Jump to Navigation

Preserving China and Glassware

Hand-painted china from the 1920s.Unlike most other heirlooms, glass and ceramics are not much affected by temperature, humidity, and light. Their biggest risk is from accidents caused by people handling them. Damage also can be caused by improper storage techniques.

The best way to preserve antique ceramic and glass is through cautious handling. Owners often bring out heirloom dishes for special family gatherings, and pieces may be used for serving but never for heating or cooking food. Sudden temperature changes--for example, placing hot liquids in cold containers--can cause breakage.

Glazed ceramics and crystal may be washed carefully, using a mild detergent, in a rubber basin or a sink lined with a foam pad. Handle only one piece at a time, and dry with a soft cloth. Unglazed ceramics should never be washed, and dishwashers are a risk for all valuable ceramics and glassware.

Decorative pieces, particularly those with hand-painted designs, should not be washed. Dust them with a magnetic cloth, but don't use sprays or polishes which can discolor their finishes.

Store or display glassware and ceramics protected from temperature extremes and direct sunlight, which can fade painted designs. Note that crowded shelves increase the risk of breakage. Plates can be stacked if they are protected by paper towels or flannel liners.

Despite the best intentions and proper handling, your heirloom dishes may break. If this occurs, be careful to gather all pieces (even the smallest slivers), wrapping them individually in paper towels, and seek the assistance of a professional conservator for repair.

If you didn't find what you need under the links listed above, we encourage you to explore the following excellent sites offering information on the preservation of collections: