Do You Collect Make-Dos? Maybe You Should!
A Make-Do is an item that has been broken and repaired in a way to make it continue to be useable. Here is a piece of Tiffany glass now sitting upon a make- do vase base that sold for $178 in 2011.
Make-Dos are a lovely area of collecting. These items can be found relatively inexpensively and appeal to creative decorators, and fans of reclaiming and recycling.
What is a Make-Do?
A Make-Do is an item that has been broken and repaired in a way to make it continue to be useable. That is my wordy definition because there isn’t a standard definition of a Make-Do, and it is defined differently by different people. In fact, you will see auction listings where people don’t use the term at all. You may find these objects filed under Americana, Primitives, or Craft.
Given my definition, I believe many people misuse the term. For me, it isn’t enough for an item to be primitive, in disrepair, repurposed, or up-cycled. I want a Make-Do that has been ingeniously repaired. I want to see items that are too beautiful to discard, artfully resurrected into something useful like this Tiffany glass that now sits atop a wood base in the photo above.
Before the age of modern adhesives and plastic disposable household goods, people made do with what they had. “Make-do” is now an antique collectible category that is not only affordable but also touched with a bit of whimsy. It is not a collector category for perfectionists or purists.
It seems our forbearers were less likely to give up on items than contemporary consumers; our ancestors also appear more skilled at reimagining, reinventing, and repairing items to Make-Do with what they had.
There are examples of repairs that have been made in wood, string, leather, tin, other metals, staples, brackets, and bands. You may find glass objects repaired with metal, staples, vases repaired with wood bases, or teapots that have lost their tops replaced with fashioned tin – illustrated by this 1785 tea pot in the photo below.
A ca. 1785 Seth Pennington Liverpool England “Make-Do” teapot with tinware lid sold for $79 in 2013.
This tureen below that sold in 2015 is a lovely example of the use of staples to repair porcelain.
A Spode tureen and spare tureen base c1830 with characterful old metal staple repairs sold for $23.11 in 2015.
Andrew Baseman is a set decorator, author, and interior designer who blogs about Make-Do collectibles. His blog is called Past Imperfect: The Art of Inventive Repair. He was quoted in a 2013 article in The Atlantic as saying, “It is my duty to rescue these plucky survivors, some lingering in limbo for hundreds of years of neglect. I make it sound like I run an adoption agency on the Island of Misfit Toys, which is fine with me.” I couldn’t agree more with the term “plucky survivors.” Not only do the objects have the will to continue to be useful, but their owners believed in the item’s usefulness, cracks and all. Don’t we all want to be loved despite our fractured pieces?
Many of the pieces of Make-Do that you will see have damage to the most fragile or loose parts – a teapot spout, a pitcher teapot or cup handle. Other popular areas of repair are on items that worked the hardest – a wooden tool that is repaired with other wood or material so it can continue to be used, pots and pans whose handles fell off. Teapots were frequent victims, and that may be why there are so many example of repair. Here are two more examples one with copper spout, the other stapled back into usefulness:
This 19th century teapot with a make-do spout sold for $65 in 2013.
With price points under $100 and many under $20, this is a fun entry to collecting. Once a collector begins, they may have to decide if they will specialize their buying tastes to only teapots, only plates or only tools before their collection gets overwhelming.
In 2019, maybe we collectively agree to drop perfection and find beauty in the repaired. Now go treasure hunt!
*Special thanks to Carol Miller at Bailey’s Honor Auction & Estate Services for inspiring this article.
Megan Mahn Miller is an auctioneer and appraiser specializing in Rock ‘n Roll and Hollywood memorabilia, and other hard-to-value items. Her company, Mahn Miller Collective, Inc. can assist you with solving your personal property problems. Visit www.mahnmiller.com for more information.
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