Help Identifying Fish Bowl

by Jo
(Meridian, ID)


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Help Identifying Fish Bowl

by Jo
(Meridian, ID)

I posted a question earlier, but didn't have photos at the time. Couldn't figure out how to edit my original post to include the photos, so starting a new thread.

Per my original post, my aunt gave me this fish bowl which came from the attic of a hospital, as they were going to throw it away. I believe this was in the late 30's or early 40's.

Height ~17 1/4", Outside diameter at top ~21 3/4", Inside diameter at top ~!16 5/8", Circumferance at widest part of bowl ~68 3/4".

There are two peacocks, one on each side, and hopefully you can see the background is black.

Can you help me with an estimate of the age, and is it porcelain or pottery?


Comments for Help Identifying Fish Bowl

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How about mark on bottom?
by: Jo

Thanks, Peter.

Could you tell anything by the marks on the bottom? Also, by '1940's onward', do you mean it is probably 1940's and newer?

Yes, that is what I meant.
The single character on the bottom is written in an unusual, fancy way, quite unlike Chinese marks. Actually, from that angle I was also considering if it could be Japanese. This mark does not allow identification of origin either, I'm afraid.
You will need to find a similar product to identify it more exactly. There are just too many to known them all.

fish bowl
by: peter

This is porcelain and it is vintage, I think.
The inward turned top rim means it is a fish plant and not a jardiniere/planter.
Judging by the painting style and colors used this is something that was made from about the 1940s onwards, but I could not tell exactly when and by which manufacturer.
And, the peacocks are meant to be pheasants. :-)
I'm not 100% sure whether this is Chinese. The band decorations all show a Chinese motif, but the main decoration on black background could as well be Japanese,made for export.

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Help Identifying Fish Bowl--More Research

by Jo

Since posting about my fish bowl, I've continued additional research with some interesting findings.

First, I remembered my aunt (who gave me the fish bowl) told me that some time ago, she had written to someone and sent a photo to get an appraisal. I thought she had given me the response, but had no idea where it was. After digging through some old correspondence today, I finally found the letter she had sent and the response she received.

Turns out, she had written to Elinor Gordon, a Chinese Export Porcelain specialist she had found through an ad in 'Art & Antiques' magazine. A Google search reported that Ms. Gordon was considered quite an expert at one time:

Here is the handwritten reply my aunt received from Ms. Gordon in 1995:

"The picture which you sent to me can be properly identified. It is hard paste porcelain made in China and decorated in the background known as famille noire. I believe the piece to be used as a fish bowl and dates to the mid 19th century. The appearance of thickly applied paint makes me feel it is not an earlier version of the design. The replacement evaluation is about $3-4000. I am writing this from my summer home."
(Signed Elinor Gordon and mailed from Cape Cod.)

Now, I am certainly hesitant to feel an appraisal based just on one photo is conclusive; however, it really is exciting to know I have this handwritten letter from Elinor Gordon.

During my web search, I also found a video from an old 'Antiques Roadshow' which appraised an object with a somewhat similar appearance (although obviously much older than what I have). I'll post this just in case anyone is interested:

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by: Jo


As I stated, I certainly do not consider Elinor's note to my aunt as a reliable estimate of the value or age of the bowl, since she had received only one photo from my aunt. My aunt was just asking her if she could tell her more about the bowl and it's possible value (i.e., her opinion). I should not have even mentioned the word 'appraisal.' (And, no, my aunt did not send Elinor a photo of the marks--just one shot of the bowl.)

My point was, after finding out who Elinor was, I was pleasantly surprised that she even took the time to respond to my aunt's letter, in particular since my aunt didn't offer her any money for her trouble. Plus I think it's neat to have a handwritten letter from this woman who obviously was well respected in her field.

I am also well aware as I mentioned that my bowl is nothing like the PBS bowl, other than it's considered famille noire. I was only posting the link in case anyone else was interested.

Please rest assured I am convinced my bowl probably has very little value, other than sentimental--plus I really love it and it looks great on display.

Thanks for your reply and input.

by: peter

It takes years to acquire even only a small part of the relevant knowledge; some never bother to learn it as it can be overwhelming. Even dealers often don't have the required peripheral knowledge.
And, by the way, many of us who may know about antique items 100 year old or over may not know much about later manufacturing methods and about the products, that appeared and changed after the early republic period. We only see the different appearance between the antique items and methods and the new ones - and the difference in colors and materials used.
So, the only you can do is keep searching until you find a similar item from the same batch or manufacturer.
BTW, was there any explanation offered for the odd mark in the 'appraisal'?

appraisal ?
by: peter

I never would think it possible to give a reliable opinion, even less a formal appraisal based on a single picture. But Elinor Gordon did actually do it?
You can give an opinion, but appraisals are a different matter, usually more formal, detailed views are given. We here never give appraisals - only our own opinions. We always recommend to ask two or even more sources for their views. Experts go wrong too, and sometimes they need to consult with fellow dealers, etc. to clarify details. Nobody knows it all.

First the item shown at the PBS link: that would be a Kangxi vase. Your bowl is very far from that, both in view to painting style and colors used. A Kangxi vase would have a high value.
That both items are "Famille Noir" does not mean they both have the same history or value. This is just a color classification method used by Europeans, categorising Chinese porcelain of all ages according to their predominant color. This sort of classification has little practical use.

And, you are sure they (your aunt and Elinor Gordon) did not talk of another item?
If Ms Gordon really did indeed classify this as 19th century, Chinese, then she is off my list of potential authors whose books I might buy.

Please be aware that the same black background and similar white plum flowers does not make yours and the PBS item the same in value.
The PBS item looks authentic Kangxi era, at leaste judging from the part that is visible.
Yours apparently was made using (1) chemical pigments (Kangxi items were made with mineral pigments), (2) uses a certain color not used during most of the 19th century, and (3) uses realistic painting styles reminescent of western painting. The influences of western painting styles was only getting stronger influence in porcelain painting in the 20th century, during and after the second quarter of the 20th century. (Only after the fall of the empire started foreign arts making inroads into Chinese crafts, influencing these.)
You will also find that the black background of your bowl is too shiny, reflecting objects in the background, while items like the Kangxi vase will at the most give a diffused reflection of the light, but not mirror objects. That comes from differences in the pigments and the glazes.
If this would be Japanese, 19th century would be possible. They started much earlier than China with the new pigments. What makes this seem unlikely (but not impossible) is the decoration band running along the circumference, showing a green/red decoration; that was popular in Chinese decorations of the 1920s and later.
Generally said, it is impossible to authenticate items from their decorations only, but the materials used, pigments, glazes, slip, etc., and the way they were worked often differentiatiates newer from antique items, and authentic from fake ones...

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