Antique Chinese Bowl Buying Guide

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Antique Chinese Bowl Buying Guide

Buying antique Chinese ceramics and metalwork offers a chance to own a piece of classical art, with the choice of many different items available, including bowls, vases and pots. Bowls were made for many purposes, including to prepare and drink tea from, eat from, be displayed as ornaments and to be used as fishbowls.  Bowls can be classified according to their place of manufacture, their style and shape, their use, materials they are made from and especially for ceramics, their colours and glazes. Metals bowls can be dated and valued based on the metal they are made from. For ceramic bowls, the dynasty during which they were made is a key influence on the design and value. Over time, production techniques advanced, allowing more ornate and colourful items to be made, although demand and fashion still dictated the designs and types of bowls that were actually manufactured.

Bowls may belong to more than one classification, and should be researched thoroughly, as more modern items often attempt to replicate original antique pieces. As with all Chinese antique ceramics, demand is high as there are many collectors and enthusiasts. However, there are still chances to find undiscovered gems, although detailed research would need to be done on each individual item. With knowledge of the specific products from dynasties, styles of bowl, materials used and well-known production locations, buyers will be better-prepared to make an antique Chinese bowl purchase on eBay.      

History of Antique Chinese Bowls

China originally produced bowls to eat food from. However, as social dining and customs developed, so did the uses of bowls. In every culture, bronze was the first alloyed metal to be widely-used for utensils and some of the oldest samples can be found in China. Various bowls and pots were made from bronze with the early uses of holding millet wine and water for washing food by hand. The earliest pattern used was the “Taotie” pattern, featuring dragons and monsters. The “singing bowl” or “Chinese fish basin” was a copper and bronze vessel invented in China, the first record of which is from the Bronze Age. That bowl, when filled with water, produces vibrations and ringing musical notes. These were used primarily for music and relaxation, or meditation.

China is regarded as a hugely influential artistic and technical force on the development of ceramics. The stoneware that was first developed in the Shang dynasty (1600-1100 BC) led to the later development of the more translucent porcelain fired at higher temperatures, which has now come to be known purely as “china”. The introduction of the potter’s wheel in the late Neolithic period was the gateway to more refined and symmetrical items, including more ornate bowls. Antique bowls were often culturally significant as they were used as part of social events, including tea ceremonies, which demonstrated the harmony of nature and enjoyment of tea in both formal and informal settings. The decoration and colours used changed as new glazes and techniques were introduced. Most noticeably were the three-coloured glazes during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the blue and white production of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 AD) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) and the highly-decorated, multi-coloured items of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD). Pottery was held in high regard in China and people were often buried alongside a ceramic item depicting scenes meaningful to them. 

Discover Antique Chinese Bowls

Antique Chinese bowls vary in design and worth. This is because they were used as everything from expensive diplomatic gifts, to everyday household items.  Many books are available to thoroughly research Chinese bowls and any investigation done into a bowl can help verify its location and era of production. Maker’s marks on the bowls must also be researched, as they often don’t correlate to the actual production of the bowl. However, some ceramics feature fingerprints of the maker, which can be traced accurately. The quality of the material and production processes in ceramic bowls, especially for the later porcelain bowls, should mean that if cared for properly, a bowl should have retained its colour and glaze, preserving its original appearance.

Parts of an Antique Chinese Bowl

Bowls were primarily metal or ceramic. The metal bowls were made of copper, bronze, gold or silver. Ceramic bowls were made in ancient China by mixing kaolin, pottery stone (petuntse), feldspar and quartz. It was then fired at high temperatures. The process for stoneware is different from that for the more translucent porcelain, which is fired at a higher temperate. The ceramic is then glazed, through oiling and firing, which can add colour, depending on the materials used in the glaze. Glazing can also make a bowl more durable and waterproof.

Part

Description

Kaolin

Kaolin, also known as china clay, is a naturally-occurring clay mineral. Its colour provides the base colour for the ceramic.

Pottery Stone

Pottery stone, or china stone, is formerly known as petuntse. It is formed by grounding igneous rock before adding it to the clay.

Feldspar

Feldspar is a group of commonly-found rock-forming minerals and they change the thermal properties of the ceramic mix.

Quartz

Quartz, or silica, is a mineral found in the Earth’s crust and stabilises the ceramic mix.

Types of Antique Chinese Bowls

There are many types of antique Chinese bowls, and many variations within each type. Manufacturers often had a signature style, and depending on the type of bowl, it could often come with or without a lid, handles or stand.

Type

Description

Advantages

Considerations

Ceramic: Kraak

Mainly produced in the Wanli region, Kraak bowls are mainly underglazed in blue and white and resemble shapes previously made in metal

Perfected in the Ming dynasty and often featured highly decorated scenes and patterns

Almost always blue and white, made primarily for export to Europe

Ceramic: Klapmuts

A type of Kraak bowl that is broader, in more of a soup bowl style

Range from blue and white through to decorated with stands and handles

Often produced to satisfy European demand

Ceramic: Chawan

Chawan means tea bowl, and is a small bowl for preparing and/or drinking tea

Widely-produced and available, and come in many variations

Chawans range from household items to elaborate gifts and prices will vary accordingly

Ceramic: Fish Bowl

A large bowl that goldfish could be kept in

Some prized bowls were made as gifts

May come in pairs, or with stands

Ceramic: Congee Bowl

A large bowl with looped or lion handles, used for serving porridge

Congee is a staple food and as such congee bowls are more widely-available 

As of the 1800s, lion handles were preferred. Bowls vary hugely between regions

Metal: Singing/Fountain Bowl

A copper/bronze bowl with handles

Produces musical tones

These are often very large

Factors to Consider When Buying an Antique Chinese Bowl

  • Wear and tear – for a genuine antique ceramic Chinese bowl, you should expect to see some signs of aging, from rust blooms to small chips. However, too many can make an item worthless, and not enough may indicate it was produced in a more modern time. For metal bowls, the decorative carvings and embellishments should be intact.
  • Design consistency – ceramic bowls were often the combination between latest techniques, colour advancements and trends. Check the bowl to make sure that all of these qualities correspond to the same era, and potentially, manufacturer.
  • Investment – due to the demand and rarity of many antique Chinese bowls, prices can be very high. There is often disagreement between experts as to an item’s originality, especially for ceramic bowls, as verifying authenticity can be complex and involve investigation and analyses of minute details, such as brushstrokes. Before making a large investment, you may wish to seek expert opinions.

Typical Features of an Antique Chinese Bowl

Antique Chinese bowls are varied in both intended use and decoration. When buying a ceramic bowl, there are features to consider carefully.

Design and decoration

The more decorated a bowl, the less likely it was used for everyday eating and drinking. The style and features of the decoration can also provide a hint towards what it was used for.

Quality colour and glaze

The production techniques used should have resulted in colours that stand the test of time. As colour production was expensive, application should seem fairly smooth and consistent.

Variety

No two antique Chinese bowls should be identical, even if made as a pair. They were made by hand and part of their appeal is that they should reflect this.

How to Care for an Antique Chinese Bow

Antique Chinese bowls will have survived many years before you buy it. Whether metal or ceramic, they were intended to be well-made and long-lasting items, and this was part of their appeal. The production processes used should have resulted in a high-quality item that has retained most of its original features. For ceramic bowls, the most common problem is breakage, so the bowl should be transported, stored or displayed carefully. If the item is to be cleaned, use non-abrasive materials and specialised cleaners or take it to a specialist, as any cracks in the glaze, or chips in the bowl could widen or become corroded.

For metal bowls, heavy dents and oxidisation, or corrosion, are key problems with aging, especially if the bowl has come into contact with food or liquid. Metal should be cleaned with specialist creams, powders, liquids or foams, using soft, non-abrasive cloths. Using the wrong cleaner for the metal can cause irreparable damage. If the item is highly valuable, or if extensive cleaning is needed to restore it, specialist advice should be sought.

Popular Antique Chinese Bowls

Antique Chinese bowl production took place across China and is most typically characterised by when it was made. Therefore, styles and techniques of dynasties may primarily determine the bowl you would like to buy. However, for ceramic bowls, specific areas were often associated with bowls of particular note, and some are listed here.

  • Jian blackware
  • Ding ware
  • Ru ware
  • Jun ware
  • Guan ware
  • Ge ware
  • Qingbai ware
  • Blue and white ware
  • Blanc de Chine
  • Yixing ware

Accessories and Add-ons for an Antique Chinese Bowl

To protect your bowl, you will need to store or display it safely. Bowls may be purchased with stands that were made together, or an add-on stand could be bought. How the bowl is displayed is down to personal preference, but the more decorative items can often take up space with their large size, handles, and stands. 

Finding an Antique Chinese Bowl on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique Chinese bowl you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on ‘Chinese’ and ‘Bowls’ and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching for an Antique Chinese Bowl on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for an antique Chinese bowl. For example, to find a an antique Chinese Celadon bowl, type Chinese Celadon Bowl into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tips page for more advice on searching for Chinese bowls with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique Chinese bowl you want, try shopping eBay Stores

Conclusion

Buying an antique Chinese bowl should be an exciting purchase, whether it’s to add to a collection, as a one-off piece or an investment. The buyer should research the bowl’s condition, design, finish, colour and any marks to ascertain when and where it was made, which will also determine the value of the item. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique Chinese bowl safely and securely on eBay.

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