Buying Antique Porcelain

Watch out when buying antique porcelain!

Beware of provenance information when buying antique porcelain!

When buying Chinese porcelain you will always come in contact with the thorny issue of provenance!

The much beloved practice of mentioning provenance in antique dealer circles is of little real value, except in rare cases.
Provenance is  second-hand information given by the dealer or seller (or the collector). It does not necessarily mean that an antique item was properly identified or verified previously. Neither is it a guarantee that an antique is genuine or that the original owner was capable of identifying their items correctly.
The only thing that provenance actually does is lend additional weight to a claim of authenticity, if the appraiser or dealer already has a reputation as an expert in the field.

Unfortunately, auction houses like this too - yes, even the biggest ones do! They heavily rely on it.

The reason is simply that in some fields of ceramics they do not have the right experts to make sure a specific item is authentic and old, and of the period, rather than a high quality fake. Most so-called experts may have their expertise in a field or two, or in a period or type of object. Even the "Asian Art" specialists of top auction houses often have only limited knowledge in this field of Chinese ceramics, which basically is normal, considering the huge span of time (2000+years) and the wide range of ceramic types and kilns they would have to cover. So they tend to rely on provenance, or the stickers attached on the bottom of items which, by the way, more and more are also faked.

Anyone from an auction house or any seller who did  encounter this with an authentic item - please please feel free to contact us via email in our 'discussion forum' for commenting on this!
Sometimes auction houses are just too sloppy and rely on "specialists' who do not have the respective knowledge, and end up selling items that are attributed incorrect...

Provenance may give a false sense of security (authenticity) when buying antique ceramics or antiques in general.
Even at estate sales when items may come from highly regarded antiques collections you cannot be sure that all Chinese porcelain is authentic.
The previous owners may have added many different items. not in their specialty field, to their collection over the years. The owners may not have had the necessary expertise to verify authenticity of all pieces .

Red decoration typical for the
late Qing period.

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
wax sealeverything 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.

Porcelain age signs

International trading practices you must know

Fake antique porcelain

Beginner's Porcelain Buying Tips

Buying Antiques Online

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Introduction to Chinese Porcelain