Beware of provenance information when buying antique porcelain!
When shopping for antiquities you will always come in contact with the thorny issue of provenance!
This much beloved practice of mentioning provenance in antique dealer circles is of little real value, except in rare cases.
Provenance information relates to second-hand knowledge given by the dealer/seller and does not mean an antique item was properly identified or verified previously. Neither is it a guarantee that antiquities are genuine or that the original owner was capable of identifying all items correctly.
The only thing that can lend weight to an authenticity claim is if the dealer has a reputation as an expert in the field.
Provenance gives a false sense of security when buying antique porcelain or antiques in general. Even in estate sales when items may come from high-class antiques collections you cannot be sure that all Chinese porcelain is authentic.
The previous owners may have added many different items to their collection over the years. They may not necessarily have had the expertise to verify that all pieces of porcelain are authentic.
Red decoration typical for the late Qing period. (Guangxu)
Antique dealers who have really no intention to deceive customers in the first place may use provenance to show how legitimate an item is. This is more likely if they are not expert at identifying Chinese porcelain. It covers for their inability to judge...
Tips for antique porcelain buying
Buy from people who know their wares, but don't rely on their judgement, rely on yours! Even dealers admit to occasionally buying fake Chinese porcelain by mistake. They will often try to resell it to compensate for their loss.
Only with your own independent knowledge can you positively avoid problems like the above. Study all related points and learn to judge yourself whether a piece of porcelain is a true antique. :-)
Buying antique porcelain in China
Do some research und you will find that buying authentic antiques in China is difficult, and legally exporting them is often impossible. Don't deceive yourself. You cannot get better or cheaper antiques directly in China because China generally is "cheap". China is strictly protecting its ancient cultural objects and artifacts.
As a collector/buyer of Chinese antiques you should know that China currently prohibits the export of antique items over 100 years old. This is especially true for high-class porcelain from private kilns and all from official kilns.
According to more recent information it now seems that even the export of old-looking items of less age than that may be restricted, possibly because some antiques that are "younger" than 100 years were made the same way and look the same as older ones.
If you are buying online, either Ebay or otherwise, you need to be especially careful of who sells Chinese antiques. Obviously, there is a high risk that antique items dispatched from China are reproductions or fakes due to the reasons stated above.
Domestic trading of a certain type of ceramics from the Tang dynasty has also been forbidden for a while. Better forget it... you won't be able to get a real one of these directly from China, not legally.
What can be exported must have a wax seal from one of the "Wenwuguan" (cultural relic stores). But here again, it doesn't mean everything with a wax seal is a genuine antique. The seal is no confirmation that an antique item is authentic, it means only that the item was inspected and is allowed to be exported. Even newer items may have these seals. In addition, wax seals on items purchased elsewhere than those stores could be fake.
The only thing you may be sure of when buying at a Wenwuguan is that these items are allowed to be exported legally. Mostly either because they are plenty, of comparatively low quality, or they are otherwise of little interest in regard to preserving Chinese heritage.
See China export restrictions.