Caring for your ceramics - handling ceramics
One of the most common causes of damage to historic ceramics is rough or careless handling. Almost all such damage can be avoided by handling pieces as little as possible, thinking ahead and using common sense.
Think through the whole process and prepare for each step. For example, how many people will you need to support and lift a large or heavy object? If it's dirty, do you have somewhere suitable to clean it that won't spread the dirt?
Remove jewellery that might scratch or catch, such as rings, bracelets or watches. When you touch something, your fingers leave behind a residue. Fingermarks can contain amino acids, peptides, salts, glucose, lactic acid, ammonia, riboflavin, oils and other sebaceous secretions as well as dirt. Many of these can cause damage if left behind on an object.
Generally speaking, it is best to wear gloves of some kind. White cotton gloves are comfortable but in hot weather they should be changed frequently to ensure sweat is not transferred through the cotton. Nitrile gloves can be less comfortable but provide a complete barrier to sweat and will not snag on the object. Latex gloves are also OK (not for metal objects), although some people are allergic to them. If gloves are not available, wash your hands at regular intervals and avoid using skin creams.
Support the object evenly - you may need to think about weight (e.g. marble busts), size (e.g. cabinets) or flexibility (e.g. paper or textiles). Support three-dimensional pieces with both hands from the strongest or bulkiest parts. Avoid picking up pieces by their handle or any parts that stick out, such as finials, spouts, knobs and the limbs of figures. These areas are weaker than the body and are the parts that are most likely to have been repaired in the past.
Most ceramics can be handled without gloves, as long as hands are clean and dry. Wear Nitrile gloves when handling unglazed ceramics or pieces with unfired, gilded or lustre decoration.
Produced by the V&A Ceramics and Glass Conservation Studio.