Maybe you think them kitsch. Perhaps you find them captivating. No matter how you feel about traditional porcelain and ceramic figurines, many of us will purchase or inherit a vintage or antique figurine at some point in our lives. From Dresden to Meissen and from Staffordshire to Hummel, these treasured, doll-like objets d’art were once the height of sophistication in home décor across Europe, America, and China. Cherubs, commedia dell’arte clowns, and kittens. Courting lovers. Bulldogs, baskets, and bright-eyed German babies. Whether their subject is serious or sentimental, antique figurines can demonstrate true artistry and craftsmanship.
They can also fade, chip, and break.
Antique porcelain (and sometimes glass) figurines are some of the most fragile pieces we work with at Mind’s Eye. And truthfully, their delicacy—like those whorls of Dresden lace wrought in porcelain—is the reason they delight us. Like all collectibles, their value is directly tied to their condition, and perfection commands the highest price. You may think of them as yard sale or thrift store staples, but rare pieces from desirable makers, like Lladro in Spain, can cost well into five figures.
If you have purchased a perfect Meissen or Royal Daulton china figurine, how do you safely clean and store it? If you have found or inherited a flawed figurine, how do you repair it? Read on!
How Are Porcelain Figurines Made?
Bisque porcelain is white ceramic poured into plaster molds and hard-fired to a non-translucent finish using techniques first perfected by the Chinese. The ceramic slurry (or slip) is poured into the sculpture mold and allowed to set. When the mold is removed, seams are sanded away and the unfired figurine, called greenware, is painted or decorated. The greenware must be completely dried before being fired for additional durability and shine as any moisture in the sculpture will shatter it in the kiln. Pieces may be fired and polished multiple times and are carefully inspected each time. Even using modern methods and machinery, a figurine can take weeks to finish.
Cleaning And Display Of Vintage And Antique Figurines
Every time you handle these delicate pieces, you risk harming them. The popularity of glass-fronted cabinet displays is driven in part by how well they protect the porcelain from dust. When you do dust your figurines, use a small, soft-bristled brush for hard-to-reach areas or a hair dryer set to a “cool” setting.
To remove stains or stuck-on dirt, fill a bowl with warm water and dish solution. Do not use cleaning products containing bleach or ammonia as they can damage the finish of your figurine! Dip a soft, lint-free cloth into the warm water and soap solution and carefully blot at stains. NEVER IMMERSE YOUR FIGURINE IN WATER. Liquids that enter the interior of the figurine through the steam hole and can form mold. Blot or air-dry, as vigorus wiping can catch delicate detailing and snap it off. We also recommend sitting down and padding any areas where your figurine might fall if mishandled or dropped.
Storing Antique Figurines
If you need to store your pieces, pack them only in white, unprinted fabrics to avoid any dye transfer. While it’s fine to briefly wrap a porcelain figurine in bubble wrap to transport it, bubble wrap is a bad idea for long-term storage. It does not breathe and traps heat and moisture close to the ceramic.
Repairing Antique Figurines
If you snap off a precious piece—or simply smash an entire figurine to pieces—you may think your figurine is now worthless. Our customers are often shocked and delighted by how extensive and subtle repairs can be when handled by an expert! If your figurine has real or sentimental value, do not buy a tube of Krazy Glue and try to “stick something back on.” You can actually make the situation worse! True ceramic repair requires refined cementing and glazing techniques using specialized epoxies, and careful matching of pigment tones and types for surface repairs. Our experts offer valuations and estimates that can inform your decision-making about whether or not professional repair is worthwhile, and can bring your porcelain figurine back to its original beauty.
Let Us Restore Your Antique Figurines Today!
Mind’s Eye figurine repair and restoration specialists are always ready to fix flaws in your vintage and antique figurines. Call 800-428-9800 to discuss your figurine collection with one of our specialists.