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Identifying Marks And Dating Chinese Porcelain

By Expert Author: MrOriental

Chinese porcelain pieces made for the local market, as well as Japan and the South East Asian countries almost always had base markings painted at the time of production of the piece. These marking therefore provide one of the least taxing methods of dating Chinese antiques. In the process of production of these antiques, copies were also made for different purposes:

To teach the art to novices

In honor of a particular person

To deceive

In response to an order for copies of some article.

Base markings of any kind are now used to determine the era under which an antique piece was made. In the world of dating, they represent the equivalent of time stamps, or even fingerprints of the producer, and his time.

Until now, at least 1,500 different Chinese porcelain markings have been identified. In some cases, it’s difficult to tell whether the markings are Chinese or Japanese. However, over time, experts have identified that Chinese markings are more regular, with characters meticulously drawn within the mark and being about the same size. More characteristic of Japanese marking were irregular marks with an odd number of characters, painted in different colors and generally more artistic looking.

Marks were of different colors: usually red or blue, and they could either have been stamped on to the pieces or handwritten. Based on statistical analysis, marking from the 19th century and later are mostly red, while earlier marking were mostly blue. Imperial pieces were given four character marks with raised enamels, and is one of the first factors you can use to determine authenticity of a genuine piece. However, it is not conclusive since the technique is still being employed by modern Chinese porcelain workshops in Beijing.

Western characters were incorporated into base markings from the 1890s. Most of the pieces floating around presently however are dated back to the 1950s. Porcelain wares labelled “Made in China” begun to appear from the 1970s onwards.

The marks placed at the base of Chinese porcelain pieces were marked with the reign title of the reigning Emperor at the time the piece was made. However, recent artisans are now imitating those time stamps on their newer copies, so you still have to be careful. Just like paintings, you won’t expect to find genuine Imperial Chinese porcelain antique on an online site for a few hundred dollars. However, every once in a long while you might get genuine pieces at flea markets for no more than a penny, in which case you should consider yourself very lucky.

Sometimes, such as during the Kangxi period, base markings had symbols and characters apart from the reign title, called ‘Hall marks’. Imperial marking, like all Chinese texts, are read from right to left, and top to bottom. Therefore, the first character would be found on the top right corner of the marking. Important to note is that the marks are usually written in two or three columns and rows. A single horizontal row marking is most probably fake, especially if you find the piece for a few hundred dollars online.

Paul Hartford is the author of this article on Chinese Porcelain.
Find more information, about Chinese Antiques here

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