Buying Antiques Online

There are advantages and disadvantages to buying antiques online. No matter whether you are participating by bidding online at regular antique auctions, or at one of the many online antique auctions, or otherwise buy from an online antique shop, consideration must be given to the following.


  • you cannot make a hands-on inspection
  • depending on the quality of photographs, you may not see miniscule scratches or faults on antique porcelain
  • you cannot inspect the interior of containers 


  • you have images available -- with these you can go and ask a third party for an online appraisal or second opinion. A big plus if you are not sure.
  • you don't have the pressure of a sales person waiting to make a sale
  • you don't have to admit insufficient antique porcelain knowledge -- possibly causing the price to go up in a place where prices are not marked

Theoretically, when selling online it would be easy for the seller to replace genuine photographs of a piece of antique porcelain, or brush up the images. If you do buy antique porcelain at online auctions like Ebay or others, you need to check the reputation of the seller at this point to avoid being duped. Would he lose out if a dishonesty is discovered? Have they been selling for a considerable time, etc.?

The majority of Ebay sellers will probably try to avoid complaints. But, always be careful as porcelain buying is not so easy as with other antiques, and the amounts involved can be rather high...
When it comes to antiques many Chinese collectors emphasize - "duo kan shao mai" - look at many items but buy few. This is valid for both, buying antiques online and offline.

When it comes to buying antiques online always remember these basics

  • If a deal is too good to be true it probably is.
  • If an item description mentions that the item is in the style of such-and-such a period, this means it is probably NOT from that period.
  • If an item description says there is a reign or period mark from such-and-such a period on it, this conveys the meaning that the seller either thinks it is NOT from that period, or he/she doesn't know.
  • If a listing has many items that are very beautiful, of a rare style or seldom seen shape, especially if a seller has several such items, then better stay away.
  • If an item is sold directly from China, first read the bottom paragraph on this page. 

Always read between the lines.

Buying Antiques Online - Ebay, etc.

One more word egarding Ebay sellers. Some amateur or "amateurish" sellers on Ebay have statements in the sense of the following on their product pages:

"Items are not the seller's responsibility once dispatched"

This is complete nonsense! It shows the general attitude of this type of seller towards customer service. It also shows that the seller is ignorant of international trade practices, and that he/she is not a professional international trader. Professional traders likely know that this sort of statement may be against the law in many countries. But, in some countries where consumer rights are not well protected, by proceeding, an acceptance of a sales contract with this condition could be automatically established and be valid.

Such statements by sellers only show a disregard for the buyer's rights and ignorance of proper procedure.
More about this here. Anyway, if this happens and a larger amount is involved, forget about Ebay rules -- ask your local Chamber of Commerce. They may know better what laws and rules really apply in such a case.

Companies like Ebay may force rules upon you, but like with every other contract, these need to be within the frame of the applicable laws. Every seller and buyer must conform to the laws applicable to sales contracts, whether one was specifically signed or not. The mere agreement to sell and buy between a seller and buyer becomes automatically a contract of sale/purchase. And a private contract or rules can often not 'overrule' these laws.

More Information
If you are already buying or intend to buy Chinese antiques at online auctions, read these articles. Read more on the Internet about fake antiques proliferating online.
And, this one about non-Chinese antiques: forged artifacts on Ebay

Customs Duty

Oh, I almost forgot to mention this one. Whether you are buying antiques online or offline, always have the sender/seller write "antique" on the customs declaration form.

If the value of your item exceeds a certain minimum amount you usually will have to pay import duty. But guess what, in many countries the import duty for china antiques and some other antiques that are over 100 years old is 0%. It may well be that you are not obliged to pay customs duty for antiques. Customs officials may be unable to know if a certain item is over 100 years old. Often they will just look at the declaration form anyway.
This zero import duty appears to be valid for both the USA and EU, as per our last online check. You can look up customs tariffs online here. Or just search the online database of import tariffs (or ask your local Chamber of Commerce) for the HTS regulations, CCC code or TARIC code (EU) information for "Antiques".
The tariffs are mentioned in these code books or databases and these books are the same ones as those used by customs officials.

In other words, if you find you get charged import tax for an antique although the code says none is required, then you can request customs to check this code. The requirements or non-requirements of this code should be valid tariff information that is binding for customs officials.

Fake Antiques and Why People Buy Them

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Fake Antique Porcelain

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