The Complete Guide to Buying an Antique Chinese Teapot

Views 3 Likes Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful
The Complete Guide to Buying an Antique Chinese Teapot

The Chinese were the first people to drink tea and the first to invent implements for the practice. As such, they were the first people to construct and drink from a teapot.  Whether one is looking to buy an antique Chinese teapot as an ornament or for everyday use, this guide will attempt to provide all the information needed to make an informed choice. There are teapots, often made of porcelain, that are decorated with Chinese calligraphy and art. One can also consider an older, antique clay teapot. Antique teapots are highly prized as no two are exactly alike. Each has its own unique history, patina and taste, especially if they were used to brew traditional Chinese teas.

History of Antique Chinese Teapots

China holds the distinction of not only being the first nation to drink tea, but also the first to invent porcelain and teapots as well.  Both came to Europe as luxury items traded from China along old land and sea trade routes.

The drinking of tea dates back to 1000 BC in China. By the Qin dynasty (300 BC), tea had already become a popular drink, spreading first into other Asian countries (Japan, Korea) and eventually landing on the shores of Europe. The teapot itself did not develop quite as quickly. Originally, tea was often prepared in and drunk out of a bowl as opposed to being infused first in a teapot. Given time and the growing complexity of its preparation, drinkers realised that they needed a teapot.

Teapots were not invented until around the 1300s when the types of tea leaves used needed to be steeped to bring out their flavours. Previously, teapot-like vessels had been in China, having been used to boil wine and water. Those pots were quickly adapted and became teapots as we know them.

China combined its creation of porcelain with its invention of the teapot. Porcelain teapots, imported from China, became collectors’ items among the European aristocracy. Given time, Europeans eventually began creating their own porcelain and their own teapots.

Along with porcelain teapots, the Chinese also created a rich history of using varied tea leaves with different types of clay and pottered teapots. This buying guide will introduce both porcelain teapots and clay teapots.

Discover an Antique Chinese Teapot

The Chinese believe that different pots create different tastes of their tea. Apart from the material with which they are made, the style of a teapot can also influence buying decisions. They come in a wide array of styles and materials to suit any setting. From delicate porcelain sets to rustic creations of pottery, each style represented a layer of Chinese culture and carries with it the history of the people that crafted and used them.

Parts of an Antique Chinese Teapot

Below are a few standard aspects of any teapot. Regardless of decoration and specific functionality, all teapots will have these features.

Part

Feature

Body

This is the cauldron-shaped section of the teapot for the tea. The body of the teapot is built to withstand high temperatures.

Handle

A separate piece built into, but away from the body of the teapot, that allows the person serving tea to carry the tea pot without burning or hurting themselves

Foot

A support for the teapot, so that its heat is not directly transferred to the table.

Spout

The open-ended section connected to the body of the teapot that allows hot tea to be poured into an external vessel.

Lid

The removable top of the body that allows water to be poured in and out and that can be left on the body of the teapot to keep heat in.

Types of Antique Chinese Teapots

There are two main types of Antique Chinese teapots, two of which are made of clay and another type is made of porcelain.

Type

Description

Advantages

Considerations

High profile clay Chinese teapot

These teapots tend to have a thinner base.  They are tall, thin pots. 

This type of teapot is used to make green and white tea.

They are not highly-decorated.

Low profile clay Chinese teapot

These tea pots have a wider body, but are not as tall. They are shorter and stouter pots.

This teapot is used for cliff tea and Phoenix tea. 

They are not as pretty as porcelain teapots.

Porcelain Chinese teapot

These pots can be high or low profiles, but are made of porcelain.

This type can be used to produce all teas.

They tend to be more decorated.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Chinese Antique Teapot

  • Ornamental or functional - When making your purchase of an antique Chinese teapot, the most important consideration is whether you are looking to purchase an ornament or a functional teapot. Also, if you are interested in a functional teapot, the most important consideration is whether you want to prepare Chinese or Western tea in it. Functional teapots are also likely to be less decorated, given that they were probably made at higher temperatures.
  • Clay or porcelain - Do you want an antique Chinese teapot as an ornament or for daily use? There is a variety of different beautifully decorated teapots. However, if you want one for daily use, you probably don’t want to get a porcelain one as they are more fragile. Porcelain teapots work better for Western tea, and also allow for more decoration.
  • Chinese or Western tea - Do you want an antique Chinese teapot to serve Western or Asian tea? If you want to serve Chinese tea, then there is a pot for all occasions to create a variety of different teas.
  • Condition - The condition of the teapot is extremely important. Chips or cracks will mean that the value of the piece is significantly lower than if it were in a pristine condition. If you plan on using it as a functional piece, then it must be complete leak-proof. Look closely at the photos that the seller has provided and study those photos for damage or marks.
  • Ask questions - Don’t hesitate to ask questions. In fact, it is advised that buyers do ask as many questions as possible so that they get a clearer picture of the age, value and condition of the piece. Sellers are used to receiving a multitude of questions, and are, more often than not, very willing to assist by offering helpful answers. An investment of time at the beginning can go a long way toward ensuring a satisfactory purchase.

Typical Features of an Antique Chinese Teapot

Part

Description

Size

An important consideration in the purchase of an antique Chinese teapot is the size of the pot, especially if there are plans to use it.

Shape

The shape of the teapot purchased will make it more useful for different types of tea leaves.

Manufacture

There are three ways that antique Chinese teapots are made - hand-made, partly hand-made and moulded. Prices will depend on which method is used.

Clay

The agreed-upon standard for traditional Chinese clay teapots is that Yixing clay is the best. It is up to four times more resistant to heat, allowing for varied brewing temperatures and methods to be used. Yixing clay has been used for centuries in the highest quality traditional Chinese teapots. Other clay types such as earth clay and stone clay are also used.

Clay firing/ Temperature

The thickness of the teapots will directly affect the degree of heat that can safely, for the life of the teapot, be applied to it. This in turn affects the type of tea that can be used to be made in them. High-fired teapots have thinner walls and are good for brewing green, white and Oolong teas. Low-fired teapots have thicker walls and are better for brewing with less heat. These teapots are good for brewing black tea and Pu-Erh tea.

Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Chinese Teapots

  • Teacups – Chinese tea sets usually come with at least four matching teacups.
  • Trays – Matching trays can sometimes be found to go with the tea set.
  • Strainers – Most Chinese teapots come with inbuilt strainers but sometimes separate ones can also be bought.

Finding Antique Chinese Teapots on eBay

Once you determine the type of antique Chinese teapot you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, click on ‘Chinese’, then ‘Chinese Teapot’ 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 Chinese Teapots on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique Chinese teapots. For example, to find antique Chinese teapots made of porcelain, type Antique Chinese Teapot Porcelain 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 antique Chinese teapots with keywords. If you can’t find the exact Chinese teapot you want, try shopping eBay Stores.

Conclusion

When considering the purchase of an antique Chinese teapot, the key factor to bear in mind is whether one’s preference is for a porcelain teapot or a more traditional Chinese clay teapot. If the teapot is for ornamental purposes, porcelain is a good option. Once you have collected the relevant information, you can buy an antique Chinese teapot safely and securely on eBay.

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides