Purchasing an antique statue can be interesting and exciting as there is an almost unlimited variety of sizes, shapes and materials to choose from. The sheer volume can be a challenge to digest all at once, but with enough information, you can feel more confident about acquiring one for your home or collection. The purpose of this buying guide is to focus on how to purchase and maintain some of the more common composition types found on eBay. For more detailed information search for eBay guides on specific statue types, historical periods and areas of origin, or simply browse all the eBay listings.
History of Antique Statues
Fired clay statues have been found in Europe that date to 25-30,000 BC, and are among the first signs of human culture. Porcelain and other ceramics are common materials for small statues. Many early examples exist from China, which drove experimentation in Europe in attempts to copy the process. The first European porcelain statues were called Meissen ware, named after the German city where it was first produced. Ivory sculpture dates back at least 2000 years to the Greek, Roman, Chinese and Indian cultures. All of the great ancient civilizations produced bronze statues, though the Greeks were the first to create life-size figures. Brass became a popular medium during the Industrial Revolution as a result of cheaper, more efficient production methods.
Discover Antique Statues
There is a very strong collector’s market for antique statues, but their worth extends far beyond any investment value. An antique statue can impart grace, style and beauty to a living room, den or office. A larger statue can act as the focal point of a room, while smaller pieces can provide an ideal accent. An antique statue can also anchor a certain motif or style that can be reflected by other items like furniture pieces, paintings, lighting and floor covering.
Parts/Materials/Components of Antique statues
Antique statues in many different materials are available. Below are the most common compositions of statues available on eBay:
A bright, gold-like alloy of copper and zinc.
A hard, tough metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, with tin as the minor ingredient.
Teeth and tusks from animals.
A tough, translucent ceramic made from clay in the form of kaolin.
Types of Antique Statues
Antique Bronze Statues
The bronze statue market encompasses a wide range of quality and craftsmanship. There are many bronzes on the secondary market and unfortunately many are inauthentic or counterfeit. The most desirable bronzes were created using the lost wax process, and education is key to building a valuable collection.
- Scratch the bottom of the statue lightly. If it only has a bronze coating the white metal (spelter) will show through
- French law permits an artist to make just 12 copies of his statue and each must be numbered. Further copies must be marked "reproduction"
- Edgar Degas produced only wax models for his bronzes and did not sign his name on any of them
- Signatures and marks can be useful for research but are no guarantee of authenticity as some famous sculptors had their own foundries and used no marks
- Damage detracts from value
- Sharpness of detail is important in determining if the statue is an original casting
- Later castings are often smaller than the original
- In the late 19th century Japonism, a general term alluding to the influence of Japanese art, was popular and many forgeries were produced
- Many 19th century copies of Renaissance bronzes have faux age marks on them and are now being passed off as real
- Bronze sculptures are usually cast in numbered editions, so try to ensure that the numbers match the original issuance
Antique Ivory Statues
Ivory is an excellent medium for statues, but imitations such as plastic, or bone are common.
- Look for discolouration. Unless it has been restored, antique ivory yellows or browns with age. Bright and white ivory might be new or an imitation
- Use a magnifying glass to search for grain lines in the ivory. If these lines aren’t present the ivory might be an imitation
- Heat a pin over a flame and press it against the bottom of the statue. Imitation ivory will usually melt and leave an indentation
- Materials such as plastic-based glue, which did not exist 100 years ago, might indicate a forgery or reproduction
Antique Brass Statues
The important thing here is being able to identify brass from other metals. Many statues have a brass-coloured finish. This may only be a light layer of brass over another substance, or simply oxidized forms of other metals. Magnetism, chemical reaction and stripping reaction can all help determine the composition of a statue:
- Inspect the statue for heavy oxidation marks like blue or silver tinting. Use a metal varnish cleaner on the statue’s underside. If the oxidation comes off with little pressure, the brass statue is not an antique
- Continue to remove as much of the oxidation as possible. Use a brass stripper and try to pull off a small layer to determine if the metal is brass. After stripping, if the metal is bright gold (not orange) then it’s real brass vs. copper or bronze
- Hold a magnet up to the statue. If it does not stick, the statue is 100 percent brass and not just brass-coated
Antique Porcelain and other Ceramic Statues (more markings information)
One way to identify an antique porcelain statue from Europe is by looking at various markings on the underside. Some pieces are marked with a company name. Others are left unmarked and may be identifiable by pattern only, or by numerical symbols or codes. Antique porcelain from China is much harder to identify. It is recommended that interested buyers visit specific eBay buying guides for
- Porcelain statues that say ‘English Bone China’ or ‘Bone China’ are not considered antique as they were all made after 1891.
- Well-known porcelain companies like Wedgwood, Meissen, Royal Doulton, and others used symbols. Look them up online or in a current price guide to get an exact date of production and value
- Study the various antique porcelain manufacturers: the more you know about a specific company the easier it is to identify its marks and characteristics
- A printed or stamped-on mark other than blue indicates the statue was made after 1850. If the word ‘Royal’ is stamped before the company name it was made after 1850
- The registration mark ‘Rd’ with numerals following was used on porcelain between 1842 and 1884. The mark ‘Limited’ or ‘Ltd’ was used from 1885 onwards. The word ‘Trade Mark’ indicates the statue was made in 1862 or later
- Check for any capital letters that might indicate the month and/or year when the statue was made
Factors to Consider When Buying an Antique Statue
Before purchasing an antique statue it is necessary to determine its value. The statue’s material, age, provenance and condition are the biggest factors to consider during this process. Below are some tips for evaluating some of the more common statues available on eBay:
Marks and Insignias
Artisans have long been placing makers’ marks on their works, whether they are made of porcelain, brass, bronze or other metals. A maker's mark helps to identify a creator's work and reputation while attributing a standard of quality.
- Examine the statue carefully and look for stamp marks, insignias or carvings. A certificate of authenticity is also good, and will make research easier.
- Photograph the statue from every angle taking care to include any carvings, stamps or insignias found while inspecting the statue.
- Do detailed online research on the insignias and markings there are websites that maintain a library of over 12,000 confirmed makers' marks on metal-ware. Check eBay and other sites to compare it with similar statues on the market. If an identical statue is found, compare the listed values.
- Send the photos to a few creditable appraisers for estimates.
- Visit local antique shops and dealers. They are often willing to offer free information, and can also point to other valuable resources.
How to Care for an Antique Statue
Caring for an antique statue requires patience and attention. The type of care depends largely on the composition of the statue. Below are care methods for some of the more common antique statues found on eBay.
Antique Bronze Statues
Since bronze contains large amounts of copper, the finish naturally changes colour from exposure to oxygen. Many collectors want to preserve bronze's patina because it reflects a statue’s age and history. The method outlined below will accomplish this goal:
- Rub a dry cotton cloth gently over the statue to remove dust.
- Scrub the statue lightly with a soft brush to remove grime, focusing on creases and crevices.
- Apply wax to the statue by dipping a new, 1-inch-wide paintbrush into clear paste wax, collecting only a small amount of wax on the paintbrush.
- Lightly coat the entire surface, including the crevices, with a thin layer of the paste wax. Let the wax dry according to the directions.
- Buff the surface gently with a dry cotton cloth to remove any waxy residue.
- Never polish a bronze statue or expose it to water
- Liquid furniture polishes often contain oils that can damage bronze's original patina
- Commercial cleaning products often remove bronze's original patina
- Used paintbrushes may contain leftover chemicals that can damage bronze
- Keep bronze statues away from stoves and fireplaces
Antique Brass Statues
Antique brass statues have a natural, warm patina. If neglected, however, this patina gets covered over with unsightly tarnish and dirt. Fortunately, restoring antique brass requires very little effort:
- Wash away any surface dirt using dish soap, hot water and a soft cloth.
- Rub the statue with a towel and let it dry thoroughly.
- Make a restoration solution of 1 tbsp. salt, 1 tbsp. vinegar and 1/2-pint of hot water. Allow the salt to dissolve.
- Soak a cloth in the solution and clean the statue until the original patina is visible, wetting the cloth whenever necessary.
- Wash the statue with hot, soapy water to remove all of the salt solution. Rinse it clean.
- Pour a long-term brass polish on to a buffing cloth and rub the statue until the polish is absorbed and the brass has a smooth, even finish.
Antique Ivory Statues
True ivory comes from the teeth or tusks of mammals. It is extremely susceptible to the environment, yellowing over time. Cleaning can be a challenge as too much moisture can discolour this porous material.
- Wear plastic gloves to avoid transferring oils from your hands to the ivory.
- Brush the cracks and crevices of the statue with a soft brush, blowing gently to remove any debris.
- Use a damp microfibre cloth (distilled water) to gently rub the statue in sections, drying each part immediately.
- Mix a few drops of liquid dish detergent into a small jug of clean water. Spot clean any parts that look soiled, drying immediately.
- Buff the statue gently with a clean microfibre cloth.
- Regular dusting will keep the statue clean and reduce buildup
- Never submerge ivory in water
- If the statue is cracked or dried out let a professional antique restorer assess it
- Stop cleaning if the discolouration begins to worsen and consult a professional
- Never use conventional cleaning products on ivory
- Do not use fabric softener on the microfibre cloths as it can damage the ivory
Antique Porcelain and other Ceramic Statues
Over time a porcelain statue will accumulate dust, dirt and debris. Fortunately, a careful but thorough cleaning will help to restore antique porcelain to its former glory:
- Cover the work area with soft towels to prevent unintentional chipping or breakage.
- Brush the statue from the top down with a soft cloth to remove any loose dust or dirt.
- Add a squirt of mild dish-washing soap to a small pail of warm water.
- Using a sponge or soft cloth, gently wipe the statue to remove any soil or residue, and pat dry.
- For any remaining stains, pour two tbsp. of distilled white vinegar into a shallow dish and use a cotton swab to dab any areas of discolouration. Wipe clean and allow to air dry.
Popular Makers of Antique Statues
- Barye, Antoine
- Bofill, Antoine
- Bonheur, Isidore Jules
- Clodion, (Claude Michel)
- Colinet, Claire Jeanne Roberte
- Dallin, Cyrus Edwin
- Descombs, Jean Bernard
- Falconet, Etienne Maurice
- Fraser, James Earl
- Fratin, Christophe
- Gardet, Georges
- Good, John Wills
- Houdon, Jean-Antoine
- Humphries, Charles
- Kauba, Carl (Karl)
- Lanceray, Yevgeni Alexandrovich
- Lecourtier, Prosper
- LeFaguays, Pierre
- Madrassi, Luca
- Mene, Pierre Jules
- Moigniez, Jules
- Moreau, Auguste
- Moreau, Hippolyte
- Moreau, Mathurin
- Preiss, Johann Philipp Ferinand
- Remington, Frederic
- Rodin, Auguste
- Russell, Charles Marion
- Valton, Charles
- Villanis, Emmanuel
Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Statues
- Magnifying glass
- Mild detergent
- Soft brush
- Microfibre cloths
- Distilled water
- Soft towels
- Cotton swabs
- White vinegar
- Paint brush
Finding Antique Statues on eBay
Once you determine the type of antique statue you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, find the ‘Decorative Arts’ sub-category, then click on the ‘Figurines/Statue’s sub-category 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 Statueson eBay
Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique statues. For example, to find an antique Chinese bronze statue, type antique statues into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tipspage for more advice on searching for antique statues with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique statue you want, try shopping eBay Stores.
This guide provides much of the information necessary to properly research antique statues. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique statue safely and securely on eBay.