That beautiful vase sitting in your dining room could be worth hundreds -- if not thousands -- of dollars. If you collect Chinese porcelain you are well aware of just how expensive true pieces are, but do you know how to distinguish the priceless piece of Chinese porcelain from poor imitation? Many pieces of Chinese porcelain have identifying marks on the bottom of them. These signs will give you a clue to the true origin of your favorite find -- and they will give you an idea of just how much your favorite vase or plate is worth.
Reading Chinese Porcelain Marks
Understand how to read the marks on the base of most Chinese porcelain. The marks should be read from top to bottom and from right to left.
Look for one to three columns or rows of marks. If you find a piece with just one row of marks, you have likely discovered a fake. This is a trademark of Ming items, and unless the porcelain piece is in a museum, you are probably not looking at a true Ming.
Become familiar with the more than 1,500 marks that you could find on the porcelain pieces. This can be done by reading books that describe the marks.
Understand that the marks at the base of the piece should signify when the piece was made. Each piece will be stamped with the name of the Emperor who was reigning when the piece was made.
Distinguishing between Fake and Real
Study true Imperial porcelain. This will give you a finite number of items with which to become familiar, rather than the infinite number of fake pieces available.
Consider the shape, body, glaze, decorations, brushstrokes and other elements of the true Imperial pieces you are studying. The marks on these pieces should be symmetrical, square and even. Each mark should be of equal size and precise.
Become familiar with marks from other Asian porcelain. Marks on Chinese porcelain pieces are even and regular, while marks on Japanese porcelain will include an odd number and may be in different colors.
Understand this is a difficult process and there are no shortcuts to becoming familiar with Chinese porcelain marks. The best way to distinguish a fake from a real piece is to become very familiar with documented pieces of real Chinese porcelain.
General Characteristics of Marks on Chinese Porcelain
Consider the color of the marks and how they were applied to the porcelain piece. In general, the marks will be red or blue and hand painted or stamped. If you see red marks, the piece was likely created in the mid-19th century, while pieces with blue marks were likely made later. Hand painted marks were used for older pieces, while stamps were used for newer pieces.
Feel the mark with your fingertip. Raised enamel marks usually signify pieces that were made in an Imperial workshop in Beijing. These are very rare, and unfortunately, are not sure signs that the porcelain piece is real as people creating fake pieces have begun using raised enamel marks.
Look for a "Made in China" stamp. Pieces with this phrase were likely made in the 1970s or later. In fact, any piece that includes Western characters was created after the 1890s, and likely after the 1950s. Any piece that includes the words "Bone China" was likely made during the 20th century.
Look for the British Royal Arms included among the marks. If you find it, your piece was probably made in the 19th century or later.
Look for the name of the pattern included in the marks, as this will indicate a piece created after 1810.
Identifying Chinese porcelain marks is very difficult and takes years of studying. The above steps are simply suggestions and should not be taken as hard and fast rules. If you have a piece of Chinese porcelain that you believe to be valuable, consider taking it to an expert for evaluation.
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