Chinese glazed stoneware jar

How to Start your Asian Antiques collection

When it comes to starting your Asian Antiques collection, it will benefit you to realize that this type of collection offers the largest array of possibilities not just for collectors, but also for sellers and buyers.

After all, when you decide to begin your collection, you will most likely come across the most varied, most beautiful and delicate items ever produced in every type of manufacturing.

Compared to any other type of antique, there are vastly more antiquated objects made of stoneware, earthenware, porcelain or pottery compared to any other type of composite. In fact, as your collection eventually grows, you will eventually be able to gather some of the most beautifully crafted ceramics to fill up your home.

In fact, there are more possibilities of you possessing antique porcelain and pottery compared to furniture, glass or silver. In the history of antique collecting, you will find that the craftsmanship, beauty, and care that artists and manufacturers have poured into porcelain and ceramics are rarely surpassed by other types of antique collections. This draws antique collectors and buyers from every walk of life. In fact, you will find that in the long term it would be wise to invest in Asian antiques of every type.

First Things First: Knowing The Basics

One basic guideline to keep in mind when you are beginning a collection of porcelain and ceramics is that most antiques that fall into these categories will either be early 20th century or Victorian. Most beginners do not know that what they have in your attic or the inherited pieces from your grandparents. Some have rarely opened boxes in cupboards. Hopefully, the antique marks will help you realize how beautiful the pieces you have are. You may even decide to buy more or sell some at a later date. Understanding the basics of antique decoration, glazes, forms, and ceramics is a great way to start your collection.

Types of Asian Antiques

There are three primary categories of Asian ceramics. Harder stoneware, coarse-grained earthenware and the finer-grained, more delicate porcelain.

Dish, China, transitional period, mid 17th century AD, blue and white porcelain - Ethnological Museum, Berlin - DSC02015

Porcelain ceramics were produced first by China in the latter part of the Tang dynasty over a thousand years ago. Hard-paste, true porcelain whether unglazed or glazed is watertight. Porcelain can be creamy, grey or white. It is delicate, strong and has a tendency to be translucent. In 1708, the first true competition to Chinese porcelain was Meissen. When it comes to porcelain, the higher the temperature for firing, the better the ceramic. In fact, you can fire porcelain at over one thousand, four hundred degrees Celsius. When fired at a higher temperature, the ceramic paste alters into a glassy, impermeable body. Usually, porcelain is not easy to scratch.

Chinese glazed stoneware jar, Yuan dynasty, HAA

Stoneware ceramics have a finer texture than earthenware and are harder. When unglazed, this is even able to hold water. Firing stoneware clay can be up to one thousand, three hundred degrees Celsius. Most clays are greyish and the ones that are classified as colors usually only have a tiny layer of color. The exception is the red Chinese yixing which is red throughout. In the mid-eighteenth century, fine stoneware including jasperware and black basalts were produced.

Earthenware ceramics use sedimentary, coarse clay containing a lot of impurities and fired up to eight hundred degrees Celsius. The clay sticks together when the grains become fired to form a harder structure with tiny gaps of air throughout.  There are many colours for these types of clay and you can only see the colors if you use a transparent glaze. Usually, the color denotes the clay’s origin.

What is Bone China?

In China, the China Clay was described sometimes as forming the paste’s bones. On the other hand, refined porcelain stone provided the flesh. No one is sure when it started but it was discovered that adding bone ash to the paste resulted in a translucent, white, strong porcelain. Traditional bone china was made from one part China clay kaolin, one part Cornish China stone and two parts bone ash.

What Are The Marks To Look For?

When starting your Asian antique collection, it is a good idea to know what marks to look out for. This way, you will know which pieces are true antiques and which are fake.

Overglaze marks are printed or hand painted marks applied after the firing of the glaze and before the final firings. Usually, painted initials or name marks are added over the glaze at ornamentation time, and this can sometimes include stencil marks. Also, painted marks are used as metal oxides that can be utilized during the last firing which is not as high as the actual process of firing.  Different colors are used for overglazing marks but the most frequently used colors include copper oxide, which is green, or iron oxide, which is red. Sometimes gold is utilized but the kiln’s temperature during the last process of firing should not exceed four hundred degrees Celsius. Decorators and painters sometimes use overglaze marks on previously fired, glazed objects.

Impressed or incised marks are hand-applied after making the basic china clay model and before firing this at what are called ‘biscuit firing’ or nine hundred degrees Celsius. This makes the mark easier to apply on the clay since the clay is still soft. Marks that have been impressed follow the same method but the marks are stamped onto the clay. Sometimes, this method is used for identifying white blanks or undecorated white porcelain.

On the other hand, underglaze marks are printed or hand painted marks applied after the biscuit firings but before the application of the glazes. The most commonly used metal oxide is cobalt, and this gives the blue mark of the under glaze.

Images c/o By Hiart (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons