Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures Buying Guide

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Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures Buying Guide

Antique Chinese porcelain figures reflect the artistry of an innovative period in history. Meticulously crafted, these amazing pieces are often highly sought-after collectors' items. They often feature detailed expressions and vivid colouring that makes them so appealing. Learning more about antique porcelain figures produced in China is a great way to get started building a personal collection. This guide helps make purchasing antique Chinese porcelain figures on eBay an easier process by providing a brief history of these beautiful items and outlining some of the types of figures available and the characteristics that make them so unique.

History of Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

The earliest Chinese figures ever discovered dated back to the Neolithic period. These were small figures that resembled the human head and body and were made from clay. Hollow, jar-like figures resembling animals were discovered as well. Some historical sites from this period contained terra cotta figurines. As civilisation progressed, more advanced forms of pottery developed and cultural influences started to affect the design of these figures.

Bronze became a common material used to create vessels to hold wine by the middle of the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC), and statues and figurines began to be produced during this period as well. They were much larger than previous pieces and were made with the piece-mould technique, which utilized a clay mould. These figures were sculpted with poses and gestures.

Porcelain figures were first made during the early Han dynasty (25–220 AD). Porcelain was made by heating clay ceramics at high temperatures. A glazed surface added to the appeal of porcelain. Many of the figures were painted and carved meticulously. By the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD), tricolour glazed pottery was used to create figures. The first tricolour antiques were discovered in burial sites. Most of these pieces resembled guardian figures and horses. Similar pieces were discovered during the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD).

Most antique porcelain figures that survive today are from the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 AD). These pieces were of high quality and featured blue under-glaze and decorative images that were taken from books and prints. The beauty of these figures attracted attention from around the world. China began exporting porcelain on a large scale during this period, primarily to Europe and Japan.

Discover Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

Porcelain figures manufactured in China more than 100 years ago are considered antiques and are usually categorised as Asian antiques. The figures are small enough to fit in the palm and resemble people, animals or mythical creatures. The carvings and stylish paintings of these figures make them popular among collectors. Buyers looking for a unique gift could consider Chinese porcelain figures as well.

Materials Used to Make Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

Porcelain figures are made of kaolin, petuntse and other raw materials.

Material

Description

Kaolin

White clay free of impurities that melts at a high temperature. Primary material in porcelain.

Petuntse

A feldspar mineral that forms a glassy cement to hold the structure together.

Ball clay

Contains a mixture of kaolinite, mica and quartz. It appears plastic and fine-grained.

Glass

Clear material made of silica, sodium oxide, lime, among other materials.

Bone ash

White material produced from the calcination of bone.

Steatite

Also known as soapstone, this material is made of talc.

Alabaster

A material made of either gypsum or calcite.

Quartz

Clear material made of silica and has a crystal structure.

Types of Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

There are several types or categories of antique Chinese porcelain figures, which include:

Type

Description

Considerations

Religious

Religious figures that resembled gods and goddesses. Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, and Budai, the god of contentment, were popular figures. Buddhist and Taoist figures were commonly carved as well.

Great addition to any world religions collection.
In some Chinese homes, these figurines are worshipped.

Secular

Figures representing influential people of the time such as emperors, political leaders and others were produced.

Great addition to a historical collection.
Buyers should check if the figure is accurately depicted.

Common

Common people were often the subject of porcelain figures. Activities such as fishing and farming were common themes.

Expressive faces.
Usually bought with several figures to complete a scene.

Military

Soldiers wearing military uniforms and weapons.

Figures are elaborate and detailed.
Great display piece.

Burial

Various figures that guard tombs. Usually have a guarding pose. They tend to wear military uniforms and feature aggressive expressions.

Expressions are detailed.
Tended to be in a poorer condition as very old pieces were simply buried in the ground. In their excavation, some may have been chipped or broken.

Animal/ Mythical creatures

Various animals are sculpted including birds, horses, cows, cranes, dogs and monkeys. Mythical creatures include dragons and phoenixes.

Beautifully carved features.

Factors to Consider When Buying Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

There are several factors that should be considered before purchasing antique Chinese porcelain figures.

  • Appearance – The first thing to consider when buying an antique Chinese porcelain figure is its appearance. It is important to examine the details of the piece and compare it with others. Different types of figures will feature different colours, carvings and designs that will appeal to particular tastes and styles.
  • Authenticity – True antique Chinese porcelain figures may be more valuable; however, they may show signs of wear including slight chips and stains. They typically feature marks that will identify them as genuine pieces. Items that have been made recently in the kilns of China are authentic pieces, but while many resemble antique figures they are newer pieces not considered antiques. Reproductions may not be made of porcelain and are usually mass produced on a large scale.
  • Condition – Porcelain antiques tend to stain. Before purchasing an antique Chinese porcelain figure, be sure all sides of the porcelain figure are visible on the product page. Removing porcelain stains is difficult, and it should be cited to the seller when negotiating a price.

Typical Features of Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

Antique Chinese porcelain figures are known for their beautiful carvings, facial expressions and small size.

  1. Intricate carvings – Porcelain figures produced in China more than 100 years ago were hand-carved into the shape of people with detailed features including clothing and accessories. Most were painted with brilliant colours, which further enhance the craftsmanship of the carvings. 
  2. Expressive motifs – Chinese porcelain figures usually have detailed facial features and postures which can produce a reaction from the observer. They can be smiling or have different facial expressions. In the case of soldiers or guards, they could be holding a weapon and feature more aggressive expressions.
  3. Small size – Most of these porcelain figures are small in size. They can be stored or displayed easily.

How to Care for Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

Antique Chinese porcelain figures can become discoloured or stained over time. This will look unsightly, especially against the white porcelain surface. Stains can affect the value of these antique pieces. There are a few ways to return the appearance of the figure to its original condition, or close to it. Start by cleaning the surface with a damp cloth or sponge soaked in warm, soapy water. This will remove dust, dirt, and some stains. For more deep-set stains, consider using a solution of vinegar to remove it. If in doubt, consult an expert restorer.

Key Production Periods of Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

Most porcelain antiques produced in China are identified by the period they were produced, rather than a specific manufacturer. The period is marked on the porcelain figure with a reign mark, which identifies the emperor during which the figure was created.

  • Ming Dynasty
  • Hongxi 1425 
  • Tianshun 1457-1464
  • Jiajing 1522-1566
  • Chongzhen 1628-1644
  • Qing Dynasty
  • Shunzhi 1644-1661
  • Kangxi 1662-1722
  • Qianlong 1736-1795
  • Guangxu 1875-1908

Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

There are several accessories for an antique Chinese porcelain figures. These accessories include:

  • Display cases
  • Display stands
  • Cleaning cloths

Finding Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures on eBay

After determining the type of antique Chinese porcelain figure to purchase, visit the Antiques Category portal on eBay, click on ‘Asian/Oriental Antiques’, then click ‘Chinese’ and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching for Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique Chinese porcelain figures. For example, to find an antique Chinese Buddha made from porcelain, type ‘Antique Chinese Porcelain Buddha’ 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 antique Chinese porcelain figures with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique Chinese porcelain figure you want, Try shopping eBay Stores.

Conclusion

There are several types of antique Chinese porcelain figures available on eBay. Use this guide while browsing the site as a reference. After finding the right item, review the details of the figurines. The product listing page on eBay contains valuable information including the price, shipping details and product description. Know exactly what the seller is offering before making a purchase. Once you have collected all the information you need, you can buy an antique Chinese porcelain figure safely and securely on eBay.

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