Collections of any kind can provide enjoyment for the collectors by giving them pieces to search for and collections they can be proud of. Ceramics, especially antique ceramics from different periods of history, are a popular item to collect because they are beautiful pieces of history, capable of telling a story and providing tangible proof of the artists of the past. There are five common date classifications used for classifying antique ceramics:pre-c.1840,c.1840-c.1900,1900-1919,1920-1939, and 1940-1959. Usually collectors limit their collection to pieces from one or two eras, though there is nothing wrong with mixing pieces from various eras in one collection.
Whether a collector chooses to limit his or her collection to only one era or to include ceramics from all eras, it is important to know how to care for antique ceramics so they are not damaged or broken. While it may be tempting to soak pieces in hot, soapy water or to clean them with bleach to remove stains, these methods of cleaning can severely damage a piece. Collectors should know how to properly care for the pieces in their collection so they can ensure the pieces increase in value over time and do not deteriorate.
What Exactly are Ceramics?
In general terms, ceramics are items, including vessels, plates, and figurines, that are made of clay and fired in a kiln or oven. While clay itself contains water molecules that cause anything made of clay to disintegrate when it comes in contact with water, firing the clay removes the water molecules and converts the clay into what is referred to as ceramic. Typically, ceramic is comprised of clay along with some additives or colouring agents. Ceramic does not disintegrate in water and can hold water and other liquids.
The term 'ceramic' is a catch-all for both pottery items and porcelain items. Pottery refers to ceramic items that are opaque, while porcelain refers to ceramic items that allow at least some light to penetrate. All ceramic pottery and porcelain items are hard and are brittle, which means they tend to shatter when dropped.
There are two main types of pottery, earthenware and stoneware, each of which has slightly different properties. The difference between the two types is that they are made with different clays and fired at different temperatures. Earthenware pottery is fired at a lower temperature than stoneware and is still porous after firing, which means it cannot yet hold liquids. Earthenware pottery must be glazed to make it waterproof. Stoneware, on the other hand, is fired at a higher temperature and is waterproof immediately after firing.
Porcelain is made from a type of clay known as kaolin. Many people today refer to porcelain as china because for centuries it could only be made in China. There are three main types of porcelain common in today's marketplace, each with different properties and made with a slightly different mix of clays and additives, which gives each a slightly different look.
Geographical Region of Origin
Kaolin, Petuntse, bone ash
Soft-paste porcelains are more porous than hard-paste porcelains, so the glazing process is extremely important when making waterproof soft-paste vessels. Bone china is harder than soft-paste porcelain, making it more durable. Currently, most of the world's bone china is still made in England.
A Brief History of Ceramics
Archaeologists have found evidence of pottery pieces dating back to approximately 1400 BC. This means that the individuals of that time period had already figured out how to use clay to form vessels and other items and fire them in hot fires to make them more durable and waterproof. Earthenware pottery is the oldest type of pottery known to man; stoneware pottery was the second type and has been used for thousands of years for cooking, storing, and serving food.
Porcelain appeared in China during the Han Dynasty, which lasted from 202 BC to 220 AD. For more than 200 years after discovering China, Europeans were obsessed with porcelain and sought ways to make the delicate ceramic themselves. It was not until the latter half of the 1500's that artisans in Florence, Italy, came up with their own process of making porcelain. Though it was not the same as the porcelain produced in China, it was highly valued nonetheless. Around 1750, the English added bone ash to their porcelain clays to produce what they called bone china. Bone china is stronger and more durable than the porcelains manufactured in Florence and elsewhere in Europe.
Commonly Collected Ceramics
Ceramic items, made of both pottery and porcelain, are popular items for individuals to collect. While some individuals use these antique ceramics, others simply display them. Ceramics from many eras are popular among collectors. For example, those made before 1840 are considered a unique classification of ceramics. These ceramics are rarer and pieces in great condition are usually more expensive than ceramic pieces made after this time period. Some collectors prefer to limit their ceramics collections to pieces from a specific time period, such as before 1840, while others collect pieces from a range of dates. There is no right or wrong way to build a ceramics collection, so collectors should add the pieces they deem beautiful or valuable.
Determining the Age of Ceramics
There are two ways to determine the approximate age of a ceramic piece. The first is to match the style of a piece to photos of other ceramics made in a specific time period. This method is not the most accurate, but it is often the only way to date a ceramic piece if there is no date information on the piece. The second method is to examine the piece for a date. Very early ceramic pieces were not usually dated, but pieces produced in the last several centuries are often dated, which makes it easier to determine which era a piece is from. These pieces, called date-lined ceramics, are sometimes more prized because their date can be confirmed whereas the date of non-datelined pieces cannot.
Caring for Decorative Pre-c.1840 Date-Lined Ceramics
Ceramics that do not contain lead in the colouring or glaze are safe to use; however, antique ceramics are more delicate than the ceramics produced today and may not hold up to repeated use and washing. For this reason most collectors choose to simply display their prized ceramics rather than use them. Because antique ceramics are delicate, it is important to care for them properly to ensure they do not break or deteriorate. This is especially true of older ceramics, such as pre-c.1840 date-lined ceramics.
Washing Pre-c.1840 Date-Lined Ceramics
Collectors may need to wash their ceramic pieces from time to time, even if they do not use them on a regular basis. Putting ceramics on display subjects them to dust and other particulates, requiring occasional cleaning to remove the dust and dirt buildup. Safe, proper cleaning of ceramics requires very mild soap and a soft cloth. Collectors should wet the cloth with warm, soapy water and use the damp cloth to clean the item instead of submerging and soaking the item, which causes deterioration. Bleach and other harsh chemicals should be avoided, because they too lead to disintegration. This is especially important for items that have been restored, since the chemicals could break down the restorative agents.
Collectors should rinse the item with clean water and then blot the piece dry gently with a dry cloth. The piece should be air-dried fully before putting it back on display. Because of the delicate nature of antique ceramics, it is important not to rub the item dry.
Handling Pre-c.1840 Date-Lined Ceramics
All antique ceramics, including pre-c.1840 date-lined ceramics, should be handled with care so they are not damaged or broken. This entails being cautious not to carry these items around by parts that could have weakened over time, such as handles and stems, and holding lids and accessory pieces securely in place when handling, or handling them separately, to avoid damage. Ideally, antique ceramics should be handled as infrequently as possible to prevent deterioration and damage.
Displaying Pre-c.1840 Date-Lined Ceramics
While some collectors may be tempted to use metal plate hangers to display their pre-c.1840 date-lined ceramic pieces, these hangers apply pressure to plates and other ceramic items, which could cause cracks. Plate stands or a secure plate shelf are the preferred methods for displaying ceramics because they do not apply undue pressure to the pieces and can prevent them from being damaged by keeping them out of the way while on display. Ceramics should not be displayed in direct sunlight or where they may be subjected to extreme heat or temperature shifts, as all of these situations may cause pieces to deteriorate more quickly.
Restoring Pre-c.1840 Date-Lined Ceramics
It may be necessary for antique ceramics, such as plates, bowls, and figurines, in one's collection to be restored, either because of poor care before a collector acquired the piece or because of accidental damage. Collectors should not attempt to restore or repair pieces themselves because they could end up causing further damage and possibly reducing the value of the piece. The best way to restore antique ceramics is to seek out professional repair by a ceramic restorer. These professionals have the knowledge to repair and restore ceramics without causing damage, and doing so in a manner that does not reduce the value of the antique.
Shopping for Pre-c.1840 Date-Lined Ceramics
Collectors who are looking for pre-c.1840 date-lined ceramic pieces to add to their collections must be patient and consider all buying options to find the best pieces. Local antique shops may have some pre-c.1840 date-lined ceramics in stock or may acquire some over time, so serious collectors may wish to form relationships with the owners or staff at their local shops. They can let the shop staff know which types of pieces in which they are interested and ask the staff to call should the store acquire any such pieces. Other ways to find antique ceramic pieces to add to a collection include shopping at local charity, consignment, and second-hand stores and car boot sales.
Another great way to add pieces to a ceramics collection is by shopping online. Antique sellers on eBay and other antique websites may have pieces a collector wants as well as the ability to package and ship the pieces properly. Shopping online allows collectors to widen their list of contacts and may allow them to find the perfect piece to complete or complement their existing collection.
Buying Pre-c.1840 Date-Lined Ceramics on eBay
If you want to take a look at the listings for antique ceramics on eBay, go to the site's home page and type the keywords 'pre-c.1840 date-lined ceramics' into the search box. If you are looking for a specific type of ceramic, you may enter that information into the search box or use the filters on the page to narrow down your results. Filters include the type of ceramic, type of product, condition, and price.
Before making a purchasing decision, read through each listing carefully to determine the full details of the listed item, including the condition, any damage, and repair or restoration attempts. If possible, collectors should also attempt to ascertain how the piece has been cared for in the past. Ensure that there are detailed photographs of the piece that enable you to judge the condition for yourself. It is also advisable to review the seller's return policy to determine whether you can return the piece should you be unhappy with the condition; you may also want to ask the seller to provide an appraisal so you know the worth of the piece before purchasing.
Ceramics from all eras are popular among collectors because of their beauty and uniqueness. The pieces made prior to about 1840 are especially valued because there are fewer pieces from this era than from newer eras. The beauty of collecting ceramics is that no two collections are alike; collectors can make their collection as broad and all-encompassing or as narrow as they like. Which pieces a collector adds to his or her collection is completely up to the collector, and some collectors covet certain pieces, so collecting can always present a challenge.
Collectors should be sure to care for their antique ceramics properly so the pieces last for years to come and do not lose value because of damage. By following the aforementioned suggestions for properly caring for their pre-c.1840 date-lined ceramics, collectors can have a collection that continues to provide years of enjoyment while increasing in value. These tips also ensure that individuals can properly care for the pre-c.1840 date-lined ceramics purchased on eBay.