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Collecting Newsletter, Issue #003 -- Collecting Tips and Information
August 25, 2015

Newsletter 03-2015


  • How to recognize transfer-printed porcelain

  • Scrap book notes (hints and tips that do not warrant a web page or an article on their own)

Transfer-printed porcelain

If you find a piece of old-looking porcelain, one of the things to check is whether it is printed. Transfer printing has been used in the west at least since the 18th century, in Japan in the 19th century, but it never took really off in China. The reason is probably that the hand-painting was better and possibly cheap.

Transfer-printing is mostly found in the second half of the 20th century only, on Chinese porcelain, and there seem to have never been large quantities.

It may be connected to the establishing of western-style porcelain producers (factories) as opposite to the kiln site manufacturing. With the latter kilns would be in the countryside, in areas where the clay could be mined, firewood or coal could be obtained for the kilns, usually near waterways, where the products could be loaded on boars for the long journey to ports, etc.

How to identify transfer-printing?

  1. Lines drawn or painted by brush, as in hand-painting, look different from transfer-printed lines.
  2. Transfer-printed decorations have frequently intermittent breaks in the lines.
  3. With transfer printing certain repetitive decorations elements look exactly the same.

First a simple description. A decoration or part of a decoration would be drawn on paper, which then is put on the porcelain to press the lines upon it. With high quality transfer printing a magnifier may be needed to check this, but frequently it can be discovered without.

When hand-painting with brushes the line of a brush stroke looks different. When a brush is loaded with paint, it will leave a darker spot where it is is set on the base material, and as a stroke is made, the paint gets less and the brush stroke gets thinner, often ending in a tip when the brush is lifted off. All this depends on the painting tool of course; if a hard or very small/narrow painting tool is used this will differ somewhat.

With transfer printing a line will have the same width, intensity and no tip, as the paint is applied simultaneously and uniformly. A magnifier will usually clarify this.

With hand-painting the painter will usually set the brush at the end of the previous brush stroke or line, and there will be no break. With transfer printing there may be a clear end of the line, a white break, and then the next part of the line.

With printed decorations you will find that the lines have all the way the same width and intensity and/or that there are white spaces in the stroke. There is no reason that a single brush stroke should be broken with white spaces, especially if it is drawn in one go. The most obvious thing are the intermittent strokes and uniform line width from start to end of a 'stroke'.

Again, we are talking mainly about 'transfer' printing here. This was not widely used in China until perhaps the second half of the 20th century.

Modern printing methods could be more difficult to recognize, but then they would require a perfect porcelain body (not handmade but machine produced); this makes it possible to detect these.

The in-depth appearance and age signs that the decorations of antiques have would be difficult to copy with printing.

Never forget to look at the bottom. Machine-made porcelain needs to inject the clay into moulds, requiring some streamlining so that the semi-liquid clay can flow. The foot rim was usually connected to the base in a right angle, perpendicular to the base, or only a slight angle. In most cases there will be no or little radius in the corner.

Here machine injection needs a radius or oblique inner foot rim to let the clay flow properly – your chance to detect a machine made product.

Notes from my scrap book

Tips and hints from my scrap book, accumulated over the years in an unrelated order. These tips may not be worthwhile a web page, but many contain information that is not mentioned in any books, or literature. Some of these bits of information are relevant for more advanced collectors.

Period related production features

Brown edge:

Some antique items, especially plates, do have a brown edge. This practice started at the end of the Ming dynasty and continue to the Qianlong reign of the Qing dynasty. Occasionally late Qing dynasty items do also have one.

The brown edge appears only at the outermost rim edge of thin plates, mainly. Thickly potted items do not have it, otherwise an item must be suspected to be fake. The edge of the thinly potted items had frequently what is called “flea bites”. That is a small portion of the glaze has fallen off. Actually, this can have a length of several millimeters. This is a weakness of the glaze at the more or less sharp edge, where it is adhering less firmly. Slight knocking might have caused it to fall off. Thus some kilns started applying a layer of brown paint to prevent this.

Black writing on porcelain:

Writing in black did exist on traditional Chinese porcelain during three periods only.

  • Yongzheng reign (1723-1735)

  • Late Qing dynasty (19th century to early 20th century)

  • Republic period (after 1911)

Shape of vase mouth:

NEW                         OLD

How Egg Shell Porcelain is Made

Egg shell porcelain is a special type of thin porcelain made at Jingdezhen. This porcelain is also called “bodiless” porcelain in Chinese. Egg shell porcelain was reportedly already made during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), but some form of it may have been existing as early as the Song dynasty.

Manufacturing process:

With egg shell porcelain the body is usualy 1 mm or less thick, often it is down to about 0.5 mm. 

After the clay body of an item was thrown on the wheel the glaze is applied on one side of the bowl, plate, etc. Then the clay body is slowly reduced by grinding and shaving the clay body off.

Then, by repeating the shaving and grinding process from rough to very fine, some 100 times, until the final, very thin clay body is obtained. The other side is then glazed. 

During the whole production process the item is fired three times. To facilitate all this aluminium oxide is added to the clay, while magnesium oxide is added to the glaze.,

The First Blue and White Porcelain

Blue and white porcelain was developed during the Yuan dynasty (1206~1367). In the subsequent Ming dynasty the production of this porcelain type took really off, but knowledge of the fact that such porcelain had existed was lost. In the Qing dynasty not even the imperial court had any knowledge that some of the blue and white porcelain was actually made in the Yuan dynasty. Only in the early 20th century this fact was re-discovered. Real Yuan dynasty underglaze blue porcelain is not plenty, especially larger items. Most what is sold as such now are fakes.

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