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Ceramics and glass conservation

conservator working on ancient ceramic dish

A Greek Kylix undergoing final retouching after full reconstruction.

We are responsible for National Museums Liverpool's vast collection of ceramic and glass objects. Many of the objects that come under our care date back thousands of years and are representative of many different cultures. The purpose of each object also varies and can be utilitarian, ceremonial or decorative.

Ceramic and glass material covers a wide range of sub materials. Ceramics range from low fired earthenware to high fired porcelain, and glass from potash glass, to lead glass. It is essential for the ceramics and glass conservator to have a good understanding of the constituents that make up ceramic and glass objects, as the care and treatment may vary according to composition.

Responsibilities of the department range from care of collections, to preparing material for display or loan to other museums. We also carry out interventive conservation treatment which can include simple cleaning techniques to full reconstruction of objects, using current conservation techniques and materials.

Assessing treatment

conservator examining saucer under a microscope

A ceramics conservator examining a saucer under the microscope. The saucer, which was made for first class passengers on the Titanic, is being condition checked. 

The work carried out by ceramics and glass conservation department is foremost to ensure that ceramic and glass objects within National Museums Liverpool’s collections remain in a stable condition, so that they can be enjoyed by future generations.     

We look after a range of different objects. Prior to any practical treatment taking place, conservators work with curators to assess each object and only then are decisions made as to the type of conservation treatment to be carried out. Many things are taken into account, including the current condition of the object, the purpose of the treatment, and the environment the object is likely to kept after treatment, for example will it go on display or in storage.  

The condition of objects is checked prior to display. By keeping detailed reports of the condition of the collection we are able to monitor and treat any deterioration.  

Treatments vary according to the history of the object. For example an 18th Century piece of ceramic which is of decorative importance might be cleaned of all surface dirt and where repairs are necessary, they are carried out to be unobtrusive to the original decoration. Click on the thumbnails below to see a pair of Wedgwood vases before and after conservation. 

The pair of Wedgwood vases, after conservation. Treatment has been carried out to remove the staining and stabilise the unstable sections of the rim. One of a pair of Wedgewood vases, before conservation treatment. The vases were very dirty and unstable. The other Wedgwood vase in the pair, before conservation treatment. Both vases were very dirty and this one had cracks which were stained and were unstable.

By contrast, a ceramic vessel excavated from an archaeological site might contain traces of food, burial material or other surface accretions.  Minimal treatment and cleaning might be applied in this case, in order to preserve any historic information that remains on the surface.  Click on the thumbnails below to see how an earthenware pot was conserved.

An archaeological earthenware pot, prior to conservation treatment. The fragments were re-bonded to give an idea of how it would originally have looked. There is a large support fill made of plaster, without this the structure would be unstable. The white fill in this case was recessed below the surface and coloured slightly different to the original, so that you can tell the difference between the original and replacement parts

Further information

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