Novice Collector Tips

Things Novice Collectors of Chinese Porcelain Must Know

This page is the result of a good number of porcelain identification requests received every week via this website.

Clearly, many of these queries concern age, value, where made, etc., but it is also evident that many beginning collectors needing the information have little knowledge how genuine antique porcelain looks like in view to age, prior to buying.
Collectors new to Chinese porcelain are in a predicament. Judging the age as we would with other antiques doesn't work when it comes to porcelain.
Many are surprised when they discover that their old-looking piece is only vintage or even new. I know...I've been there, as were most collectors!

Novice collectors should not start their collecting experience with monochrome porcelain.
Monochrome porcelain is more difficult to authenticate. With Yongzheng monochromes, for example, it is difficult to keep genuine and fake antiques apart, even when you have experience.
Start with blue and white or other polychrome porcelain instead. The colors or color tones and the decoration/patterns on polychrome porcelain can provide valuable clues regarding authenticity. With monochromes you have only that single color.

For the benefit of novice collectors without any experience, I list here some essential points you must get accustomed to, with examples from the site's gallery. Please also check the pages about porcelain age signs.

First it is necessary to clarify something that all collectors with many years of collecting experience know. Chances that you find any expensive Ming or Qing ceramics at a thrift store, flea market, etc. is about as remote as winning the lottery.
So, if you have found some Chinese porcelain in such a place, please don't expect it to be valuable.
Mostly the items that can be found in such places are vintage at the best, or recently made. Finding something made in the 19th century is rare, from the first half of the 19th century or even earlier would be exceptional. Often the Chinese items found in such places are made within the last two or three decades. Many are factory made or otherwise mass produced.

Another thing novice collectors must learn to accept is that porcelain that looks old is not necessarily so. In fact, there are vintage items that look older than porcelain items made over 200 years ago.
Please check these examples of 18th century porcelain from the gallery:

  • The antique items shown on this page are relatively common export porcelain dishes and plates dating to the Qianlong reign (1736-1795).
  • The second example is a Qing dynasty porcelain plate dating to the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735).
  • This is a blue and white dish from the Kangxi reign (1662-1722).

New or old?
Many of the wares made for the common people during the early 20th century are of lesser quality and sometime look outright old in comparison to genuine antiques made, for example, in the 18th century. Sometimes this is even the case with vintage porcelain that is only a few decades old. There may be a different in production quality, and their glaze may contain sand or other impurities, giving them an old (or "rustic") look, but actually they are just of low quality.

Even in the distant past the glaze of porcelain made for the common people rarely would have been contaminated with sand or other impurities on the outside surface. Sand may be present around the foot rim, depending on the firing method used by some of the early kilns.
Please learn to differentiate between this superficial "old-look" and real age signs. See page related to age signs of porcelain.

If you are just starting out, always keep in mind that an old look does not necessarily equal old "age". And, an old look is easily faked. See age faking.

Summarizing the issue:

  • An "old" look does not necessarily mean an item is antique.
  • Antique porcelain can be looking "new", but may actually be over 200 years old.
  • Dirt or damage are often used to make ceramics look old, beware...

Novice collectors should avoid spending a lot on very old looking items at the beginning, before they are able to recognize the real porcelain age signs. Better spend your money on books and visits to the porcelain collections of museums.

If you have an opportunity to learn with hands-on experience, grab it! Nothing teaches you faster and is less expensive than an experienced teacher who knows this all already. Those of us who study porcelain on our own all had to pay our tuition fees*** (as the Chinese call it), just be careful not to pay too much. The trial and error method of leanring can be costly and slow, sometimes.

*** At the beginning we all bought old looking items and later learned they were only
      looking that way, . The cost of such fakes is our tuition.

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