Whether you inherited a treasured family heirloom with some cracks, are considering the purchase a piece of damaged glass, or accidentally broke your favorite antique vase, damage doesn't always mean the end for your glassware. Consider repairing the object yourself or taking it to an antique glass restoration specialist. Whether you broke a priceless Baccarat bowl or are troubled by the cracks in Grandma's treasured hobnail vase, it's worth investigating repair costs.
Assess the Damage
Before you decide whether you want to repair your broken glass, it's a good idea to fully assess the damage. Take some time to examine the piece, noting anything that might be wrong.
Breakage isn't the only damage that can occur with vintage glass. Other types include the following:
- Chips - small sections of glass that are missing
- Cracks - fractures that go through all or part of the glass but don't cause it to break into pieces
- Scratches - surface damage caused by rubbing against other surfaces or items
- Clean breaks - smooth fractures that break items into in two or three pieces
- Shatter - lots of breaks that result in an item being in several pieces
- Discoloration - staining or fading in spots, often from water or chemicals
You may also have "sick" glass. Experts differ in their definitions, but sick glass varies from a white film to a piece damaged by detergents or chemicals that is beyond repair. According to the American Cut Glass Association (ACGA), those tiny fissures in utilitarian vintage glass, like decanters or vases that held liquids, are considered sick glass.
Decide Whether It's Worth Repairing
Once a glass piece breaks, even in two pieces, its monetary value is often lost, according to Kovels, a leading authority in antiques and valuation. However, that doesn't mean it's a total loss. Investigate how restoration can affect the value of your antique or collectible. Also, consider what the piece means to you beyond its value, restored or not.
Look Up Similar Items
Conducting quick research on sites like Kovels Price Guide (subscription required), Ruby Lane, and eBay will help you determine an antique or collectible's current value. From there, you can decide if you want to fix it, replace it, or discard it.
If it's a hard-to-find piece, check a site like Replacements, which carries new and vintage serveware and collectibles and can help with identification.
Consider Its Non-Material Value
Your decision to repair an item may not be based solely on its monetary value. If you're dealing with a family heirloom or something you love, it may be worth repairing anyway.
Master craftsman, artisan, and award-winning glass designer Marc Konys of Bruening Glass Works and Mark Konys Glass Design in Ohio has helped clients decide what to do with their damaged pieces for more than 30 years. "Think about past and future generations when making your decision to repair the glass piece," he says. "Ask, 'In a hundred years how many of these will be left on earth?' And will your family still use it?"
Hire a Professional
Expert antique and fine art restorers work in labs and studios to preserve or reconstruct antique glass back to its original form. They are highly trained and skilled artists and conservators who are experienced in working with different materials and tools and have a historical knowledge of fine and decorative art designers and companies.
Know What You Want
However, hiring a professional is only the start. You need to be clear about what you'd like from the end result.
"There is a difference between restoration and repair," says Konys. "A conservator restores a piece, never doing anything to it that can't be undone. When repairing a piece you do everything you can to make it look perfect again."
Various repair or restoration techniques include:
- Creating a mold of a broken piece by using a platinum-cure silicone that can reproduce fine details. From there, the broken or missing piece is cast in the mold using resins that match the art glass.
- Grinding or fine polishing
- Beveling, acid etching, silvering, and stone carving
- Glassblowing, copper wheel engraving, and lost-wax casting
- Using special epoxies or ultraviolet curing glues to affix the broken pieces
- Applying heat to bond pieces together
- Working with glass dyes to create and replicate the tints of the original piece
How and Where to Find an Expert
Contact a local antique store, fine and decorative arts appraiser, or museum for recommendations of antique glass restoration specialists. If there aren't any, you can always send your carefully packaged damaged piece to a glass restorer found online. Good sources to help you find the perfect professional for your specific antique glass include:
- The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), which has a handy online tool for finding a certain type of specialist in your region.
- The National American Glass Club (NAGC) is a portal for various collectible glass groups, manufacturers, museums, and videos.
- Just Glass provides an extensive list of glass collectors organizations.
- Breuning Glass Works offers online videos, tutorials, and detailed photos of antique glass restoration projects.
Questions for Restorers
When you do find a potential restorer, it's a good idea to take some time to get to know them. The AIC recommends asking the following questions:
- What's your background and training?
- How long have you been in practice?
- What is your specialty?
- What is your experience in repairing my kind of object?
The AIC also suggests asking professionals for references and examples of work, which often can be found on their websites.
Repairing It Yourself
If the damaged antique glass doesn't have much monetary value and you don't want to invest in professional services, you can attempt to fix it yourself. Other than glue, it doesn't cost much to try. Products like Loctite glass glue for repairing breaks and Gordon Glass cerium oxide for polishing scratches can be found at hardware stores or online.
Instructions vary, depending on the type of damage you're dealing with. Check manufacturer's website for tutorials before attempting a do-it-yourself glass repair project.
Repair It to Create More Memories
Still not sure whether a piece is worth repairing? Konys has some tips to help you make your decision. "Repair it if you're going to use it and create more memories," he says. "Repair it if it's rare, valuable, or sentimental. Throw it away if it's common and needs a major repair. Throw it away if you can replace it for less on eBay. And throw it away if you think it's ugly."