramics and their repairs.

Bradshaw & Whelan Restoration and Conservation of Fine Ceramics