When I saw Nick Burton's Tithe Pig on his web sight this week and read the words "No Restoration" I literally got goosebumps. No secret that Nick is a good friend of mine, but he also happens to use those words correctly. In Nick's vocabulary, no restoration means that what you see was entirely made on the same date! Yes, there may be nicks (no pun intended) and some damage...but no restorer has hacked away at the figure, stuck on missing parts to the best of his imagination, sprayed away with modern gunk, etc. I know of only two other dealers whom I trust implicitly when they say No Restoration--or describe the extent of restoration. Sad reflection on the state of humanity, is it not?
Tithe Pig from Nick Burton. No Restoration.
I am increasingly disheartened by the vast number of reproduction figures on the market. Most of them are Victorian. Reproductions of earlier figures are less prolific and less well done, fortunately. Despite this, I routinely note gross cataloging errors by respectable auction houses. So please, unless you know what you are doing don't buy at auction. Buy from a reputable dealer. Insist that the approximate date of manufacture and ALL restoration be noted on the receipt--and let the notation state that this is the full extent of the restoration. Yes, I know most dealers are charming and you feel bad asking for this in writing, but this is business! If the dealer tells you there is no restoration, make him or her write that on the receipt too. An honest dealer should have no problem with this request.
Learn to look for restoration yourself. Compare the figure to a picture of a good example to make sure that it looks as it should. Maybe that spade in the man's hand should be longer--or perhaps it shouldn't be a spade at all! Perhaps the bocage is the wrong shape for this figure--I have known a complete bocage to be taken off a broken figure and transplanted onto a good a figure. Look at the bocage to see if it appears to be the same shades of green throughout and are the leaves all formed the same--or do some look different? Was the figure once mounted onto a base that is missing? Can you detect any changes in the crazing (or lack of crazing) that tells you that there is a restoration? Learn the difference in feel between good pot and restored pot. DON'T tap away with your teeth as some do. I don't believe this works and it is just too disgusting.
Bocage transplant. This is a fine figure (as best I can remember) with a perfect bocage. Trouble is that the bocage and the figure are not original to each other. The good fit makes this restoration--which drastically impacts value--difficult to detect. Knowing that the potbank that made this particular figure group NEVER used the associated bocage was the first clue to detecting the problem. Paint stripper on the back of the tree trunk dissolved away the restorer's work.