How Should I Care for My Antique Masonic Ceramics?

By Kelly Manno & Abigail Turner |
House of the Temple Museum Interns

Collage of three different ceramic bowls donated by the estate of Ill. Claude Harris, 33°.

If you have antique ceramics in your home, you may be wondering “How do I take care of them?” Luckily, ceramics are pretty low maintenance. The best medicine for them will be storing them in a stable place and keeping their surfaces clean.

Infographic about the Dos and Don'ts of "Caring for Antique Ceramics."

 

Cleaning Your Ceramics

Physical Cleaning: Remove dirt, dust, and other detritus from your ceramics with brushes. Begin with softer bristled brushes and work up to stiffer bristles. Paint brushes found at arts and crafts stores work well for this. Pay careful attention when cleaning over decorative additions, like patterns painted over the glaze or additions that may be weak at the seam where it connects to the body.

Chemical Cleaning: Unless you are certain that your ceramic piece is non-porous, chemical cleaning is NOT recommended. High quality ceramics are most often non-porous stoneware or porcelain that is safe to chemically clean. They have thin, uniform walls and make a clear ring when tapped. However, some pieces of fine earthenware can resemble stoneware and are nearly indistinguishable without breaking the pieces and examining the paste. Chemicals, ranging from water to industrial cleaning supplies, can pass through weak spots in the glaze and be absorbed into the porous paste of the earthenware body, causing darkening and stains. Decorations painted over the glaze may react poorly to chemical cleaning even if the body does not.

If you have determined that your ceramic piece requires chemical cleaning, use a cotton swab to spot clean with water and a gentle detergent. Allow the piece to air dry.

Handling & Storage

The greatest threat to any ceramic is physical damage, which can be caused by improper handling or storage. There are a couple of things you should check for before picking up an antique ceramic. First, take a moment to analyze it for any weak points. For example, on a teapot, the handle and the spout are its weak points. For ceramic bowls and cups, a weak point will be the rim. Examine the object for any cracks or fractures. Check to see if the object has been repaired in the past, where it looks like the object was reinforced or pieced back together. Any repairs will be a weak point in any object. Avoid putting pressure on any area of a ceramic that looks cracked. NEVER pick up a cup or bowl by the rim. Pick up a ceramic with both hands, one hand on the side and the other supporting the base.

In terms of the environment, the ideal is 70°F with a humidity of 50%, but a stable environment is what is most important. Also, just like UV damages your skin, it can damage your ceramics, too. It can cause any decorations and colors to fade, so avoid placing them in areas that get a lot of sunlight.

(Photography: Elizabeth A. W. McCarthy, The Scottish Rite Journal; Infographic: Kia Boone, The Scottish Rite Journal)