Handling Ceramics Safely

Handling ceramics safely and keeping them secure

  • How to hold large vases, etc.
  • Lids
  • Three piece items
  • Securing on shelves
  • Do not use Sellotape for securing

If you need to tape a lid to an item, do NOT use sticky tapes like Sellotape. These may damage an on-glaze decoration. Use easily removable tapes like Scotch, etc.

Avoid rubbing gilt decorations with the fingers or cleaning utensils. On Chinese porcelain gilt is low-fired on top of other decorations, and is most easily removed. Some experts use cotton gloves to hold items that are heavily covered with gilt; this prevents that skin fat or perspiration adhere to it.

When handling ceramics do the following to keep them safe. Always be aware that some Chinese porcelain items are very thin or fragile, and that repairs may be present that are invisible to the bare eye. Fragile items can break due to careless handling or improper weight application when they are held or carried.

A basic principle of handling ceramics:
Always support the bottom with one hand while the other holds the body.

Don't grasp the smaller vases or pots from above at an outward bent collar or rim. The neck and collar of fragile items are not suitable for holding. Their fragile nature is often the cause that they have been restored.

Large Vases and Jars
Never hold large vases or jars at the neck or rim alone, no matter how strong they appear. Always put one hand under the bottom to support the weight, and hold the neck or body to stabilize it with the other. If very fragile or an item has been restored, holding the neck alone can cause it to break under its own weight.

Tea Pots, Jars
Do not lift them by their handles. Many handles have broken off and were reglued. Modern epoxies can be considered strong enough, but even with modern restoration methods sometimes glues other than epoxy are used for regluing. A reattached handle may not be strong enough to support a jar or pot's own weight.

Lidded Jars, Pots, Tea Cups and Bowls with Lids
Lids are most easily dropped when carrying porcelain. A broken lid decreases your item's value considerably. Always hold the lid when carrying items and use both hands to do so.

Saucers of Bowls and Cups (ring shaped saucers)
When handling ceramics saucers belonging to a bowl or cup are also prime candidates for being dropped. Often a Chinese bowl or cup has both a saucer and a lid. Using only one hand to hold all three is asking for trouble. Consider carrying them individually, One of them may slip. Three piece items where saucer bowl and lid belong together should always be held with both hands or secured with tape carrying them at the same time. Do not use Sellotape for securing. It might damage an on-glaze decoration.

Plates, Chargers
Their width and thin edges make large plates and chargers vulnerable to breaking. It is very easy to knock another piece of porcelain or a hard object with the rim, resulting in a chip or crack.
In addition, a large plate or charger with a repaired breakage may break anew under its own weight if it is held at the repaired part with one hand only. Always hold heavy or large items with both hands.

If you need to stack antique plates or saucers, always place sheets of soft material between them. Enamel, gilt and other on-glaze decorations are easily scratched or rubbed off by the rough foot rim of the plate on top.

Securing your items for display

Placement in cupboards or on shelves

  • Do you have children, a cat or dog or other free roaming pets?
  • Are you living in an earthquake zone?

If your items are likely to be knocked over, or if you live in an area prone to earthquakes, consider using earthquake putty to fix them to the shelf. Items thus secured are less likely to be toppled over by a light touch or vibration. The jelly or putty is removable and can be reused. It can also be used to fix lids on jars, etc.
Do not forget to fix the shelf to the wall, to be sure...

Due to my own experience and that of others earthquake jelly is not recommended for use with ceramics. It seems to be suitable only for glass and similar surfaces.

Do not use earthquake jelly on ceramics with unglazed bottoms. Earthenware and older porcelain may be especially vulnerable. Based on my own experience the jelly penetrates the pores of the fired clay and is non-removable.

Packaging porcelain for shipping

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