What Asian Art Beginners need to know about Antique Chinese Porcelain

In recent years the market for Chinese antiques has increased dramatically.  Objects that have been collecting dust for decades have suddenly become highly desirable, fetching impressive prices at auction, often many times their pre-auction estimates.  Just last September a white jade seal turned up in a suburban Philadelphia home and realized $3.5 million at auction, a figure 8 to 10 times the original auction estimate!  Other lots at the same auction more than tripled their estimates including a celadon jade book, bringing in $205,000 and a carved turquoise glazed porcelain teapot which sold for $103,000.  Porcelains, lacquer ware, cloisonné enamel, carved jade, and large pieces of carved ivory are some of the most desirable objects.

Chinese buyers are fueling the rising demand for quality Chinese antiques.  China’s booming economy and its growing class of nouveau riche has enabled many new collectors to enter into the antique marketplace for the first time.  Furthermore, in the 19th and 20th centuries many Chinese antiques including fine porcelain were sold to Americans and Europeans.  China’s wealthy buyers are eager to return these treasures to their homeland and are willing to pay handsome prices to do so.  For these reasons, the market for Chinese antiques has become very strong in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down.

There are several factors that will determine the value of your antique Chinese porcelain.  Of course it is vital that your piece be a genuine Chinese antique, not a modern knock-off.  Unfortunately discerning the authentic from the fake can be difficult, even for experienced dealers and collectors.  A “Certificate of Authenticity” accompanying a piece is usually worthless – these are widely faked.  Condition can offer you some clues.  Truly antique porcelain will often have signs of shelf wear on the foot rim or base.  If a piece is supposedly hundreds of years old, yet it is in pristine condition, that should raise some concerns.  Having a provable record of the history of a piece’s ownership (provenance) can help you verify an authentic antique.

Other factors determining the value of a piece include the age, the condition, the quality of the craftsmanship, and the relative rarity of your piece’s form and decoration.  Mastering the field of antique Chinese porcelain requires knowledge of Chinese history, marks, forms, painting styles and techniques, glazes and more!  It can take a lifetime to become truly proficient in all these areas.  First-hand information from an experienced dealer can be invaluable, so find someone you trust who will share his or her expertise and let you view quality examples up close.  Attending auction previews and sales is another way to see finely crafted antiques in person without breaking the bank.

Browsing completed online auction listings from reputable auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, or perusing old auction catalogs that contain quality photos and detailed descriptions can give you a feel for what’s out there.  You can also sign up for free accounts with services like artfact.com or liveauctioneers.com to see what kind of prices pieces comparable to yours are currently getting at auction.  The more Chinese antiques you view, the better you will be able to recognize a quality piece.

 

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