How to Buy an Antique Chinese Vase

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How to Buy an Antique Chinese Vase

Antique Chinese pottery is widely-loved and collected as it showcases ornate craftsmanship while offering a huge variety of styles, colours and shapes. One of the most sought-after items are antique Chinese vases, whose ornate decoration makes a beautiful addition to any collection or home. This indigenous stylistic production of porcelain, or china, developed over many centuries, along with the production and glazing techniques, resulting in a huge range of Chinese vases. The range in designs and colour can often be attributed to the era in which it was made.

The Chinese use the term “ci” to describe the ceramics it made, which includes both porcelain and stoneware, and they don’t distinguish between the two. However, outside of China, porcelain is often considered more delicate and more translucent than stoneware.  Antique Chinese vases can be bought purely for their aesthetic appeal, but as with all antiques, buyers should consider researching any individual item to ascertain the genuine period of production. Diligent home collectors are still able to find hugely valuable pieces, however these pieces are rare, and thorough research would be needed for any purchase made, especially as the market is flooded with mass production of replica items.

This is complicated by the fact that the reign marks, most commonly used in the Ming and Qing dynasties, are often inaccurate, and the production techniques and designs often overlap large time periods, making exact verification of the vases hard. However, a thorough investigation of any Chinese antique vase’s style, shape, enamel, underglaze decoration and finish will help ascertain its origin. A more detailed knowledge of the products during different dynasties, the materials used, key styles and colours will help buyers make a more informed purchase of any antique Chinese vases on eBay.

History of Antique Chinese Vases

Ancient China led the world in pottery production, with the Shang dynasty (1600-1100 BC) providing the birthplace of primitive porcelain. The late Neolithic period saw the invention of the potter’s wheel, which led to the production of more uniform items, including vases. Over the years, advances in production techniques and colouring allowed more and more intricately and ornately-shaped items to be manufactured. The following dynasties saw various innovations and styles which are now recognised around the world, for example, the three-coloured (bright green, yellow and white) glazes of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) and the blue and white production of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 AD), which was further refined during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD). The much-coveted and highly-decorated, five-coloured items and vases, or monochromatic, in blue, yellow, pink and red, were produced during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD), the last of the imperial dynasties. Production continued after this, but was widely-considered not of as high quality due to financial limitations in the industry.

Discover Antique Chinese Vases

Chinese antique vases are a classical art form that can also provide investment opportunities if genuine articles are purchased. With a range of colours, shapes and styles, there are collectible Chinese vases that can suit all tastes or display environments. Depending on the quality and era, vases can be found to match most budgets. Thorough research could even yield a rare and valuable item.

Materials Used in Antique Chinese Vases

Chinese porcelain is made by combining kaolin, pottery stone (petuntse), feldspar and quartz and firing it at high temperatures in a kiln.  It is then glazed, through firing and oiling, which can strengthen or waterproof an item. In ancient China, different glazes were developed and used throughout different eras to provide different colour hues and patterns on the vases.

Part

Description

Kaolin

Kaolin, also known as china clay, is a clay mineral, and can be found naturally in varying colours, which provide the base colour for the ceramic.

Pottery Stone

Pottery stone, or china stone, was formerly known as petuntse and is formed by the decomposition of igneous rocks. It is grounded before being added to the clay.

Feldspar

Feldspar is a group of commonly-found, rock-forming minerals. They lower the melting point of the ceramic mix in the firing process.

Quartz

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

Types of Antique Chinese Vases

Antique Chinese vases come in many shapes, designs, colours and styles. The differences are primarily determined by the dynasty in which the vases were made. Understanding these variations will help you to understand the history of the individual vase. Some of these differences are outlined below.

Type

Description

Advantages

Considerations

Blue and White Porcelain

 

White base vase with blue decoration

· Very popular in Europe

· It first appeared in the Yuan Dynasty but became most popular in the Ming Dynasty

White Porcelain

 

White based, often with little colour, and moulded decorations.

· Timeless pieces due to their lack of bright colour

· The original white porcelains were made on a large scale and vary in shape and style

Celadon Ceramics

 

Green glazed ceramic

· Jade in colour and often feature floral mouldings

· Celadon was also widely made in Thailand

Qing Dynasty

 

Bright and often very decorative vases

· Vases often feature intricate and beautifully coloured scenes

· Demand for original Qing vases is very high

Underglaze Black Porcelain

 

Monochromatic vases with cobalt used beneath the glaze

· Simple colouring

· Underglazed vases were also made in Thailand and Vietnam

Tang Dynasty Ceramics

 

Often called “three-colour” (Sancai in Mandarin), this is coloured earthenware

· A range of coloured glazes are available

· Although called “three-colour”, it often features more than just three colours

Mei Ping Vase

A shape of vase that is tall with wider shoulders than base, and a narrow neck

· Originally used as a wine vessel, then to display plum blossoms

· This is a style used widely in all vase production

Bottle Vase

A vase with a long neck and bulb base

· Often highly decorated

· Resembles early metal vase shapes

Baluster Jar

A short, rounded vase

· Often used for storage

· Simple in shape

Double Gourd

A double hourglass figure that narrows towards the top

· Often very decorated with a range of colour

· A popular shape in 1900s

Fish Pond/ Dragon Urn

A large, wide-necked vase

· Often decorated with a dynamic scene

· Heavy and requires space

Phoenix Tail Vase

An hourglass-shaped vase

· First produced in the Yuan dynasty, it became a common shape that can be found in a variety of colours

· Fragile and easy to tip over

Yi Tong Bottle

A long, tall vase

· Simple design often displaying one complete scene

· The complete scene often stretches around the vase

Factors to Consider When Buying an Antique Chinese Vase

Every antique Chinese vase will be a unique and beautiful piece, but will require thorough examination and research of its design and finish by its buyer to help determine its origin.

The primary concern when buying an antique vase is to not determine its value, either financially or to your collection, based on its first appearance or mark. Marks were common in the Ming and Qing dynasties but as these marks were often used inaccurately, they should not be used as a definite indication. Further research would be needed to verify a piece’s origins. Furthermore, general appearances can be deceptive and each item must be considered carefully, ensuring consistency with design and historical accuracy.

If the foot of the vase is very rough, it may indicate that it was made in more modern times, such as the 1900s, when production processes were less stringent.

If the vase is a genuine Chinese antique, the appearance and quality of the enamel and underglaze decoration should be of very high quality. Older pieces should have more rose-coloured patterns, rather than orange. For blue and white pieces, if the blue colour seems especially concentrated in areas, it is probably not antique as the cobalt ore used to make the colour was expensive and used sparingly.

The patterns and decorations need to also be studied as the way faces, reflections, patterns are drawn is indicative of the time and trend they were created in.

The glaze will probably show signs of wear, but it should be naturally obtained and irregular. Antique vases may also display tiny rust spots, which had developed over many years from impurities in the clay. There are many reference books and online forums that can be consulted to offer bespoke traits for Chinese antique vases from different Dynasties.

Typical Features of an Antique Chinese Vase

1.  Quality and beauty

Any antique Chinese vase will have been made with care and attention, and whether it was an intricately-decorated piece, or a whiteware vase, it should have maintained its high production value and beauty.

2.  Dynasty-specific design

An antique Chinese vase should reflect the techniques and trend from the age it was made. Its shape, colour and design should all correspond to a specific dynasty.

3.  Strong colour

A lot of time has passed since the antique was made, but the process and materials used should have resulted in an item that kept its colour. The colours should be harmonious and fit with the palette typical of one of the dynasties.

How to Care for an Antique Chinese Vase

If you want to protect your antique Chinese vase, then keep it safely stored, and limit handling. However, if the item was bought to be displayed, then it should be shown off in a way that limits knocks or possible breakage. Damage often occurs when cleaning, so either take the item to an expert, or use soft, non-abrasive materials and solutions that won’t scratch or corrode the surface.

Popular Antique Chinese Vases

Manufacturers of antique Chinese vases and ceramics are best considered by the dynasties during which they were made.

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

Finding an Antique Chinese Vase on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique Chinese vase you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click ‘Chinese’ and then ‘Porcelain’ 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 Vase on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for an antique Chinese vase. For example, to find a Tang Dynasty vase, type Tang Dynasty Vase 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 Chinese vases with keywords. If you can’t find the exact vase you want, try shopping eBay Stores.

Conclusion 

An antique Chinese vase is a beautiful item and also a potential long-term investment. If you buy wisely and take care of your vase, you will benefit from owning a part of historical art. However, to ensure the vase is genuine, thorough research must be undertaken, and if it’s a large investment, you may want to consult an expert for reassurance. Once you have collected this information, you can buy an antique Chinese vase safely and securely on eBay.

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