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Collecting Chinese Porcelain - An Introduction
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Before you begin to collect any item of interest, it helps to have some background knowledge on the items and the history behind them. Amassing this knowledge will inform your decisions on what specific items to search for as you begin to build your collection. Collecting Chinese porcelain antiques requires you to have a wide knowledge on the history of the pieces, and hands-on technical skills so that you will be able to tell fakes from the real collectibles.
While you can try to amass as much knowledge as possible, it is usually not possible to know all there is about Chinese porcelain, given the vastness of the time periods within which the pieces were made. You can at best specialize in pieces originating from a certain era and/or dynasty.
For a beginner, here is some basic information you need to know:
Definition of Chinese Porcelain
In order to rightly qualify a piece of Chinese porcelain as an antique, there are specific criteria that it must fulfill:
1.It must show signs of age common to Chinese antique porcelain pieces
2.Its origin must be traced back to the Qing dynasty, Ming Dynasty, the early republic or earlier
The “early republic” period has been widely accepted to be the period right after the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), from 1910-1930 at the very latest. Pieces from later than 1930 are referred to as “Vintage”.
Distinction between Chinese Porcelain and Earthenware
The line between Chinese porcelain and earthenware can be very thin. Antique pottery, such as the Tang Sancai wares, was made from white clay. The real porcelain clay was not white. However, some earthenware is commonly referred to as porcelain, particularly if the pieces have a glazed finish on the body or have blue underglaze decorations even if they are not made from the original porcelain clay.
Celadon wares – green/greenish glazed pottery – are also traditionally referred to as porcelain, as are Longquan ceramics, which have a light gray body though some do have a white body. The colour of the clay antiques depended on:
The original colour of the clay when mined
Degree of refinement of the clay prior to modelling
The iron content of the clay – more iron would make it more gray
The following are basic differences between antique pottery and antique China porcelain:
1.Pottery was made from normal red, brown or gray clay, while porcelain from white or off-white kaolin (china clay).
2.Pottery was fired at temperatures of between 600-800°C and porcelain above 1200°C
3.On tapping, pottery, being relatively porous, gives a dull sound, while porcelain gives a clear ring, being hard, strong and non-porous.
4.Pottery pieces were opaque with a high water absorption abilty, while porcelain was semi-transparent with no water absorption capacity.
Some pieces are hard to classify in either category, such as the Tang Sancai or early Sancai pieces, which were made from white porcelain clay, but were fired at lower temperatures. Some collectors have simply opted to christen any high density piece with a clear ringing sound as porcelain.
Paul Hartford is the author of this article on Chinese Porcelain. Find more information, about Chinese Antiques here
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