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  • Van Weyenbergh Fine Art

Basic Tips for collecting Chinese porcelain, jade, snuff bottles, reign marks etc.

Updated: Sep 4, 2019


A reign mark records the name of the Chinese dynasty and the reign of the emperor during which the piece was made. It comprises four or six Chinese characters, and is usually found on the base of a work of art commissioned for the Emperor or his imperial household.

- How do you read a reign mark? - When were reign marks first used? - how are reign marks written? - Where do I look for the reign mark? - How can you tell if a reign mark is authentic? - If a piece has a later copied mark, is it an outright fake? - Find out more The most comprehensive reference book on Chinese reign marks is Gerald Davison’s The Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics, first published in 1994. It lists around 1,800 marks, including all the major Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasty imperial reign marks in addition to the many studio marks, hall marks and myriad miscellaneous marks that are also to be found on vessels throughout China’s rich cultural heritage. Complete article with samples on Christie’s website

Collecting Chinese porcelain: things to know

One major distinction in the seemingly endless category of Chinese porcelain is the division between ‘Chinese-taste’ works, which were created for imperial palaces and the domestic market, and works destined for export to the West.

- Examine decoration - Chinese-taste motifs - Take a look at Transitional wares - Consider hybrid porcelains - Porcelain objects for the scholar - Do your homework - Look for restorations

Regardless of what category you move forward in, the more porcelain a collector handles, the better. That’s particularly true when it comes to recognizing restorations. ‘If it’s done well, restoration to porcelains is probably one of the hardest to spot’. In the past, restorations tend to brown or yellow and flake with time, but new techniques make restorations harder to see. One trick to uncover restorations is to stick a pin in the questionable area; if it sticks be wary. Porcelain that has not been over painted will not scratch. Holding a flashlight up to a work can also help with spotting hair-line crac.

Complete detailed article with samples on Christie’s website

Chinese Snuff bottles: things to know

Snuff bottles have fascinated Western and Asian collectors since they were first produced in China in the early part of the 18th century. Conceived as precious containers for ground tobacco imported into China, snuff bottles were initially made for the emperor and the court, and eventually produced in much greater quantities for a public who enjoyed their functionality as well as their display as symbols of status.

- Sharpen your eye - Handle as many as possible - Select the best — whatever your price range - Seek established provenance - Never stop learning

When starting any collection, it is useful to read as much about the category as possible. There have been many informative books on snuff bottles published in the last 20 years, filled with useful attribution information as well as beautiful photography.

Also, consult the Journal of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society for the most recent and up-to-date scholarship. The ICSBS comprises a passionate group of collectors, dealers and auction house specialists and holds annual conventions that are not to be missed by the serious collector.

Complete article with samples on Christie’s website

Chinese jades: Basics to know

When starting a collection of any sort, it’s important to figure out what kinds of works you’re drawn to, a consideration that’s exponentially more vital when it comes to Chinese jades. Spanning millennia, the material comes in many colours and has been shaped into many forms. ‘It seems basic, but Chinese jades vary so much in both material and form,’ says Vicki Paloympis, a specialist in Christie’s Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art department. ‘Learning about them is a journey.’

- Decide on what you’re drawn towards - Think small - Familiarize yourself with Chinese forms - Explore hidden messages - Assess the quality and composition of the piece - Become familiar with composition - Study content - Understand the market - Collect what you love

To get the full experience of collecting, you have to love what you collect. It is good to have an understanding of the market, but in the end, the satisfaction will come from living with a piece that you love and can appreciate on a day-to-day basis.

Complete article and samples on Christie’s website

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