“On Glass Repairs”

 

 

              Survey Results: “On Glass Repairs” (A Report by the Editor of The Hobstar, Vol. 3, No. 6, pp. 2-5, Jan 1981)

 

In her presentation at the July [1980] ACGA convention, Estelle Sinclaire Farrar made a general statement that glass should be left in an in-state condition, that repairs should be avoided. She further stated that the cost of repaired glass should be discounted in comparison to the cost of non-repaired glass. Unfortunately, given the format of the convention presentations, the audience could not express their reactions to the Farrar statements, nor could they question Farrar. Likewise, Farrar, given the direction of her presentation, could not expand on her statements. Since the issue of glass repairs is a central issue in the collection of glass, The Hobstar requested Farrar to commit her thoughts to papers. Likewise, a request to comment on the issue was made of 11 national dealers specializing in the sale of American cut and engraved glass and of 15 advanced collectors. Mrs. Farrar graciously submitted a copy of her thoughts, as did Jane Shadel Spillman, Farrar’s co-author of the text, THE COMPLETE CUT & ENGRAVED GLASS OF CORNING (1979) [reprinted 1997]. Three of the dealers and seven of the collectors also submitted replies. The following article is a compilation of these replies.

Essentially, the issue reduces to three components. The first represents a concern over terminology, its use and misuse. The second represents attitudes towards repairs themselves, whether to have an item repaired or not. And the third represents the issue of relative costs, the pricing of glass related to its condition.

 

The Debate

 

The Farrar Position (echoed by Spillman and substantially supported by Carl Fauster and Milton Zink):

The central thrust of this position requires definition of the terms: as-is, mint and restored. AS-IS glass is self-defining. It is glass that remains in the state as found by a collector or dealers. Ideally, as-is glass would range in condition from MINT, defined by Farrar as a condition “nothing less than exactly as the item left the cutting shop,” through glass that with use has acquired minor nicks and scratches, to glass that over time has received major damage. As-is glass would contrast with RESTORED glass — the latter representing glass that has been repaired, or to one degree or another has been subjected to a cutting or polishing wheel once it has left the shop. Ideally, the AS-IS and RESTORED categories are mutually exclusive. By definition, restored items cannot be mint, even if the restoration has been simply to remove a few surface scratches or a small nick from a miter or tooth. This point is at the center of the Farrar position. The position strongly objects to dealers’ and collectors’ use of the term MINT to refer to glass that has been restored, even if the restoration has been minor. Such a use of the term, according to Farrar, is a misrepresentation of the condition of an object and, therein, constitutes fraud. The fraud, of course, becomes greater as the restoration more significantly alters the original appearance of the object.

The focus of the Farrar position is not so much that glass should not be restored, but that restorations should be acknowledged at the time of sale and made a condition of the sale — though restoration itself is questioned. To quote Spillman, “I have been surprised to discover in talking to collectors and dealers that many like to improve their cut glass by recutting. While I understand the urge to polish away minor chips and scratches, I don’t understand why anyone would wish to ‘improve’ something by recutting to make the design deeper or by adding a new border. To describe something as ‘mint’ or ‘proof’ when it has been substantially altered from the original conception of its designer/manufacturer is dishonest.”  In this statement Spillman seems to accept minor repairs that do not alter the conception of an item. Fauster and Zink advise against even the repair of minor damage. To quote Fauster, “In my early days of collecting, I did have a few rim nicks smoothed, but on the advice of other more advanced collectors, such the Milton Zinks, I soon learned that such repairs were not adviseable. Although personal preference is over-all important, I feel the experienced collectors and museum experts will agree with the above position.” Fauster adds, “The knowledgeable collector knows that particularly old glass has scratches resulting from years of use. The novice collector shows his inexperience if he objects to such marks of wear.”

In any case, the Farrar position acknowledges a price differential between mint, restored and as-is glass. The position, however, is not entirely uniform. Farrar states, “Damaged and restored wares are worth less than those in mint condition. This a fact of life. We can, of course, deny that it is so, but cannot win that battle.”  Further, by making parallels with furniture restoration, Farrar implies that the restoration/repair of damaged items increases their values over as-is values — but shy of mint values. The increase in value is in opposition to the amount of restoration; the greater the extent of restoration, the lesser the increase in value. Zink does not agree with this latter position. He states, “Non-repaired glass should command a higher price than repaired.” Zink’s point reflects an acceptance of minor damage and scratching, and a preference for glass in such a condition — as opposed to glass that is altered to remove such imperfections.

                   Some Farrar Quotes:

“As to ethics, representing damaged and repaired good as in “mint condition” is simply a lie. Stipulation 2 of the Code of Ethics of the N[ational] A[antique] D[ealers] A[ssociation] reads: ‘Personnel in the member shops will not knowingly misrepresent any item held for sale as to condition, age or authenticiticity.’  Our own Code of Ethics, provision 2, reads: ‘They [adhering dealers] must be willing to guarantee all sales and refund any purchases should their merchandise be found to be other than represented.’ . . . I would certainly ask for a refund if I found that a piece of glass I bought in ‘mint condition’ was, in fact, damaged and repaired. . . .”

“It is just this simple: Will the A.C G.A. really wish to turn its back on standards of ethics — and terminology — accepted by reputable antiques dealers for decade after decade? If we do — and insist on revising the long-established meaning of ‘mint condition’ we surely deserve the second-rate position to which reputable dealers in other fields now relegate us in their minds.”

“If the A.C.G.A. does decide, after mature reflection, to continue to buy and sell repaired glass as mint, the Code of Ethics should have the following addition: 5. ‘Mint condition’ may be understood as meaning ‘Restored to unchipped and unscratched contition.’  Anything less constitutes fraud.”

                   Alternative Viewpoints:

A collection of statements varying somewhat from, but also overlapping with, or complementing, the Farrar position [have been] abstracted from the replies of Pam and Paul Donath, Jessie and Jim Harris, Connie and Gordon Harwood, Florence Helpling, Rita Klyce, Freda Lipkowitz, Robert and Isabelle Middleton and Tom Sisk.

While varying reasons are forwarded, these replies have as a central theme the acceptance of glass repair. From the dealer viewpoint, the justification is in terms of economics and the desires of collectors. From the collector viewpoint, the justification is in terms of aesthetics and the belief that the present offers a unique opportunity to take advantage of the services of a few skilled repair craftsmen — an opportunity that might not exist many years in the future. Jessie Harris writes, “Regarding repairs on cut glass — I have very mixed feelings on the subject. But first let me say that it is the collector, especially the absentee mail order buyer who has caused the repair of cut glass to become rampant. When I receive a call regarding cut glass the first question asked is, “‘Is it MINT?’ . . . If my answer is ‘No,’ few are interested. Some even want the ‘good old honest’ wear marks on the bottoms of heavy pieces repolished to ‘mint’! Freda Lipkowitz adds, “When collectors don’t want their glass in mint condition, then it won’t be. At present, a dealer couldn’t sell glass that wasn’t repaired.” From a different perspective, Pam Donath adds, “As many people in the northeast are aware, William Melosky of Wilkes Barre, Pa., has been a glass cutter and repairer all of his life, and at one time he worked for Dorflinger, Frantz and Smith and the Luzerne Cut Glass Company, among others. Mrs. Melosky is quick to point out that a significant portion of a company’s output was repaired before it ever left the factory. In fact, Mr. Melosky’s job with Dorflinger was fixing those pieces which had been nicked or chipped in production. . . . This has affected our feelings as to what is ‘acceptable’ repair. Having a nick or small chip buffed out, whether on the rim, base, or in the pattern, is acceptable.”  Finally, Isabelle Middleton states, “Dr. Middleton and I do not object to repair if the integrity of the piece has been maintained — that is, if patterns are not cut into, size is not changed drastically, etc. What would not be acceptabl would be a goblet turned into a bell, lampshades made from bowls, etc.”

The acceptance of repair by most respondents echoes the statement made by Middleton — minor repair is okay, in fact non-repair does not seem to be a considered alternative; repair that alters the original conception of an object is unacceptable. In the latter case, the unrestored item is preferred, damage and all, to the item that, with repair, no longer demonstrates the company’s, designer’s or cutter’s original concerption and work.

A consensus exists that pricing should reflect condition, and the consensus is almost unvarying. Mint glass should command the highest price, glass with major damage, even if reworked, should be heavily discounted. Restored glass, if the restoration is minor, should command a higher price than glass in an as-is condition with minor damage. A Pam Donath quote is representative of most replies, “Damage on a piece of cut glass should always affect the price of that piece. Even if it’s only a tooth chip, allowance must be made for the cost of repairing that chip. The more serious the damage, the greater the price drop. If a piece has already been repaired — the tooth chip, for example — and the piece is now in perfect condition, then the price can go back up. Occasionally, that rare bird, the ‘mint’ piece turns up. . . . The ‘mint’ piece should get a premium price, even above a perfectly repaired piece.”

Note that Donath distinguishes between mint glass and glass restored to perfect condition — and maintains that a price differential should exist between the two. Isabelle Middleton expresses a reservation that such a distinction can be maintained, while also emphasizing buyer/collector responsibility for glass purchase. She states, “If we as collectors are going to accept repaired pieces, then it is up to us to become more informed as to patterns, shapes and sizes — and refuse to buy poorly done pieces of repaired work. The responsibility lies with us. Certainly, a dealer would not admit to having glass less than perfect in his shop or booth. Glass changes hands often — many times — so any form of labelling it as repaired would never remain with or on it.”

                   Summary:

The issue of glass repair is a highly personal one. The decision to have a piece of glass repaired or not varies from dealer to dealer and collector to collector. In this manner, decisions of glass restoration do not differ from contemplated restorations in any other area of antiques collecting and investment. There are occasions when restoration adds to the value of an item, just as there are occasions when a piece in as-is condition would be more desirable than were the piece repaired. The heart of the concern over glass repair is the ETHICAL ISSUE OF REPAIR DISCLOSURE. While it is an axiom that ultimately the buyer must be aware and responsible for his or her purchases, N.A.D.A. principles do prohibit the deliberate misrepresentation of items by its ascribing dealers, and misrepresentation in this instance should include the withholding of information from customers, as well as the distortion of information. Of course, Estelle Sinclaire Farrar argues that the application of the term “mint” to a repaired item of glass is a misrepresentation. In any case, the seller of American cut and engraved glass should be held responsible for disclosing any restoration of glass that he or she has personally had done, or any suspicions that he or she might have concerning prior repairs — as a condition of the sale. Such disclosure should not await the inquiry of the perspective customer. With the statement of the condition of an object as a part of the purchase agreement, any later discovery that would impugn the condition statement would provide cause to invalidate the prior sale. While the ideal restoration of a glass item might make the article indistinguishable from a mint counterpart, the customer should still be informed that such a restoration has taken place. Of course, purchasers of glass, like purchasers of any antique, should be accepting of the fact that few items are, in fact, mint — especially items that were intended for use. As Jessie Harris states, “One would own a very few pieces of cut glass if one purchased only those pieces that have survived in ‘mint’ condition. Almost nothing a hundred years old is still in ‘mint’ condition –except me.”

A thank-you to all of our respondents for taking the time to submit their thoughts on glass repair, and an additional thank-you to Jessie Harris for her humor.

Reprinted 5 Aug 2005


Postscript: A brief “musing” entitled “Changing Attitudes” by Clive Harding can be found in the February 2005 issue of The Hobstar (Vol. 27, No. 8, p. 4448). The author makes the following point:

I think that we need to re-establish a culture (if, indeed, it ever existed) that does not demand perfection in order to attain enjoyment, or, to paraphrase some wise philosopher, since the perfect is the enemy of the excellent, we have to create an atmosphere where excellent, good, or even fair conditions [of American cut glass], might be acceptable. . . . One dealer confided to me that he used to sell “slightly” imperfect pieces but, because the competition was marketing only perfect ones, he had to concentrate solely on the perfect. If we truly love the art of glass, then surely we should be able to tolerate limited damage. Or, as the Pearsons conjectured in the 3rd volume of their Encyclopedia, if offered the Venus de Milo, would we insist on having the arms put back on?

Harding’s suggestion is one that is held by probably only a minority of dealers/collectors. While one can hope that this minority will grow in number in the future, realistically there probably is little likelihood that it will — that less-than-perfect American cut glass will become acceptable anytime soon to collectors who, as a group, are the primary force that drives the market. Dollar-value, not aesthetic considerations, is the bottom line for these individuals. In their world condition rules!