Antique Chinese Porcelain Trays Buying Guide

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Antique Chinese Porcelain Trays Buying Guide

Chinese porcelain is renowned throughout the world. Its vibrant colours and subtle texture make them sought-after collectors’ items. Porcelain trays are some of the finest examples of this art form. As the variety of firing techniques, clays and glazes multiplied and improved through succeeding dynasties, so too did the variety of trays made. Individual kilns also became famous for their trays, which include works of celadon and cloisonné, and various types of under-glaze and over-glaze. This buying guide will provide information about the history, types and styles of antique Chinese painted porcelain trays. It will also provide tips to assist the selection process and instructions for care and maintenance after purchasing.

History of Antique Chinese Porcelain Trays

The shine and durability of porcelain made it immediately popular when it first appeared during the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC). Trays were a common household item, and production spread westward during the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). Celadon trays from this era resembled the colour of jade and are highly-prized. 

Porcelain reached new levels of craftsmanship during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD). Agate was added to the glaze of trays to create a unique, creamy-white appearance. The Ding Kiln was an important producer in this era, making black and purple glazed trays adorned with vibrant floral patterns.

The Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) brought with it the famous blue and white porcelain. Trays from this period contained the new ingredient cobalt. Imported from Persia, it reproduced a shade of blue not yet seen in China.

By the Qing period (1644–1912), China was creating decorative trays specifically for export to Europe and North America featuring western designs. Eventually Europe produced its own porcelain, but the quality was not nearly as good as Chinese ones. Most European porcelain trays are made from soft paste (clay and ground glass), compared to the hard-paste of Chinese porcelain.

Discover Antique Chinese Porcelain Trays

Antique items are generally thought to be those that are 100 years an older. Antique porcelain trays from China can sell for extremely high prices at auction. Blue and white trays are always in demand due to their intricately painted cobalt blue patterns and scenes. Some trays are named after the multi-coloured patterns that dominate the piece. These include the ‘famille rose’, ‘rose medallion’, ‘rose mandarin’ and ‘famille verte’.

During the 1700s and the 1800s, China began to export porcelain trays abroad. This made-to-order dinnerware often featured larger, European-style figures without much detail. These items are still very valuable, but less so than earlier pieces made for the domestic market. 

Parts of Antique Chinese Porcelain Trays

Antique Chinese porcelain trays come in many shapes and styles but all have the same essential elements.

Part

Description

Bed

Flat, horizontal surface on which items are placed.

Handles

Optional, not all trays have handles. Handles can crop out from the bed, or consist of apertures on the side for inserting the hands.

Bottom

The part of the tray that makes contact with the table or ground may have marks denoting the kiln or artist.

Types of Antique Chinese Porcelain Trays

Antique Chinese porcelain trays are commonly identified by era, materials used, motifs and firing methods. Many different types were produced through the various dynasties. Below is a chronological listing of some of the more popular types.

Type

Description

Advantages

Other Characteristics

Ding ware trays

White, almost transparent glaze that dripped to appear like tears.

Best quality porcelain vases of northern China of its time.

Ding ware trays can be rimmed with gold or silver.

Ru ware trays

Feature reddish-brown crackles known as crazing.

Unrivalled by the crazing efforts of later eras.

The Song dynasty was the first to see crazing as a positive decorative feature.

Jun ware trays

Thick purple and turquoise glaze.

Make for trays that were thick and robust in shape and design.

Use straw ash in the glaze to create colour.

Guan ware trays

Very thin walls and very thick glaze.

Guan refers to official which means porcelain ware were produced by an imperial kiln

Guan trays are much sought-after and subject to copying.

Ge ware trays

Two primary types: the first are yellow with two sets of crackles and the second are greyish with one set of crackles.

Similar to Guan trays, this is also highly-prized.

Ge translates as ‘big brother’.

Qingbai ware trays

Greenish-blue in colour with some traus having incised decorations.

Feature a texture of very fine sugar.

Mass-produced.

Blue and white trays

Blue decorations are painted on with cobalt oxide.

Beautiful and highly-prized.

Still an important product of the city of Jingdezhen.

Blanc de Chine trays

Fuses the glaze and body of the vase into ivory-white and milk-white colours.

Exported in large quantities to Europe.

Copied in Germany and elsewhere during this period.

Export porcelain trays

Made for export to Europe and North America from the 1500s to the 1900s centuries.

Were highly-regarded and sought-after by European.

Decorative but can lack the detail of earlier domestic pieces.

Factors to Consider When Buying Antique Chinese Porcelain Trays

Buying an antique Chinese porcelain tray on eBay can be exciting and interesting. A little research and due diligence will help the selection process.

  • Art – The intricate patterns or scenes on original trays should be clear and exquisitely-painted.
  • Authentication – Dealers and serious collectors are also a good resource. Consult them with respect to style, origin and value of a tray. Collect detailed photos, especially of any markings on the bottom.
  • Bottom – Check the bottom of the tray. Pieces from the 1800s or older will have a rougher finish than those from later eras. Generally speaking, the older the tray, the rarer it is, and the higher the value.
  • Glaze – The glaze and enamel on the tray should have a pleasing blend of colours. Modern Chinese porcelain tends to have more orange than rose.

Typical Features of Antique Chinese Porcelain Trays

  1. Crackling - Sometimes mistaken by novice collectors as a defect, crackling refers to a phenomenon that occurs in certain types of glazes. As it cools and contracts, the glaze splits forming reddish-brown ‘crackles’ throughout the tray.
  2. Hand-painting - Many trays feature finely-detailed, hand-painted scenes. Other hand-painting includes symbols and religious or cultural motifs relevant to the era.
  3. Pooling - In some firing methods, the molten glaze separates, causing drips to run in a pooling effect. No two trays produced this way are exactly alike.

How to Care for Antique Chinese Porcelain Trays

Direct sunlight can cause the hand-painted colours on a tray to fade. Valuable trays are best displayed in a stable cabinet, on a felt pad cut to fit the base.

Dirt and dust can be removed safely using an artist’s paintbrush. Unrestored, glazed porcelain trays can be washed in warm water with a mild soap and soft brush. Always put a towel or sponge at the bottom of the basin. Rinse well and allow the tray to dry on a clean towel.

Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Chinese Porcelain Trays

One of the primary functions of the porcelain tray was to serve meals and refreshments. Building on this functionality is a good way to accessorise an antique tray and add to a collection of Chinese antiques.

Finding an Antique Chinese Porcelain Tray on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique Chinese porcelain tray you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on ‘Asian / Oriental Antiques’, then ‘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 an Antique Chinese Porcelain Trayon eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for an antique Chinese porcelain tray. For example, to find a Qing dynasty antique Chinese porcelain tray, type ‘Qing Dynasty Antique Chinese Porcelain Tray’ 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 an antique Chinese porcelain tray with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique Chinese porcelain tray you want, try shopping eBay Stores.

Conclusion

Antique Chinese porcelain trays have been made for thousands of years, and they are available in a wide range of styles and designs. Finding trays from a particular dynasty might be a good way to start building a collection. Collecting other serving ware is also an option for creating unique display items that can add historical charm as home accent pieces. Learning more about what makes these items so unique and highly valued helps purchasers in identifying antique Chinese porcelain trays and developing a better understanding of their wide appeal. This guide provides much of the information you need about antique Chinese porcelain trays to help make collecting them an easy and enjoyable pursuit. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique Chinese porcelain tray safely and securely on eBay.

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