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How Do I Collect Vintage Porcelain?

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  • Written By: J.S. Johnson
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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A potential collector of vintage porcelain should first learn the basic terminology of the ceramics craft. The next step involves seeing and feeling the different kinds of pieces. A would-be buyer can do this at many different types of places before deciding how much to spend and how, if at all, to focus a collection. Someone who decides he wants to buy some of the more expensive pieces should investigate security for his collection.

Vintage porcelain tends to be porcelain that is 20 to 100 years old. The term "antique" usually refers to ceramics that are older than 100 years. Experts consider porcelain made within the past 20 years to be too new for aesthetic judgment.

A beginner should know the three types of porcelain: hard paste, soft paste, and bone china. Hard paste porcelain has a smooth feel and a glassy appearance. Soft paste has a more granular surface, and its indentations tend to fill with the glaze, the mix of water and minerals that is applied to porcelain pieces before they are fired. Bone china is a hard porcelain consisting of about one-half animal bone and is the least expensive of the three.

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A collector also has to become familiar with marks, the stamps on the porcelain that indicate the manufacturer and country of origin. Ceramics factories changed their marks over the years, so many collectors use guidebooks of marks to learn when items were made. Some guidebooks show examples of forged marks as well, and can steer a potential buyer away from phony merchandise.

Some of the famous Western porcelain artists from the 1900s are the Italian-born Dorothy Doughty, Edward Marshall Boehm of the U.S., and Bernard Leach of Britain. Well-known European factories include Germany's Meissen Royal Manufactory, England's Worcester Royal Porcelain Co. and Denmark's Royal Porcelain Factory. Among 20th-century Japanese ceramics makers of note are Noritake, also known as Nippon Toki Kaisha Ltd, and Fukagawa. Sometimes the country's porcelain takes its name from the city in which it is made, such as Arita.

Sellers often make vintage porcelain available for inspection at antique and collectible stores, trade shows, open-air markets, and online auction sites. As places of purchase, they have different advantages and disadvantages. Many collectors feel more assured buying from a dealer represented by a nationwide antiques association. These dealers tend to charge more but often can answer questions in detail and provide more than one past receipt to show a porcelain item's price changes over time. While online and flea market vendors may lack such information, they frequently sell at lower prices and may be open to bargaining.

Going to various stores and sellers helps a would-be buyer learn about prices. Depending on the piece and the quality, vintage porcelain prices can range from just a few to thousands of US Dollars (USD). In addition to deciding how much to spend, a collector must choose whether to limit his purchases by characteristic; some buy only items of a specific decade, country, artist, or factory.

A few general guidelines govern the market value of vintage porcelain. Large pieces are usually worth more than small ones, and rare designs usually worth more than more common ones. Sets are important — a set of four plates may command more than four times the price of an individual plate. Good condition is vital. Porcelain that comes from famous makers, and even famous collectors, is often considered more valuable than that from people who are less well-known.

Someone who buys the more expensive vintage porcelain may want to consider security. Basic home safety measures, such as strong locks and sturdy doors, help keep pieces safe. Buyers who get appraisals done can determine the costs of including their collections on a general insurance policy and whether they want to get an insurance rider. To help prove ownership in the event of theft, a collector should list his pieces, photograph them, and keep these documents in a place away from the collection.

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