There is a fine difference between Imperial quality porcelain and imperial porcelain. When we mention imperial quality porcelain we mean porcelain of a high quality
equalling imperial porcelain, but which was not made for the court.
Such porcelain was sometimes made at a private kiln, but the imperial kiln also did at time produce porcelain that was not meant for the court. Some private kilns were producing both for the people and the court. In the latter case top quality porcelain was manufactured and supplied in the form of tribute to the court without compensation.
Many experienced collectors who have the knowledge to discern between old and new porcelain, or authentic and fake antiques, still do have difficulties telling if an item of high quality is authentic, comparable to those made for the palace, or if it is a sophisticated fake.
This is due to the fact that most of them never had the opportunity to handle top quality items, not to speak of many of these... lack of experience.
Emphasis is here on imperial quality which does not necessarily mean an item IS imperial, but that it has a similar quality. In the Chinese
language this is called 精品 which can be translated as 'quality
item', and it is generally used to indicate items made at private kilns
(minyao), but which are of a similar high quality as imperial ware.
Ironically, museum curators in China and perhaps elsewhere too seem to be in a similar dilemma as those experienced with non-imperial items, but for the opposite reason. They handle almost exclusively ceramics belonging to this top class and sometimes don't have sufficient experience to discern authentic average porcelain and fakes.
All of the above is caused by lack of contact with the relevant sort of item; experience
is one of the most important things when identifying Chinese antiques.
Due to the selection process followed in ancient China for imperial wares, items destined for the palace had little or no defects.
Those with defects were simply discarded. It is said that when the imperial kiln did make a number of similar pieces for the palace, the best were selected and the others were shattered. Usually, nobody was allowed to have a similar item as the palace, except it was a gift to them. This makes it double difficult today when deciding whether an item is genuine or just a very good copy. There are reports that at times in the very ancient past the secondary products of imperial items at private kilns were completely shattered and buried to prevent that common people got to know about the porcelain used in the palace. However, it is still thought that despite this some items found their way to collectors even in those days, although this was prohibited mostly.
Genuine imperial class items are rare (with 'imperial class' I
also include items that were not made for the palace, but are of a
similar quality as imperial wares).
Today, even in China some collectors of over 20 years
admit that they never have seen authentic imperial wares (outside of museums), much less
handled. High quality items of this sort were often never used, and
carefully stored. Often they look new. That is one reason that it is difficult to keep authentic and fake porcelain of this type apart.
Except those associated with museums, auction houses or other institutions
handling such high class wares frequently, most people will never have the
opportunity to actually handle items of this class.
Well, there is a way… during inspection day. High profile auction houses like Sotheby's, etc. give potential bidders an opportunity to view/inspect items shortly before actual auction day. An opportunity to look at imperial and imperial quality items close up, to collect experience.
Nevertheless, high-level fakes are undisputedly difficult to recognize;
even museums fall for them, sometimes.
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