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Chinese Antique Porcelain Vase Buying Guide

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Chinese Antique Porcelain Vase Buying Guide

Chinese porcelain is renowned throughout the world for its vibrant colour, subtle texture and refined sculpture. Firing techniques, clays and glazes progressed through succeeding dynasties to create an incredibly rich and diverse selection of porcelain. Individual kilns were also famous for producing certain types of Chinese porcelain vases. These masterworks include vases of celadon and cloisonné, under-glaze and over-glaze varieties, and many works of blue, black, white, red and yellow porcelain. Popular motifs included animals like camels and horses, but also religious imagery of Taoist or Confucian nature. The artwork is often extremely realistic in style, with dappled glazes full of vibrant colour. 

The History of Chinese Antique Porcelain Vases

Porcelain vases make their first appearance in China during the Shang Dynasty (17th – 11th century BC). Almost immediately, its lustre and durability made porcelain a favourite choice for household wares. Vase production spread westward during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220) with unique styles emerging from individual regions and kilns. Celadon vases from this period are much revered, with their hard but delicate design resembling the colour of jade.  

Porcelain vases reached new levels of craftsmanship during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) with the key addition of agate to the glaze. This created vases with a unique, creamy-white appearance. An important producer in this era was the Ding Kiln, famous for vases with a black and purple glaze and adorned with beautiful floral patterns.

The Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) saw the emergence of the famous blue and white porcelain vases. The new ingredient here was cobalt from Persia, which reproduced a shade of blue not yet seen in China.

By the Ch'ing period (1644–1912) China was creating vases specifically for export to European countries, and later to North America. These featured more western designs and patterns. Porcelain vases were eventually produced in Europe, but they were not as strong as their original Chinese counterparts. Most European porcelain vases are made from soft paste (clay and ground glass) vs. the hard-paste Chinese porcelain vases.

Discover Chinese Antique Porcelain Vases

Antique Chinese porcelain vases can fetch extremely high process at auction. Some are identified by colour, like the pale-green glaze of a celadon vase. Blue and white vases are also highly sought after. These feature white porcelain with intricately painted cobalt blue patterns and scenes. Some vases feature multi-coloured patterns named after the dominant colour in the scheme. These include famille rose, rose medallion, rose mandarin and famille verte (green).

Chinese porcelain vases were also exported to Europe and North America in the 18th and 19th centuries, which gave rise to the title ‘Chinese export porcelain’. This made-to-order dinnerware is decorated in the European style, and often features large figures without much detail. While also collectable, these vases lack the inherent value of earlier period domestic pieces. 

Also, Chinese artisans often copied pieces from earlier eras. So while similar in appearance, an educated buyer can sometimes find good bargains in the marketplace.

Parts of Chinese Antique Porcelain Vases

Antique Chinese porcelain vases come in many shapes and styles, but antiquarians agree on a specific descriptive anatomy for all.

Part

Description

Foot

Also known as the base, which can either bulbous, flat or carinate (base flows into the body)

Body

Main part of the vase, and also often the largest

Shoulder

Area above the body which slopes inward toward the neck

Neck

Tallest part of the vase

Lip

Section at the very top which flares outward

Handle(s)

Can be one handle only or one on each side, though not all vases have handles

Types of Chinese Antique Porcelain Vases

Many different types of antique Chinese porcelain vases were produced through the various dynasties. Vases are commonly identified by era, materials used, motifs and firing methods.

Type

Description

Advantages

Considerations

Ding ware vases

White almost transparent glaze that dripped to appear like tears

Best quality porcelain vases of northern China up to 940

Ding ware vases can be rimmed with gold or silver

Ru ware vases

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 vases

Extremely thick purple and turquoise glaze

Make for vases very thick and robust in shape and design

Use straw ash in the glaze to create colour

Guan ware vases

Very thin walls and very thick glaze

Guan means official, i.e. produced by an imperially run kiln

Guan vases are much sought after and subject to copying

Ge ware vases

Two primary types: the first are yellow with two sets of crackles; the second are grayish with one set of crackles

Similar to Guan vases, which is also highly prized

Ge translates as Big Brother

Qingbai ware vases

Greenish-blue in colour with some vases having incised decorations

Vases have a texture of very fine sugar

Mass produced and made for everyday use

Blue and white vases

Blue decorations are painted onto the vase with cobalt oxide

Very beautiful and highly prized

Still an important product of the city of Jingdezhen

Blanc de Chine vases

Fuses the glaze and body of the vase into Ivory White and Milk White colours

Exported in large quantities to Europe for upper classes

Copied in Germany and elsewhere during this period

Export porcelain vases

Made for export to Europe and North America from the 16th to 20th centuries

Were very highly regarded and sought after by European upper classes

Decorative but can lack the detail of earlier domestic vases

Factors to Consider When Buying Chinese Antique Porcelain Vases

Buying an antique Chinese porcelain vase can be exciting and engaging. Proper research will ensure good value for money spent.

  • Base – Check the bottom of the vase. 19th Century pieces have an abrasive vs. smooth finish from earlier eras. In general, the older the vase, the greater its value.
  • Glaze - Examine the glaze and enamel for a harmonious blend of colours. Modern Chinese vases have more orange than rose in their textures.
  • Artwork - Chinese vases from antiquity have intricate patterns or scenes that often relate a story. These patterns should be clear and exquisitely painted.
  • Authenticate - Consult dealers or serious collectors of Chinese porcelain on the style, origin and value of the vase. Provide detailed photos, especially of the markings on the vase.

Typical Features of Chinese Antique Porcelain Vases

1. Crackling

Also known as ‘crazing’, this glaze features reddish-brown crackles which occur when the glaze cools, contracts and ultimately splits

2. Hand-Painting

Many vases feature intricately hand-painted scenes, symbols and religious or cultural motifs of the era.

3. Pooling

When the vase is fired the molten glaze separates to produce a pooling effect, with drips running down the side. For this reason, no two vases produced this way are alike.

How to Care for Chinese Antique Porcelain Vases

Avoid direct sunlight as this can cause colours to fade. Always handle vase by the body vs. extremities like handles and spouts which may crack or break. Valuable vases are best displayed in a stable cabinet on a felt pad cut to fit the base.

Use a dry artist’s paintbrush to remove dirt and dust. Unrestored, glazed porcelain vases 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 to dry on a clean towel.

Popular Eras for Chinese Antique Porcelain Vases

Manufacturers of antique Chinese porcelain vases are best considered by the dynasties in which they were made.

  • Shang Dynasty
  • Zhou
  • Qin Dynasty
  • Western Han Dynasty
  • Xin Dynasty
  • Eastern Han Dynasty
  • Three Kingdoms
  • Western Jin Dynasty
  • Eastern Jin Dynasty
  • Southern and Northern Dynasties
  • Sui Dynasty
  • Tang Dynasty
  • Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
  • Northern Song Dynasty
  • Southern Song Dynasty
  • Liao Dynasty
  • Jin Dynasty
  • Western Xia
  • Yuan Dynasty
  • Ming Dynasty
  • Qing Dynasty

Accessories and Add-ons for Chinese Antique Porcelain Vases

Antique Chinese porcelain vases are rare and valuable, and should be cared for accordingly. It may be a good idea to consider purchasing a glass display case to better protect and show off the vase. If the piece is extremely valuable, installing a dedicated alarm system for the display case is also an option.

  • Display case
  • Alarm system
  • Display light
  • Felt pad
  • Soft brush

Finding Chinese Antique Porcelain Vases on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique Chinese porcelain vase you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, find the sub-category Asian/Oriental Antiques, click the sub-category 'Pottery/Porcelain' and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching forChinese Antique Porcelain Vaseson eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique Chinese porcelain vases. For example, to find Chinese porcelain blue and white vases type vases antique china blue and white 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 forantique Chinese porcelain vases with keywords. If you can’t find the exact vase you want, try shopping eBay Stores.

Conclusion

Antique Chinese porcelain vases were made for thousands of years. You may want to search for vases from a particular dynasty. Alternatively, you may want to collect only certain types of vases, like Guan style for example. You should also take some time to consider which style colours best suits the decor of the intended destination. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique Chinese porcelain vase safely and securely on eBay.

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