Caring for your ceramics - displaying and mounting
Ceramics can usually tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions without being damaged. There are some notable exceptions, e.g. ceramics in which salts are dormant but where problems will be initiated by fluctuating relative humidity.
In rare cases, there may be a manufacturing fault that can cause cracks to develop in the body or crazing in the glaze, particularly where there are sudden changes in temperatures, for example from direct sunlight or spotlights.
Lastly, old restorations or repairs may be more vulnerable to the environment. For example, some restoration materials used to fill or retouch a loss may discolour if exposed to strong light or if stored in the dark.
However, the main cause of damage to ceramics is impact damage. Try to avoid displaying ceramics in areas where there is passing traffic or where you may need access behind them, for example window sills in front of an opening window.
Display cabinets are a good option. If several pieces are displayed together, make sure they are not too crowded and aren't touching each other. Avoid hanging pieces by their handles, as these are often a weak point, particularly if they have been damaged or repaired in the past.
Vibration can be a problem when displaying ceramics. A busy road outside or foot falls on a springy floor inside a home can cause ceramics to 'creep' and they may bump into other pieces or fall from the shelf. One way to prevent creep is to place a piece of chamois leather under the ceramic. This is also a good way of stopping ceramics with an uneven base from wobbling. Avoid rough surfaces as they can scratch the base.
Commercially available display or mounting waxes are another way to prevent creep, but take care to ensure that it does not stain your object. Take a small amount and make it into 3-4 balls, place at regular intervals underneath the ceramic and press down gently. To remove the ceramic, hold it firmly by its base and turn gently. Residues can be removed with a cotton swab barely dampened with white spirit. Too much liquid can draw residues into a porous body such as earthenware.
Mounts for ceramics
Mounts are often used to show decorative ceramics that are in good condition but they aren't always suitable for cracked or restored pieces. Mounts need to be the right size for the piece - if they are too tight they can chip the edges, whilst if they are too large they won't hold the piece securely.
Museums often use inert plastic (e.g. Perspex) for mounts, as seen here, but there are many other safe options. Proprietary adjustable plastic hangers, called wall plate stands (supplier: Dauphin), wooden display stands and grooved shelves in display cupboards are all suitable. Plastic coated metal sprung plate hangers should only be used if the dish is in good condition. Bare metal hangers can cause scratches or chips and will stain the ceramic if it corrodes. Avoid mounts with hard sharp edges or using metal pins to stop plates sliding forward, as they can chip or scratch unless they are padded.
Produced by the V&A Ceramics and Glass Conservation Studio.