More Modest Mid-Century Ceramics and Some Quick Repairs

Updated on December 10, 2017

As I worked on research for my previous article, “Modest Treasures: Five Mid-Century Pottery Companies,” I found myself becoming more interested than ever in vintage American pottery. I made the decision to focus on mid-century Haeger and Royal Haeger, with a plan of adding to my collection gradually—and as economically as possible. Since that time, I have acquired several more Haeger pieces, but, along the way, I found a couple of others by Shawnee and Royal Copley that I couldn’t bring myself to pass up. Meanwhile, I became brave enough to undertake some modest repairs as well.

New Acquisitions

Small Royal Haeger vase in "Gold Tweed" glaze, with larger 1980s Haeger vase behind it
Small Royal Haeger vase in "Gold Tweed" glaze, with larger 1980s Haeger vase behind it

Here are my recent finds:

  • Royal Haeger small vase (#413), a terra cotta color in “Gold Tweed” glaze. The larger vase also pictured is a Haeger from the 1980s which I purchased new at that time.

Elegance by Shawnee, 1950s console dish and candle holders
Elegance by Shawnee, 1950s console dish and candle holders
  • Shawnee Pottery console dish (#1417) and candle holders (#1419). The dish is labeled “Elegance. Sorcery in Ceramics by Shawnee.” This line was not one that I recognized, and to me it seemed to be a departure from the tradition of Shawnee. A bit of research tells me that Elegance was one of several art lines introduced by John Bonistall, who took over management of the company in 1954. From what I have been able to learn, my Elegance pieces apparently date to approximately the late 1950s, as the company closed in 1961. I found them stacked with some other items on a bottom shelf at the local antique mall, covered with dust and a few dead spiders. I didn’t care. I carefully gathered them up and looked them over. They appeared to be in perfect condition, even retaining the original foil sticker inside the dish, and were well priced. They were certainly not what I had set out to find, but they fit my style and I was very happy to discover them.

1992 Haeger panther with broken foot
1992 Haeger panther with broken foot
  • Haeger panther figurine from 1992. I ordered this from an online source, and although it was packaged well, it arrived with the front paw broken off, obviously in transit. It also had some scuff marks, so I decided I would try to repair and refresh it. See below.

Royal Haeger ashtray #138
Royal Haeger ashtray #138

The Royal Haeger line was named for Royal Hickman, an artist and Haeger designer, who created the first stalking panther figurine for the company in 1941.

  • Royal Haeger ashtray (#138). This perfect little ash tray, a gift from my husband, completes the coffee tablescape and provides a color pop for the living room. Never mind that neither of us smoke, Haeger made some great ashtrays!

  • Royal Copley bird. Just another pleasing addition to the menagerie. I have a few other Royal Copley pieces, and I actually wanted this one mostly because it still had the original foil sticker. Royal Copley was, of course, known for many bird figurines as well as other animals.

Modest Repairs

Some of the materials I used for my repairs
Some of the materials I used for my repairs

Rebuilding

I was pleased to find this Royal Copley hen some time ago in a local antique mall. It is, I believe, from the 1940s or 1950s, and is part of a set with a matching rooster (which I don’t have). I picked this up at a minimal price, and even though it had quite a bit of crazing and a broken beak, I liked the colors. Over the years I have somehow developed an accidental collection of chickens for the kitchen, and wanted to display this one on a shelf with some others. First, though, I needed to address the damaged beak. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take a picture before starting to work on it. It had been broken off on the underside, leaving a sharp point on top, and from some angles the breakage was hardly noticeable. I had never attempted to mend pottery before, but it occurred to me that I might be able to rebuild the beak with some air-drying polymer clay that I had on hand. That worked well, and after it dried I smoothed it lightly with fine sandpaper and mixed acrylic paints to achieve approximately the original color. Finally, I found a glass-finish glaze to apply over the paint, which nearly matched the original gloss.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Royal Copley hen with rebuilt beak. No "before" picture is available.Closer view of reconstructed beak
Royal Copley hen with rebuilt beak. No "before" picture is available.
Royal Copley hen with rebuilt beak. No "before" picture is available.
Closer view of reconstructed beak
Closer view of reconstructed beak

Reattaching

When the Haeger panther arrived broken, I decided I wanted to keep it. I really liked it, the price had been rather modest, and I was compensated for the damage. It seems that two-part epoxy is the material of choice for mending broken pottery. Before I learned that, however, I had already impulsively bought a superglue product for ceramics and managed to piece the leg back together, but not invisibly. I didn’t want to try to re-break it and start over, so I searched for something else to try to fill in the seams a bit more and then paint over it, in order to disguise the repairs a bit more and refresh the overall piece. I went over the seams of the break with the thicker glue to try to fill it in better, and allowed that to dry. I then found a chalky paint for glass and ceramics (pictured above), which worked well to cover the original matte finish of the panther. Once I had done that, I was still not happy with the coverage of the break, so it occurred to me that I could fill in the remaining visible gap by working a bit of polymer clay into it. This seemed to work rather well for concealment, probably aided by the original bumpy matte finish of the ceramic piece itself. After the clay dried, I was able to use fine sandpaper to touch up and blend it a bit before dabbing on a little more paint.

Filling In

This small vase, which I have had for years, acquired a couple of chips during a move. While I had my polymer clay out, I filled those in and let them dry. The vase is also a Royal Haeger piece, part of a set which includes a pitcher and other items, but I have only the vase. Using the fine sandpaper once more to smooth and blend the patched areas, I then mixed acrylic paints to try to match the the original color. Such small areas can be disguised a little more easily and blended to look like a slight color variation. Next, an application of the glass glaze completed the project.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Repaired chip in vaseChipped vase
Repaired chip in vase
Repaired chip in vase
Chipped vase
Chipped vase

Discussion

Of course, these are not museum pieces, and I was willing to accept the risks of attempting to mend them myself. Although I am pleased with the results, my quick home repairs are far from professional. Serious professional repairs can be obtained for a fee, involving much more sophisticated techniques. My objective, however, was just to fix these damaged pieces for display in my home to the extent that the repairs would not be noticeable to the casual observer. I would certainly not recommend painting a pristine collectible, for example, as this would adversely affect its value. As I expand my collection and my investment in it, one of my goals will be further exploration of professional restoration materials and techniques for ceramics.

I continue to learn more about the history of American pottery with each new discovery, especially my specific area of interest, that of the mid-twentieth century years. With so many examples out there, and so much information surrounding each piece, this type of collecting is fun and rewarding, and has become one of my favorite hobbies.

Completed panther
Completed panther

Your thoughts are always welcome!

© 2017 KT Dunn

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