A Guide To Collecting Antique Chinese Pottery

Learn some of the types of porcelian from china as well as good places to search for items and how to spot fakes. Information on value and auctions.

People the world over take joy and delight in collecting Chinese pottery. This may be due partially due to the fact that porcelain was first created in China and also due to the delicate and fine detail found in the pottery. While it would be impossible to cover all Chinese pottery in this article, some of the more popular forms will be mentioned.

Porcelain was first developed in China as early as 4000 B.C during the Neolithic period. It was not until the 17th century that the Portuguese began exporting items to Europe and the demand far exceeded the supply. Europeans, not knowing how the Chinese created porcelain from china stone and clay, were hungry for the exotic porcelain. This type of porcelain is known as Chinese Export. The Europeans would not themselves know the recipe for creating porcelain until a thousand years later when a factory in Meissen, Germany began creating it in 1710.

The Han Dynasty (260 BC-220 AD) was a key period for Chinese pottery. Until this period, glaze was not used on pottery. It was also during this time that the celadon type of pottery was created. This includes bowls and vases with a thick layer of glaze in blue-green, giving it a jade look. The only decoration on the celadon pieces are molded patterns, such as birds, fish and flowers.



The Tang Dynasty ran from 618-907. This dynasty's porcelain introduced teapots and a wine jar as using these items in a social setting was very popular during this time. Tang Sancai pottery was referred to as three-color ware, not because it contained only three colors, but because yellow, green and white were predominant. Sancai pottery such as jars, vases and figurines were often burial items and found in more affluent tombs. Tang pottery usually has an unglazed area above the base.

Among one of the more popular eras of china is the Ming Dynasty (1369-1644). This china is skillfully painted with flower designs in blue on a white base. Grinding cobalt into the powder created the blue color. Many pieces may have dark, almost black, uneven spots, known as the heaped and piled effect. This effect was brought about because the cobalt was unevenly distributed through the powder and these were spots that broke through the thick glaze during firing. Ming pieces usually consist of bowls, plates, jars and vases; figures done during the Ming Dynasty are very rare. Early Ming pottery is usually better than that found in the later period. After 1520, due to the huge European demand for it, the pottery standards somewhat decreased. You can identify early Ming pottery by looking at the bottom. Around the inner edges, you find a blue-green ring that was formed by the thick glaze during firing. The outer edge should be unglazed and have a brown-red ring. Also appearing on the bottom will be the reign mark of the emperor.

Purchasing Chinese porcelain items can be done in many ways. Many collectors search for auctions or estate sales. These offer great pieces that many have been handed down through the generations of a family. However, professionals that know the market prices for pieces usually conduct these and you are not likely to find many bargains. Antique stores are great, but again, these are usually run by professionals that know the prices of items and must mark that up even more to cover their overhead. However, auctions, estate sales and antiques stores are great places to look around and familiarize yourself with items. EBay is a great place to look for items, but you must beware of fakes and items with imperfections. Watch out when buying items with flaws. That usually reduces the resale price.

As with all porcelain, you need to be aware that fakes exist. Knowing how to spot these fakes can save you both time and heartbreak. The best thing you can do is by seeking out items in person and getting to know characteristics of the porcelain you are wishing to collect. One thing that might make things easier is to focus on one particular type of porcelain, for example that from the Ming Dynasty. Chinese emperors often commissioned the production of the pottery and would have it marked on the bottom with their royal seal of approval, known as the reign mark. Some reign marks are more rare than others. Watch for items that were not usually made during the period stated. This information can be found by doing research online or at your local library. It was highly usual for the same individual who painted the item to put the mark on the bottom. Similarities between the strokes could point toward a fake. If you are buying online, beware of blurry photos. They may be blurred on purpose (rather than by the camera) to distort the look just enough to fool you. People have even been known to put dirt on items to make it look like they have been dug up, so you need to be aware of all the tricks people use.

Chinese porcelain is a wonderful way to collect beautiful items as well as learn a little about the history of China. As you get deeper into collecting, you may meet people with similar interests and strike up new friendships as well as have fun becoming an "expert" on your own.

© Demand Media 2011