Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Collecting lady head vases is great fun! For me, the hunt has always been as rewarding as the find.
Poking through antique malls and people's old attics and basements is my idea of good fun. Give
me a garage sale with vintage items piled in boxes and I am in pig heaven.

But what do you do with these beautiful treasures once you get them home? When I first started
collecting I would display them wherever I had a spare space--open bookshelves, on top of the
mantel, on cabinets, etc. I quickly learned that that wasn't the best choice since we heat with a
woodstove and the dust accumulation was getting to be a problem. Plus, there is always the
breakage factor, especially if you have children or cats that like to climb.

I now keep all of my ladies behind glass in curio and display cabinets built for displaying fragile
items. It has made a huge difference in keeping the ladies dust-free and I have found I only need
to take them out once in awhile to lightly dust them with a soft cloth.

Most of the vintage head vases that have a matte or realistic finish on them can be dusted this way.
I have washed them under running water with a very mild soap (Amway's LOC cleaner is excellent
for this I have found) and a super soft toothbrush. I use ONLY lukewarm water, never hot or cold
as I believe as these items age the pottery becomes more fragile and temperature changes can
cause stress cracks to appear or become more emphasized. Also I have noticed old age crazing can
become more pronounced when using water to wash them, so this is something I try to avoid by
keeping the ladies as clean as I can in the first place.

If you keep your eyes peeled you can find display cases for a pretty reasonable price in the oddest
places. Sometimes antique stores will sell their used cases when they get new ones or change their
floor layout. I found 2 of mine at garage sales for 1/5 the cost of new and I even found 2 of them
for sale in the lobby of a retirement home that didn't need them anymore.

Occasionally you will purchase a lady that needs a real cleaning, either from having had a real plant
inside with dirt or from being displayed in a kitchen or in a home with smokers. In this case I will
wash with the mild cleaner and soft toothbrush on the outside of the vase and I have learned through
trial and error that it is pretty safe to use a gel or liquid rust remover on the inside of the vase to remove
rust and hard water deposits.

I fill the vase about halfway with the rust remover and add room temperature water until it reaches the
rim. I let this sit overnight and then use the toothbrush to see if the stains are budging at all. If not, I
let the vase sit for several more hours or even days to let the solution work. I have never had a vase get
ruined doing this and I have saved many, many vases that looked like they were beyond help.

Another solution to extreme hard water problems on the inside is powdered dishwashing soap. I got
this tip from Stacey in Canada. She is one smart lady! I have used this many times on what I thought
were lost causes and was pleasantly surprised by how well it works.

Sprinkle a small amount in the bottom of the vase and fill with room temperature water. Cascade is
the brand I use. Stir carefully with an old wooden spoon you don't use for food and just let it sit overnight.
This is another tip that may take more than one application if the vase is really bad inside. Patience is a
virtue when cleaning these old items!

I have also used Clear Developer 40 Volume (Peroxide) from a beauty supply store to remove darkened
crazing from vases. This is a tip I got from Dave Barron's large book, Collecting Head Vases, Identification
and Value Guide, page 376. It works wonders on SOME vases, others I have seen no difference and I
have even had some that actually looked a little worse after using this method. You have to use your
good judgement and determine whether you are willing to compromise the vase in an attempt to
make it better.

I use an old container and pour the developer in. I lay the vase inside and cover it as much as possible.
You have to rotate it around every few hours or overnight to reach all of the spots. I have found that
if this method is going to work you will probably know right away as the grime disappears. If you
have soaked it for more than 1 or 2 days I have found it is probably not going to make much of a
difference on that particular vase.

I ALWAYS wear gloves when using the developer and a hair dresser friend of mine said one of the first
things they are taught in beauty school is to NEVER mix chemicals because of the toxic fumes that can
result. So don't add anything to the solution, just try to be patient and leave the vase to soak.

High gloss vases that have been fired after painting are safe to wash if they are very dirty since their
finish is protected under the glaze. Most collectors know that the Rubens line of headvases didn't have
their paint fired on and sometimes just wiping them down will remove their paint. I do own several
Rubens vases that do have their paint fired on, so the factory must have figured out over time that
the finish was deteriorating and started firing the vases.

I have also noticed that many of the Napco planters and vases that have red paint on them are not
able to be washed since the red was cold painted after the item was fired and the red is not protected
at all. A lot of the Christmas and Valentines line of planters and vases have this problem.

I am very careful when moving my ladies around too, as some of them are 50+ years old and the pottery
can become brittle enough that even the tiniest of impacts will break off a finger or bow. I don't really let
other people move them or touch them either because it is hard to explain how careful you have to be
and how much just a tiny bit of damage can lessen the value of a vintage vase.

Are there any other tips and tricks that you use in caring for your vintage ladies? Please leave responses
by clicking on the Comment section at the bottom of this post.

1 comment:

Pam said...

I read a sign the other day in a shop near the Amish area, "Dust is just a country accent." I found it amusing. I have lots of tins and old things, and I struggle to keep them all clean. I love having them out to look at, but it's a challenge to keep them looking nice. I am sure the "ladies" are even more of a challenge being so delicate. I've always found that with my old glassware, the best is usually plain old water and a gentle/mild soap if anything at all. I try to not use anything but water, but sometimes you have to. I am sure many folks appreciate you posting this about the care.