Arts & Crafts Ceramics

How to Tell If Chinese Pottery Is Valuable

Chinese Pottery

Are you looking to sell some Chinese pottery that you have lying around? Or maybe you’re just curious as to whether or not your pottery is worth anything. Either way, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog post, we will discuss how to tell if Chinese pottery is valuable.

We will go over a few guidelines and tricks that will help you determine the value of your pottery. So, if you’re ready, let’s get started!

History of Chinese Pottery

Chinese Pottery

Chinese pottery is specially regarded for it finesse and delicacy. The origin of Chinese pottery dates back to 206BC. Chinese porcelain first started to be made in an area which is called Han dynasty in China of today.

Since then Chinese have been making these delicate ornaments and its imperial production did not stop till as recent as 20th century, which is when the Qing Dynasty ended. Qing dynasty was the last dynasty of china.

Chinese pottery is still made however but the process is more mechanized now. However there are still some small family businesses that have mastered the art of making Chinese porcelain and make it by hand. They do it from either their homes or small workshops, and pass along the talent to their next generations.

Antique Chinese pottery can be identified with the help of numerous factors but most importantly from a mark which is either specific to its potter or dynasty, or the emperor it was made for.

Value of Chinese Pottery

Chinese Pottery

Antique Chinese pottery is still auctioned in art markets and it is regularly bought for record high prices. Art enthusiasts or Ancient collectors are willing to pay millions of dollars to obtain an authentic piece of Chinese history.

Hence, it becomes more important to recognize if the Chinese porcelain they’re paying for is actually valuable. Experts have over time identified many different techniques to actually date and rate Chinese vases, bowls, etc. Some these techniques are as basic as the shapes, curves and color of these pieces.

To put more emphasis on recognizing the value of Chinese pottery, interestingly there’s this real life story of a woman living in London, who stumbled upon an antique Chinese vase when clearing the basement of her late sister’s house. Eventually it was discovered that the piece dated back to 18th century and ended up being auctioned for 83 million dollars!

Even though this is not a regular occurrence and happens maybe once a millennia but it does shed some light on how valuable and exotic Chinese porcelain is still considered.

Trade of Chinese Pottery

Chinese Pottery

China first began to export its porcelain via the Silk Road and some of the earliest pieces are as old as the 2nd millennium. Later it was also exchanged via marine trade routes, along with other expensive items like ivory, paintings, silk and tea.

After the colonization of the subcontinent however, much more of highly valuable Chinese pottery was exported to European continent and many of it also smuggled and stolen. The dinnerware specifically became so popular in the west that it came to being regarded as only ‘china’.

Identifying the Value of Chinese Pottery

Chinese Pottery

Certain characteristics of valuable Chinese porcelain specifically stand out and help to differentiate it from other items of mass productions.

Shape

Beginning with the very basics, experts lay emphasis on the cuts of antique Chinese vases and bowls etc. Just by looking at a piece they can tell if those shapes were used by the ancient Chinese potters of a specific time.

Color

Chinese Pottery

After the assessment of shape, experts move on to the color of the pottery. Most of the antique Chinese pottery was made in combination of white and blue. The items used to have a white base with beautiful designs made on it in blue.

The blue pigment used is also very specific because in those times there were only a variety of dyes available. So the experts often look at the color palette and make an intelligent guess regarding the availability of that dye at that time.

The work done on a valuable Chinese pottery and its delicacy and finesse is perhaps the most distinguishing and telling quality of its value.

Marks

The ancient Chinese pottery, in its making process, used to be put on Pernettes before their firing. The Pernettes were kind of supports that used to prevent the sticking of vases together or to the walls of the kilns.

The presence of these firing marks is also very helpful in giving clues to the time and dynasty and they belonged. Even though it is not necessary, but often the vases etc. used to have a signature on them too, telling about place of it manufacture.

Apart from the markings of Pernettes, the porcelain makers of China back in 1368, very frequently, started putting reign marks on their productions. This was the time of Ming dynasty and this practice was also forwarded to Qing Dynasty.

The reign marks used to be mostly inscriptions of some Chinese alphabets. However some famous Chinese symbols of that time, such as leaves, mushroom, ruyi etc. were also used instead of characters, as reign marks.

The presence of these reign marks make it easy to date the pottery belonging to Qing or Ming dynasty, also since there are 10 specific reign marks that represent 10 specific time periods of the Qing dynasty. The authenticity of these reign marks is also judged on the fact that they are either found on the bottom or at the mouth of the item.

Raw Materials

Chinese Pottery

There is not much variation in the raw materials that go into making of these highly valuable pieces of Chinese art but the different combinations used might also provide some clues to the worth of a piece. Some commonly used raw materials include Clay, Kaolin, Quartz, Ash, Bone, Glass, Alabaster, and Feldspar.

The most common combination of raw materials used in making of antique pottery which perhaps produces the sturdiest yet intricate porcelain is Kaolin, Quartz and Feldspar.

This is the oldest combination of the book and most commonly found in the appraised pieces of Chinese pottery through history.

Condition

Chinese Pottery

The last dynasty to make imperial Chinese pottery was the Qing Dynasty, and even though the Qing Dynasty existed till the 20th century, some of its earliest work in Chinese porcelain is as old as 3 centuries.

So one should be on the lookout for any chipping or possible repairs that might have been done to the piece, when gaging its value. Identify the signs of aging on the piece because obviously even if the most kempt condition, it’ll show years it has aged.

Weight And Feel

Authentic Chinese pottery is famous for its feel too. The old adage such as ‘elephant in a china shop’ used to describe clumsy people also originates from the fact that Chinese pottery has always been considered super delicate. Hence experts on the subject can easily take an item in hand and judge by the weight and feel of the object if it is truly a worthy item.

Base And Foot Design

Chinese Pottery

The cut of the base and design of foot are also highly relevant in determining the authenticity of a china piece. Experts often need only one look at the cut of the footing to tell if it’s antique or not. As mentioned earlier also that the base of Chinese pottery also sported the telltale marks of its authenticity.

Glaze Quality

The potters of Qing dynasty had a considerable amount of command over chemistry and glazing techniques. They used to fire their glaze at considerably higher temperatures and produce finishes that help set apart the pottery of Qing time from those that came before it. Where the porcelain of Ming dynasty was dominantly white and blue, Qing pottery had marked and prominent variations.

Designing

Chinese Pottery

Each era had its unique method of designing the pottery it produced. Ranging between different brush strokes or representing some important events or cultures of the time, the design on antique pottery is often very expressive of its time of origin.

As we have discussed most of the qualities that can tell apart a more contemporary piece of Chinese pottery from an ancient one, it is also necessary to mention that time is not the only determining factor of the value of a Chinese artifact you own or intend to purchase. The value of Chinese pottery lies more in the items used and their scarcity rather than its age. Hence age isn’t necessarily an indicator of the worth of Chinese pottery.

Despite all the knowledge on oriental art or more modern techniques being available to readily estimate the value of an antique piece, it is still extremely challenging to correctly identify the pieces, even for the experts.
The trouble is that, more pieces these days are now made to look older. They even use the markings and signatures or specific art symbols of a time that are very similar to the valuable ones.

So if you’re someone who has inherited an object of Chinese pottery, it is better for you to trace down the linkage of its past owners. What locations it has travelled from and how long have you or those before you have had it. And in-case you’re someone who’s looking to invest in some valuable Chinese pottery, your best bet are either credible antique dealers or auction houses named from reliable sources, holding art sales.