"Antique" Restoration can be as simple as light cleaning to remove dirt or grime, such as on a painting, or it may include near complete rebuilding or replacement, as might be the case with an old car.   Usually restoration is done to "restore" the original appearance of a piece. Even though restored vessels are included in most every museum collection, some of these practices are frowned on by museums, scholars, and other experts. However, for many collectors there is little value in an antique that is unusable or not able to be displayed.

What is a restorable, partial, or reconstructable vessel? According to archaeologist, William L. Deaver, "Restorable vessels include those from which it is possible to reconstruct the entire profile and those with one-half or, in some cases, as little as one-third of the profile present." (Deaver;1984:273). A partial vessel, defined by archaeologist Robert A. Heckman is "more than 15 percent but less than 50 percent of the vessel is present" (Heckman & others;2000:135) The above definitions give percentages however, a restorable vessel is any amount of a vessel that the entire size and shape can be accurately determined.

A collector needs to know how the term "restored" is applied to a Native American pottery vessel. When a pot is restored it means that it has a percentage that was missing and has been "put back" with modern patching and/or painting. Patching material is usually Plaster of Paris but can be a variety of materials. Cleaning and gluing is usually visible to the untrained eye, thus the action of cleaning and gluing a vessel back together is not usually included in the definition of "restored" even though it is a process of restoration. However, if the cracks are filled with a patching material and painted over, then the vessel's condition is "restored". Simply put, if it is broken and glued with the cracks showing the listed condition should be "no restoration". If the vessel was broken, glued, holes or cracks filled, then painted, now the vessel's listed condition should be "restored".

Working on someone else's bad repair is the worst possible situation for a restorer. A novice may restore a vessel using irreversible materials causing actual damage to a vessel. Often with antique restoration, there are also other issues as well. For example, some collectors value "patina", or also want an item to still reflect an aesthetic that shows its age. In some cases an "over restored" item can actually take away from its value than if nothing had been done to the item at all. Restoration techniques have changed throughout history. Early restoration sometimes was accomplished by grinding a sherd down that did not belong to the vessel and gluing it in place to make the piece look like all the sherds were found.

Carretas Polychrome Jar showing old sherd restoration

(holes were prehistorically drilled for suspension).

Tonto Plain with a Gila Polychrome sherd used for restoration.

Wet clay was also used to patch holes and tends to fall apart if the piece is rinsed under water.

El Paso Polychrome Marriage Vessel showing wet clay restoration.

Some restorers will end up "enhancing" the entire vessel just to hide the cracks which then questions the vessels authenticity. Therefore, restoration should always be left to professionals who are sensitive to all of the issues and who are able to insure that a piece retains or increases its value after restoration.

There are several criteria for what work is necessary and how far to take any work performed. First a conservator must look at slowing or stopping deterioration. An example is when salt crystals form in humid conditions within the pottery and cause surface loss. Conservators usually study the use of materials, archaeology and other disciplines related to their areas of expertise. An example of a poor restoration job is when an Anasazi Tularosa Ladle bowl is "married" to a Mesa Verde Ladle handle. In this case the restorer shows a lack of knowledge in the work being preformed. Conservation and restoration is basically a profession devoted to the preservation of cultural heritage for the future.

The conservator-restorer applies some simple ethical guidelines, such as:

  • Minimal intervention.
  • Use of appropriate reversible materials and techniques to reduce possible problems with future treatment, investigation, and restoration.
  • Documentation of work undertaken.

In order for the conservator to apply their professional expertise accordingly, they must take into account the opinions of the owner and the value and rarity of the object, in order to decide upon an appropriate conservation-restoration strategy.

Restoration techniques and some examples follow:

  • Cleaning (assumed and not noted in condition report)
  • Glued (noticeable and not noted in condition report)
  • Patched/Plastered -This can include cracks filled, chips in the rim done, and/or missing areas filled. (usually done to varying percentages and should be noted - considered fraudulent if not mentioned.)
  • Design enhancement - Sometimes surface area(s) on a pottery vessel are faded or have sustained damage either during use or from erosion. These area(s) are occasionally over painted or enhanced using modern paints in order to "bring out" the original design. (usually done to varying percentages and should be noted - considered fraudulent if not mentioned.)
  • Matte sprayed - Done by some restorers/conservators. Can protect the vessel in some instances when done correctly. However, when done with the wrong material this can be irreversible or even cause discoloration. Over use of matte spray can make a vessel look brand new and is not a natural look for many pottery types. (usually not mentioned)


"Before" photo of a Pinto Polychrome bowl showing area patched.

"After" photo of Pinto Polychrome bowl showing patched area painted.

The original design left "un-touched".

(The two photos are a little off in color due to different lighting.)


"Before enhancement" of a Gallup Black-on-White Pitcher.

The design is barely visible due to erosion and wear on the surface.

"After enhancement" photo of the above Gallup Black-on-White Pitcher.

Before restoration and enhancement photo of a Jeddito Black-on-Yellow Bowl

After restoration and enhancement photo of a Jeddito Black-on-Yellow Bowl


This page last revised: 01/24/2013

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