Finding restoration in porcelain is increasingly difficult as the quality of restoration improves. I would like to point out that restoration is not something to fear; it is something to know about. Frankly, I find old porcelain with the Chinese gilt lacquer repair to be far more interesting that those without it. When judging an item, it is important to evaluate the quality of the restoration and the quality of the piece instead of dismissing it for having a restoration.
Over-spray: This is generally a solid color air brushed over the porcelain. I have seen it in many colors but mostly in white. I have seen it stenciled around the polychrome decoration with great care. I have seen it covering the entire back of a plate. It is used to cover cracks and replacement pieces of porcelain. Overspray can be extensive, sometimes covering the entire back of a plate. It is harder to recognize than a small area of over spray because the effect is such a uniform surface. I have seen wonderful restorations where the restorer took the time to add a clear coat over the white base coat which resulted in a high gloss to match the porcelain.
Ways to check:
1. The quickest way is to clink a piece of metal lightly against the surface. Paint always gives off a dull sound relative to porcelain.
2. Bright light – either in the form of a single bulb LED or a lamp shining through the plate – will show you the translucence of an item. If there is any over-spray it will appear as a substantially darker area. If it is opaque and you are sure it is porcelain, then it has been sprayed all over.
3. Using magnification will enable you to see the tiny splatter or the stencil edges on the item.
4. Bite it. A quick nibble of a suspect plate will tell you quickly that the item is sprayed because the feel on the tooth is unmistakably dull. (Though this is not for those of weak constitution!)
Epoxied Repairs: Modern restoration epoxies have come along way. New epoxies no longer show up as bright lighting bolts under a black light. Nor will a cursory glance or tap with the finger reveal what it once did. The new materials do not expand while curing, so breaks and hairlines are very tight when finished.
Ways to check:
1. Strong glancing light often reveals a subtle change of reflectivity in the surface.
2. Single bulb LED flashlight (best to use in a dark room) will shine through all but the thickest porcelain and give you a much better chance of seeing a crack. The crack will be a dark line.
Fabricated Elements: On many ornate pieces of porcelain, whole chunks have fallen off or been broken and for one reason or another not glued back on. Many times if an object is valuable then the owner will feel it is reasonable to have a restorer fabricate a whole piece and replace it. I have seen replaced chunks made out of Tin glazed earthenware (think delft), plaster, molded epoxy, and unrelated pieces of porcelain.
Ways to Check:
1. Keep your eyes out for over spray, as the new chunks are over-sprayed to hide them, particularly new pieces of handles.
2. Again, translucence is a key to finding chuck of plates or platters that have been replaced.
3. Sound: Check for the tell-tale dead click sound when a piece of metal touches the item.
4. Lastly, what you think might break off often does, so check all those finials, handles, lids, wing tips, fingers and the like. Few thinks very small and fragile last hundreds of years in perfect condition.
Repainted Enamels: On many early pieces of porcelain have, the over-glaze enamels chip off. These are often repaired by restorers — much like in-painting an oil on board.
Ways to Check:
1. Magnification is the key: in bright light and under 10x, it can be easy to pick out the differences between the old and new enamels.
Fear not! Once you are aware of these things (or found a high quality dealer who is) they are just part of owning the piece, no longer a taboo or mistake.
by Sean Blanchet