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Ceramics conservation cleaning, various private collectors, 2016

Hog & Fitch have been helping some private collectors with tricky individual pieces and some small collections. We enjoyed the vibrant colour and range of types in the 19th and 20th century tile collection. By their very nature as a protective surface, tiles can be subjected to persistently harsh conditions during their lifetimes. They also often suffer from over-rigorous cleaning regimes.

The older ones from this group were no exception, with layers of soot and sticky dust adhering to the surface and obscuring the colours. Parts of the surface had been abraded, through wear or through past cleaning. The challenge here was to remove the dust and dirt without accidentally forcing it into damaged areas of the glaze, so we had to work very carefully and avoid unprotected porous areas. We were as pleased as their owners to see the colour return.

The perforations in the fragile dancer figure's skirt seem made to harbour dust, but fortunately it had been kept in a glazed cabinet, so was not as bad as we had feared. For anyone with a piece like this, it is so much better to take the preventive approach and exclude dust in the first place rather than have to clean excessive amounts off later. It was interesting to see, under magnification, how some dirt had collected around the hem of the skirt, perhaps made worse by handling.

The pretty Alderley floral arrangement was a prime example of why condition checking is essential before cleaning; one of the flowers was very loose. It was extremely dirty due to prolonged open display on windowsill. We're sure the arrangement's creators would have been delighted to discover that a number of insects had flown into the flower petals, no doubt thinking they were real!

For Hog & Fitch, removing loose dust, dead insects and some greasy dirt was a painstaking but very rewarding process. The flowers have regained their brightness and clarity.

Images and acknowledgements

Main header image: cleaning the more robust areas of the fragile dancer figure with small amounts of distilled water

From top: Working on a collection of tiles, gently wet cleaning the areas of the surface where the glaze is intact; cleaning the tiny dancer figure; close-up of dirt on the fragile skirt edge; detail of perforated skirt; detail of dust on surface of Alderley floral arrangement; detail of dust and dirt that had got right into the crevices of the Alderley floral arrangement; very gently lifting off loose surface dust on the floral arrangement before wet cleaning; the floral arrangement during cleaning with the stickier dust partially removed; Angela and Margaret enjoying their work on a collection of chamber pots; loose dust on chamber pot handle; encrusted dirt inside chamber pot (from its use as a flowerpot); chamber pot during cleaning; chamber pot during cleaning; chamber post cleaning; detail of sticky dust and dirt on surface of fireplace tile; fireplace tile partially cleaned, with dirt still visible on left hand side of image; fireplace tile post cleaning; puppy tile detail - plenty of indentations in the relief surface where dirt had collected; puppy tile detail of surface dust; stoneware tile detail of surface dust

All images Hog & Fitch, reproduced courtesy of individual collection owners