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Top tips on the quality of Finnish vintage dishes – Part II

How can you assess the condition of vintage dishes? How is the use in a Finnish home reflected in the dishes and how do we evaluate its impact on the condition and quality classification. Am I a hunter of the perfect dish or one who loves small imperfections that reveal the history of a dish?

Haven’t read Part I yet?

You can find it here: Top tips on the quality of Finnish vintage dishes


3. Can vintage dishes with signs of use be used safely?

Vintage tableware has experienced a lot; coffee moments with friends, birthdays and big family celebrations, as well as the busy everyday of a family. Life and the different ways of using, storing, and cleaning dishes can leave their mark. An only slightly worn gold-decorated cup has likely been a precious hand-washed treasure, reserved for the most important family celebrations. These special occasion dishware were typically stored separate from everyday ware, and displayed in a special dish cabinet.

The cute Arabia Filigran decoration, printed on top of the glazing, shows a small amount of wear caused by stacking of the plates.
The cute Arabia Filigran decoration, printed on top of the glazing, shows a small amount of wear caused by stacking of the plates.

How a dish withstands regular use reveals a lot about the quality of the dish. If, despite use, the dish has remained in good condition for several decades, it is certainly of a strong and high-quality material. Even the most delicate dish, if properly cared for, will remain good for years to come. If you want to learn Tiina's tips on caring for vintage dishes, you can read them here: How To Take Care Of Your Vintage Dishes

The oldest dishes sold at our Astialiisa shop in Helsinki, are over a hundred years old. Many dishes, even this old, are still in great condition. Their previous owners have treated the dishes with love. It says a lot about their appreciation, and why the superb quality of Arabia Finland dishes has gained worldwide attention.

The principle of our Shop in Helsinki has been that every dish on sale must be able to fulfill its original purpose. Vintage tableware must continue to look beautiful and presentable for both everyday and festive table settings. They must be free from faults affecting safety or hygiene. Our Helsinki Shop has a wide variation of different quality dishes with affordable pricing. The customer has the opportunity to inspect the quality in store, and can opt for a cheaper or slightly worn dish for the table or simply as a decoration.

Only an eagle eye will notice the small dark glazing defects on the saucer of the magnificent Arabia Valmu cup.
Only an eagle eye will notice the small dark glazing defects on the saucer of the magnificent Arabia Valmu cup.

How about the quality of dishes sold in the Astialiisa Online webshop?

The Astialiisa Online shop has much more curated product selection of excellent quality vintage. In the Astialiisa Online webshop, we inform the customer of any signs of use in the product description, and when possible, with additional pictures. However, minor faults can often be tricky to make visible in images and are an acceptable feature of good vintage quality. If a dish shows signs of use from arm’s length under normal lighting, we will consider a lower quality rating and provide details or additional images in the product description.

The hand-painted stripe on Arabia Krokus plate shows signs of use: a couple of small scratches.
The hand-painted stripe on Arabia Krokus plate shows signs of use: a couple of small scratches.

Dishes that show small wear or scratches on the surface of the coating or glaze are acceptable as good vintage quality. It is a good idea to check the glaze under a light from different directions. On the other hand, small dents, hairline fractures on the glaze, are not acceptable. If the glaze has webbed cracks or surface crackling, then dirt and bacteria can get in between the glaze, and it is no longer food safe. Such a dish is only suitable for decorative use. Small defects in the glazing may darken over time, as may, for example, unglazed areas such as the base ring of a dish.

A hairline fracture in the ceramic mass of the dish or a missing piece both indicate that the dish is damaged. Sometimes these cracks can be hidden or difficult to detect. You can test thin ceramic and glass dishes by giving them a gentle tap, for example with a pen or spoon. An intact dish will make a beautiful and clear ringing sound, whilst a damaged dish makes a dull clunking sound.

We check that there are no hairline fractures or cracks hiding on the bottom. Similarly, we examine the joints, such as the attachment of a handle, as these are more likely to become damaged. We don’t sell damaged products in the Astialiisa Online shop, unless the defect is in a exceptionally rare dish, and doesn’t impair its use. For example, a small missing chip from the base ring of the dish or a very small dent may be permissible on a rare dish. Such exceptions are mentioned in detail in the product description.

The Arabia Kimmel cup has a small dent on the base ring, which doesn’t interfere with use.
The Arabia Kimmel cup has a small dent on the base ring, which doesn’t interfere with use.

The decorations of vintage dishes may show discolouration, fading, or lighter spots due to scratches or wear. A small amount of wear is permissible on a vintage dish, as this vintage atmosphere feels just right. A vintage dish may show its age, but visible faults result in a lower quality classification.

The delicious red cherries of Arabia Kirsikka are very delicate, if knocked against something, some colour may come off and leave a small white spot.
The delicious red cherries of Arabia Kirsikka are very delicate, if knocked against something, some colour may come off and leave a small white spot.


4. Can vintage dishes be restored?

An exciting new method has been developed in Finland, with which surface scratches in the glazing of vintage dishes can be restored by re-firing the dishes in a kiln. As the glaze melts, old surface scratches smooth out, and surface damage is repaired. The heat of the porcelain kiln burns off any contaminants. This method gives vintage dishes a wonderful as-good-as-new surface that is shiny and clean. Unfortunately, damaged dishes cannot be restored with this method.

At Astialiisa, we’re really excited to be involved in testing this groundbreaking restoration method for vintage dishes made by Arabia. In the future, this will allow us to restore many rare and wonderful vintage ornaments back to their former glory.

The original production quality of the dish, different decoration methods, colours and materials, and the thickness of the glaze can affect the end result, so there is still a lot of development work to be done. Astialiisa Online webshop products may include dishes with restored glaze.

From an ecological point of view, it is really wonderful that even slightly worn older vintage dishes get a new life. The life cycle of these vintage treasures will be considerably extended and charming vintage styles will remain in good use for years to come.


5. Why are imperfections so fascinating?

One of Arabia’s most beloved designers, artist professor Heljä Liukko-Sundström, has spoken a lot about the memory of dishes. Pottery is almost eternal, it does not biodegrade. This is precisely why our cultural history has traditionally been studied with the help of pottery evidence. Dishes reveal the lifestyle of their time, the views of the designers, and the techniques of the manufacturers. They have fascinating small traces left by both their makers and users.

From these traces, you can be sure that you have found an authentic vintage object that has lived in a Finnish home and glows with the relaxed feeling and warmth of a Finnish home.

Even though I am always searching for the best possible quality for my customers, I am somehow really fascinated by vintage dishes with small imperfections. They are the mark of time in a dish. I reflect on the history of the Arabia factory, the development of materials and techniques, the vision of the designers, and of course the everyday history of Finnish homes and even of my own family. I marvel at the enormous diversity of beauty.

The patina of time created by small imperfections is really beautiful and creates atmosphere. From the small signs of use, you can recognize that the dish has been a much-loved favourite, and so you know you’ve found a design treasure, whose timeless style will last from decade to decade.

As the evening fades, I realize a profound truth about the magic of vintage objects: the excessive pursuit of perfection does not bring happiness. An acceptance and appreciation of imperfection, authenticity, and history on the other hand, will calm and free up resources for growth and creativity.

Do you have questions about the quality of vintage dishes? You can always email us, use the webshop contact form, or put your question in the order details field.

I wish you delightful moments with Finnish vintage dishes,

Tiina

Shopkeeper Tiina with Arabia Veronica coffee cup at the Astialiisa shop in Helsinki
Shopkeeper Tiina with Arabia Veronica coffee cup at the Astialiisa shop in Helsinki


Sources:

Finnish Design Museum online, Collections

Iittala online, FAQ guidelines

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