The riveting art of repairing broken china

Have you ever wondered how broken china was repaired before the invention of epoxy adhesive? The answer lies in those ugly metal 'stitches' you may have noticed on beautiful antique ceramics. But how and why was this done?

Mystery tools

The House Steward at Felbrigg Hall discovered convincing evidence in a Cromer antique shop.
What he found was a polished mahogany box containing the kind of tools which might have belonged to a medieval dentist: a drill, diamond sparks, rough metal files, a pair of pliers, a hammer, wire, solder, plaster and cement.
By chance, a few months later, a conservator acquired the instructions for 'riveting' glass, china and earthenware from an article published in the ‘Pottery Gazette’ in 1908. The tools illustrated are almost identical.

Prized possessions

China was a highly prized commodity, and households could not afford to throw broken pieces away, especially if they were decorated with family coats of arms.
This is why the ‘dentist’s kit’ was employed using drills and metal wires to sew the broken bits together.
Before the invention of epoxy resins for aircraft manufacture during World War II, all adhesives were derived from natural materials and so were soluble in water.
Though the method of repair may look crude to our eyes, it ensured that the mended crockery could withstand continuous cycles of warming in ovens before meals, followed by washing-up in kitchen sinks.