My interest in collecting china started quite by accident. I had accompanied my husband to a local auction, having little interest in these events myself at that time, and was killing time by sorting through the various boxes of china on offer. Then I spotted a box which contained a couple of nice serving tureens and, since I liked to have attractive tableware when I entertained friends or family, I decided to wait and see what happened when the bidding started. Suddenly, I found myself raising my hand to bid for the box and, to my surprise, I won it! When I got the box home, I was thrilled to find I had bought several more pieces of china along with the tureens, mainly tiny cups and saucers, which I really liked. At the time, I knew nothing about china or china companies, so I went to the library to borrow a book on backmarks, or backstamps to find out more about these items. From there my interest in china grew and before long I found myself browsing around antique fairs and fleamarkets, being particularly drawn towards the pretty patterns on fine china.
However, at the time, I could only afford small or inexpensive items, so I started collecting different cups and saucers in various shapes and patterns - this way, I could gradually build up a collection on a small budget and it wasn't long before I had an attractive display of pretty china items to put in my display cabinet. As I began to learn more, so I became more selective and looked out for better pieces manufactured by prestigious companies, thus adding value to my collection. In this way, by checking the backmarks against the reference books, I began to learn more and more about the subject.
Since there is such a wide choice of design, subject matter and manufacturers in this field, it is good to decide first of all what kind of china you would like to collect. Is there a certain design, manufacturer or pattern that appeals to you? For instance, you may decide to collect antique teapots in different patterns, or you may be drawn to a particular design, such as Wedgwood Jasper ware - this is the kind of decorative china you may have seen which is often manufactured in blue and white but sometimes in other colours, such as black and white or green and white. Some colours are rarer than others and therefore command quite a high price, although nowadays it is possible to build a collection of the small blue and white items on a small budget, simply by scouring car boot sales and fleamarkets. There is a matt, or biscuit finish to the plain coloured ground of the pottery, then white coloured cameo figures, or a scene (often Romanesque) are applied to this to make a very effective decoration. Another popular theme with collectors is Willow Pattern, which is usually in blue and white and also displays very well. Or you may decide that your particular passion is for Royal Doulton figures (some of which are now very sought after because of being discontinued) or maybe Beswick animals or Beatrix Potter figures. Then again, you may have greater ambitions, such as to collect antique European items manufactured by companies such as Meissen, Dresden or Sevres. It really depends on your personal taste and what suits your pocket.
Personally, I found it very helpful to learn about the various companies by collecting items I could afford, or even buying some damaged pieces for a song, just to improve my knowledge on the subject. There is such a lot to learn about the history of china and porcelain and the various potteries and manufacturers that it is often best to do so piecemeal, or by concentrating on one subject at a time. It makes a very interesting project and a relaxing diversion, as well as an educational hobby.
In time, you will get to know how to identify a piece of china without having to turn it over and look at the backmark. This is when you know you are really getting to grips with your subject. As time goes on, you will also learn how to spot a fake, as there are many of these on the market, and you will be prevented from parting with a lot of money for something that is virtually valueless. Nevertheless, some of these were very cleverly executed and the backmarks were successfully imitated, so it takes a real expert to know the difference. Having said that, even experts have been deceived on occasion, which reinforces the fact that you need to take some time out to learn your subject well.
Collecting shouldn't become a burden, though - it is meant to be a relaxing passtime and it can be real fun just browsing around for that special piece and gradually getting to know about the type of china that has caught your attention and fascination. It's so exciting and satisfying when you stumble across the very piece you've been looking for over a long period of time!
So, decide what you personally would like to collect and then take some time out to know your subject. Make sure you know what the going rate is for a certain piece, so that you don't end up paying a lot more than is necessary for it. On the other hand, don't be so retiscent about buying an item that you miss out on a golden opportunity, because it may be that it will take time to come across that item again, if ever. Remember that the condition of an item is important - try not to buy items that are damaged as this affects the value: however, if there is a piece you really like and the value isn't of paramount importance because you only want it for display purposes, there is nothing wrong with that, provide you haven't paid an over the top price for the item.
However much advice you may be given, you will find that the best way to learn about your chosen subject or passion in the field of china is to go and find out about it through reference works and by practical experience. It's true to say that you are bound to make some mistakes along the way but this is also part of the learning process - so don't let it rob you of the fun of collecting.
Some English manufacturers and designers to look out for: Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Mintons, Carlton Ware, Clarice Cliff, Susie Cooper, Beswick, Royal Worcester, Crown Ducal, Royal Crown Derby, Royal Winton, Shelley, Burleigh Ware, Poole, Crown Devon, SylvaC, Wade, Portmerion. There are, of course, many more companies but I have mentioned a few of the more popular or prestigious names.
It is always good to bear in mind that, strictly speaking, only items that are more than a hundred years old can be described as "antique" but other items would fall into the category of "collectables". Nevertheless, if the subject matter is highly sought after or desirable, it will command a high price, whichever category it falls into, so don't let the age of an item be the sole motive for your collecting china, unless you really prefer antiques, because you may find that there are more valuable "collectables" to be acquired. Again, the value of an item need not be the main motivation for collecting - you won't be able to enjoy your collection unless you buy items you really like.
So, whatever your choice in china collecting - enjoy the journey and, once you have arrived, enjoy the prize!
This simple guide has been written for those who have decided they would like to collect china and need a few pointers to get started. If you've found it helpful, would you mind clicking on the "Yes" button below? Thanks!