When it comes to antiques, one of the most sought after items by collectors is rare porcelain. Porcelain is a special type of glass used to make cups, plates, bowls, statues, and other collectables. It was created in China around 618 A.D. The original intent was to use it as dinnerware during everyday meals. Over time they have evolved to become a household collectable.
If you happen to find one of these pieces at a garage sale or thrift store, it could be worth a lot of money. Knowing how to identify a valuable ceramic when you see it can make all the difference. It is common for these pieces to come with markings for easier identification. However, some of them have absolutely no marks. In this case, you will have to go on a scavenger hunt to find helpful information about ceramic ware.
A Brief Overview of Porcelain
Before going any further, it is crucial to figure out the type of porcelain you have. Generally, most of the world’s finest porcelain pieces come from China. Chinese artisans have had the secret to making premium ceramic ware for many years. Ceramic art in China dates all the way back to 7,000 B.C and is China’s most remarkable contribution to world culture and art.
Due to its popularity and high-quality nature, Americans and Europeans coined the term ‘China’ to describe any top-quality porcelain piece. However, there are actually different types of Chinese porcelain, each distinguished with a unique manufacturing process. By understanding the type of China you have, you can easily proceed to narrow down its pattern and manufacturer.
3 Main Types of Porcelain
Generally, there are three kinds of porcelain, all of which are popularly referred to as ‘China.’ They include:
1. Bone China – Originating from England during the 1750s, Bone China was made by adding bone ash in a mixture of finely ground clay and stone. Manufacturing companies like Royal Worcester and Spode, used bone china to make dinnerware, vases, tea sets, and other items. These items were known for being exceptionally translucent and thin.
2. Hard-paste porcelain – Hard-paste porcelain is the original piece made from China and originally included ground alabaster and kaolin, which is another form of clay. It was often included in antique Chinese art. Today, this kind of porcelain includes quartz and is also produced in Europe. As a matter of fact, the first European manufacturer to make hard-paste porcelain was Meissen, a German company whose production began in 1970.
3. Soft-paste porcelain – This is the only type of ceramic ware from Europe that didn’t use kaolin clay from China. Instead, European manufacturers used local clay, especially from the Limoges region in France, to make this softer type of China.
How to Identify Each Type of Porcelain
Now that you understand the different types of porcelain available on the market, let us look at how to identify them.
Method 1. You can hold the piece up against direct light. As a general rule of thumb, if there is a lot of light coming through, it is likely to be Bone China. Bone China is more translucent than any other porcelain type.
Method 2. Another way to identify the kind of China you have is by examining the color. Bone China tends to have a more ivory than white hue, meaning if your porcelain piece is pure white, you probably have soft-paste or hard-paste porcelain.
Method 3. Gently striking the piece with a coin and listening to the sound produced is another way of determining the type of porcelain you have. Hold the item with your fingertips and lightly tap its edge with a coin. If there is a high-pitched sound produced, it is likely hard-paste porcelain.
How to Identify Unmarked Porcelain
Generally, unmarked porcelain signifies it is an old piece. According to expert potter and historian Steve Birks, China that did not have any identification marks was relatively common among many Bone China pieces. However, you still have to conduct in-depth research to find information on the manufacturer and its production era. Below are some essential features to guide you in identifying unmarked China.
1. Examine the base and foot of the piece
Experts and professional appraisers tend to analyze the bottom of any porcelain piece as it aids in narrowing down the age and production era. They take note of era-specific techniques, which also help in ascertaining authenticity.
Thus, look at the bottom of your piece and check for a design that may indicate its manufacturer. Even without the factory’s name or potter’s name, indentations at the bottom of the piece can help determine the manufacturer. Specific colors or discoloration can also point you in the right direction.
2. Look for the type of clay used
As you may already know, porcelain comes from clay. The technique of mixing and using clay to make porcelain was at its highest peak in the 18th century. But after the 18th century, manufacturers began using other materials to make porcelain, and its quality decreased. Thus, porcelain made during the 18th century should not show any signs of aging or defects.
Likewise, Chinese porcelain often had a glaze finish due to the type of clay and technique used. By identifying the glazing technique used, you can readily pinpoint the specific manufacturing period.
3. Determine the design pattern and item shape
Initially, the Song Dynasty (960-1279) made Chinese porcelain. During this time, they used only specific shapes to make porcelain tableware and kitchenware. As the dynasties shifted, there were minimal alterations to the shapes used, but they were still the same. Thus, upon identifying the shape of your China, you may notice certain angles and curves, which are proof that the item is not genuine Chinese porcelain.
Additionally, the color and design of the porcelain also aid in determining its identity. Specific color patterns and decorative styles were used to make porcelain in particular eras, meaning you can easily identify the age of the item. Different dynasties had different standards, which is visible by observing the color and design pattern.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if my porcelain is valuable?
You can easily identify valuable antique China by determining its age, or when it was manufactured. You can do this by analyzing its shape, color, design, type of clay used, any marks on the bottom of the item, and any visible signs of aging.
What do numbers mean on the bottom of porcelain?
Generally, manufacturers use numbers to mark their porcelain to signify the production plant number, color code, run, or year of production. They may also include its name, country of origin, and date of manufacture.
How can I tell if my porcelain item is old?
You can easily tell the age of a porcelain piece by checking whether there is any discoloration. Items with decorations and glaze do not discolor unless they have been in existence for a long time. Another sign of aging in porcelain is if it has discolored cracks.