As curators, we see thousands of objects in varying states of condition. Initially, this ceramic ironstone teapot, with its missing and replaced parts, seemed a likely candidate for deaccessioning. The institutional practice of removing objects from a collection, deaccessioning an object may occur for many reasons, the most likely being deteriorated condition.
While museums are committed to and work tirelessly to save and preserve history, some objects, by the very nature of their materials and construction, inherently break down and deteriorate over time making it impossible to preserve. In the case of our fractured teapot, the damage it sustained seemed to condemn it to a final resting place in the trash.
However, even objects which appear to be broken and deteriorated actually exhibit quite a bit of historical value. It was for this reason that CAP Curator Amy Frey nominated the teapot as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure.
The teapot was probably made in England and imported to America in the latter part of the 1800s. While professional tinsmiths dotted the Pennsylvania landscape starting in the late 1700s, tin products did not become widely available until the mid-1800s.
In her book, “To Cut, Piece, & Solder: The Work of the Rural Pennsylvania Tinsmith 1778-1908,” author Jeannette Lasansky suggests that repairs such as those made to the handle on our teapot could have been the work of a traveling tinker. In addition to selling various necessities and trinkets, tinkers carried a repair box filled with scrap materials and hand tools.
The mismatched tin handle applied to the ceramic teapot was probably done at the request of the original owner. Known today as a “make-do” by collectors, these creative repairs by tinkers allowed the owner to continue using an object either in the manner it was intended, or sometimes in a different context. With the tin handle repaired, our teapot could continue being used to serve tea or would have became a household decoration.
It seems our teapot was trying to tell us something very important from the past after all.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.