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Pot Menders

Georgia Kerby, Exhibitions Curator


With the current climate of people spending more time at home and probably most practicing penny pinching our thoughts turn to other periods in time where people had to make do with less. Living more simply is a steadily growing mantra. Both nostalgia and learning from the past are helping people reach this goal and in the throes of installing our World War Two summer exhibition we can see similarities between war time living and pandemic practices – rationing goods, baking staples, growing vege.


In Whangarei Museums collection is another practical and handy tool from the past- a mid- nineteenth century card of pot menders. Before the days of affordable and easily replaced home goods, people spent more time repairing what they had to last longer. Clearly an important tool for everyday cooking was a metal pot, however even a tiny hole could render a pot useless. Enter the pot mender. Consisting of a metal washer and bolt, the hole was cleaned the washer positioned on the outside and the bolt threaded through the hole to be tightened on the other side. The metal was soft enough to be applied to corners and curves so were easily applied to many situations. Recycled milk tins, metal buckets and hot water kettles all lasted longer with the use of pot menders. I’m sure many of you remember Nan’s old pot which had more menders in place than original bottom.


Today’s example was made by Peter Pan company and advertised to “mend leaks instantly in aluminium, tin, copper, brass and sheet iron, hot water bags and rubber goods”. While not evident on our example, most other cards came equipped with a small wrench to make the card a one stop pot mending product, without the need for soldering, cement or rivets. Some designs benefited from the addition of a soft cork washer to add extra security on the outside.


Nowadays you can still purchase pot menders if you search hard. They retain the exact original design. Vintage pot menders are quite rare owing to their utilitarian use but the majority of extant examples come from the war years of the 1930s to 50s, a time when metal was rationed and scarce so pots made from cheaper metals obtained holes faster. The best vintage pot mender cards are decorated with images of a Fifties housewife holding up their favourite pot. Slogans appealed to housewives operating on a tight budget: “don’t throw it away”, “use at once” and “no other tool or skill needed”.


While this tried and true method of mending holes hasn’t changed much in the last century, it has been a practice throughout history. We don’t have many occupational repairers for small household goods like lamps, vases or cutlery, but in the 1800s there were many more specific jobs servicing the repair trade, including pot menders. A mender of a patcher of general items was also termed a ‘Botcher’.


Furthermore, evidence of its basic form has been found in archaeological sites of Medieval and Roman Britain. A plug was formed in a hole of a storage or cooking container by pouring molten hot lead directly into the vessel. Lumps of lead with a plug shape on their base from the inside of wooden, pottery, leather or metal vessels are evidence of the long-term practice of mending and sustaining valued resources as long as possible. Sherds of pottery remaining in the lead plug have helped date individual plugs. Alternatively copper alloy has been used to form paperclip shape rivets to seal a hole.


Humans have been very good at repairing things for a long time. It is only in the time of mass production that it is often easier to dispose of a broken item and buy a new one. Metal cookware is also more often made of stronger materials and we’re more likely to have a kitchen accident rendering a pot useless than for the base to wear through. However I hope we can take advice from the way people have operated for hundreds of years and be more creative above repairing and maintaining things for the future.