Trying to get Chinese porcelain correctly appraised & valued unless the piece is blindingly obvious is near on impossible.
The 3 factors causing this situation in my opinion are as follow:
1) Too many good fakes around causing uncertainty.
2) Not enough knowledge around to deal with the uncertainties.
3) Too much money & reputation at stake.
The risk of being caught out by an expensive fake has driven collectors to pay heftier premiums for pieces of impeccable provenance with a verifiable sales history, or to buy through top auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s which offer a five-year guarantee.
The best advice I can give anyone starting out:
1) Always get as many opinions as you can from museum’s, collectors, dealers and auction houses.
2) Teach yourself & become your own expert, you will never learn it all (nobody will) but you can train your eye enough to know good from bad, if your passionate the learning will come a lot easier.
Remember education does not come cheap, good education that is. You will inevitably buy pieces that are fake and loose money, its all part of your learning process (We have all done it – I’m still doing it now 🙂 ) but as you learn from your mistakes then hopefully your mistakes become less frequent.
Note! The article below is only a beginners guide, some forgeries are so good they would fool a lot of the worlds top experts, unfortunately the only way to become really knowledgeable is too handle genuine pieces for many many many years.
It is impossible to teach anyone what is old or what is modern academically, only years of buying, selling, collecting and handling can teach you, but hopefully the advice I give below will help you along your way.
Chinese ceramic production has a very long history, countless kilns, a glittering array of shapes, glazes, periods, and so on. Therefore, it is impossible for anyone in a short span of a lifetime to learn all aspects of Chinese ceramic history.
Even those who are naturally academic with a good level of general knowledge still require at least 10 to 20 years hands on experience in order to understand the historic known kilns, their characteristics & styles in order to make an accurate judgement.
With the rapid development of capitalism & a market economy people in China are gradually realizing that antique Chinese porcelains will become more and more valuable over time due to their long lasting, expensive, rare and non-renewable characteristics hence far more collectable than gold and silver.
The very basic requirement of antique porcelain identification is to be able to tell the difference between “ancient” and “present”, “old” and “new”
Like anything else in this world, all antique Chinese porcelains have their characteristics and distinctiveness. It is impossible to make a new piece possess all the features of an antique piece regardless. If we know the general characteristics & features of antique Chinese porcelain then we can tell the overall difference between the real deal and the fake.
So, what are the common features of most antique porcelains?
“Soft Flaws” and “Flaws” are the main features of all antique and republic porcelains except those stored in the Forbidden City which haven’t been opened or used. All other Chinese porcelain that has been used or passed on by generations will have some “Soft Flaws”.
“Soft flaws” are caused during many years of usage such as handling, cleaning (brush, wipe, touch etc), moving and other unavoidable factors such as scratches or a glaze bruise after coming into contact with other objects.
The depth, intensity, thickness and distribution of these knocks & scratches are all random. Scratch length, distribution, especially directions are all different.
Natural scratches & wear can not be generated in a short time period, they can only occur over a certain length of time, natural scratches & scars should feel smooth, some scars are not obvious and can only be observed under natural light from certain angles or with the help of a magnifying glass.
Many forgers try to imitate “Soft Flaws”, they normally use pebbles, sand paper etc to softly scrape or scratch the porcelain surface, some even use craft/brown paper with oil.
However fake is fake, there are many flaws on fake antique porcelains. Its very hard to produce different shaped dots, scars, bruises or scratches, all faked “flaws” normally have similar intensity, depth, length and direction and look very unnatural.
Forgers even use a spiral polish method to try & avoid obvious parallel lines but the end result still looks unnatural/artificial, normally man made marks are evenly distributed with regularity.
The other trouble with fake porcelain is the glaze, it is new, dazzling, fresh & shiny. The forgers soak the porcelain in chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid or potassium permanganate, this method takes the shine of the glaze and leaves the porcelain with a pale and dry look.
Another method for taking the dazzle out of new glaze is to use animal fur or fine sand paper to lightly polish, this method can leave trail of parallel marks which can be easily seen under magnifying glass.
“Pin Holes” are caused when glaze surface bubbles expand during melting process. Under a magnifying glass these holes look like volcano’s, on old porcelains inside these holes will be very dirty, all differ in size, and the level of dirt in each hole is different too. Man made “pine holes” are normally uniform and clean.
“Spots” are formed from the remains of several minerals or other chemical substances of clay and glaze/luster after the firing process, these spots vary in size. Spots on old porcelains are normally deep in color and yellowish. Man-made “Spots” are too dark, brown and with unnatural shapes.
When examining old porcelain one must observe both “flaws” and “soft flows” together. If a piece posses neither soft flaws nor flaws then the answer is obviously negative. It’s impossible for a piece of porcelain to be in perfect condition after hundreds of years.
The more expensive and rare a copy the more reluctant a forger becomes in creating flaws because there is a higher risk something could go wrong then they would loose their potential profits.
One of the worst forgeries I have seen is where the forger uses and old base to create a new piece. People normally become less vigilant when convinced that the bottom part of a vase etc is old. These type of fakes are normally very untidy, the joint between the old clay and new clay is visible, to try & cover this up the forgers normally make the joint very thick which is obviously another give away.
There are three main types of copies in circulation:
1 Random: The random piece is shaped wrong and has no soul. This type of imitation is completely random, pieced together, mixing one period or style with another, low quality. Beginners can be easily fooled by these type of fakes.
2 Mock: These pieces tend to have good shape but no soul. These type of fakes are normally reproduced from pictures and are usually good quality. People who learn from books can be easily fooled by this type of fake.
3 Clone: The pieces have the right shape and right soul. The forgers that produce clone porcelain are experts, they will posses all the correct tools and procedures/techniques therefore the reproductions are almost near to perfection.
Remember! This article is only a beginners guide, some forgeries are so good they would fool a lot of the worlds top experts, unfortunately the only way to become really knowledgeable is too handle genuine pieces for many many many years.
If you have a piece of Chinese or Oriental porcelain and your not sure of its age or value then you should really consider using our Chinese Antique Valuation Service as the last thing you want to do is risk under selling the piece due to lack of knowledge or ill gotten advice.