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Popular Types of Antique China
Whether your collection of china is extensive or just a small representation of the various types, you will do well to carefully examine every specimen before purchase. The novice collector is urged to view, and if possible handle, as many known examples as she can. By csrefully inspecting good specimens you soon increase your book knowledge to a practical degree and therefore become more aware of the differe.ices involved between good and just fair specimens.
The popular examples of the many kinds of ceramic ware; are frequently copied and there are several ingenious ways by which to artificially create the appearance of age. One of these un scrupulous methods is to allow the piece to bake until the glaze crackles slightly, then to rub with coffee grounds to darken the crackles resembling age. Another way consists of carefully produced nicks and chips to provide a red herring pointing away from its being an imitation. On an unglazed base of a jug many apparent years of usage may be duplicated by the use of a wet grindstone followed by a vigorous rub upon a muddy slate.
China is judged by its scarcity, the quality of its paste, modeling, shape, color and the special characteristics of the factory which produced it. There are so many factors involved that to do justice to the subject would require the length of a book; therefore just the highlights and the types you are likely to find in the average antique shop are touched upon here.
China is often designated by the name of the factory where it was made, such as Dresden, Doulton, Wedgwood, Lambeth, Limoges, Chelsea, Bow, Worcester and so forth.
Porcelain is divided into two general groups: soft-paste and hard-paste. This is due to the differences in the composition of the clay that produces these two with their different characteristics. Advanced collectors are able to perceive these differences, but most of us cannot.
Hard-paste is, as the name implies, harder than the soft-paste. It cannot be easily scratched, is colder to the touch, resists fire and acids, and has a clear ring when struck. The decorative colors seem to stay on the surface. The glazes used on hard-paste porcelain are closely related to the materials of the paste itself and the two are fired at one time, thus they become so fused that along a broken edge you can hardly tell where one ends and the other begins. This is in contrast to most other wares, in which along a broken edge the glaze is clearly visible as a separate coating. (It is not advised, however, to break the item just to determine this fact.) All colors except gold are usually applied before glazing, becoming "under-glaze" coloring.
Soft-paste porcelain differs from hard-paste in that it can be scratched more easily, is warmer to the touch, and the colors of the decoration produce a softer appearance as if they had sunk into the body instead of remaining on the surface. It is not as durable as hard-paste, cracking from contact with hot liquids.
That these differences exist there is no doubt, but the fact remains that few people can accurately tell hard-paste from softpaste since they look so much alike.
Porcelain is fired at the highest heat of any pottery. Oriental porcelain, stoneware, ironstone, and most modern china is of the hard-paste variety.
Around 1800 bone ash and other materials were added to the porcelain mixture creating "bone china," which is considered to be midway between hard- and soft-paste porcelains.
Earthenware is of soft body, fired at low heats and generally is opaque and lighter than porcelain. Most household crockery is made of earthenware.
Pottery is a term which includes both the hard, non-porous stoneware and the softer, porous earthenware. It is opaque in contrast to porcelain which is translucent; the simplest way to tell one from another is to hold them up to a strong light. Under this category are included agate wares, marbled wares, delft, stoneware, and the quaint slipware and sgraffiato.
Faience is a term applied to every kind of glazed earthenware except porcelain. The word is actually French and refers to their enameled wares more particularly.
A glaze is a coating of one of several substances applied to the ware giving it a shiny, glazed surface. One type is the salt glaze, which is produced by throwing a handful of common salt into the heated kiln where the salt vaporizes then settles upon the articles in minute droplets forming a thin, transparent covering. Some forms of glaze are in liquid form and the articles are dipped before firing.
Painted and printed decorations can be done before firing, this being the under-glaze, or after the glaze has been applied, in which case it needs another firing at a lesser heat to fix the colors; this process is known as aver-glaze. In either case the colors are of mineral composition, being metallic compounds. Crazing is the name given the accidental allover cracks that happen because of some defect in the firing or occasionally by removing the china before it has sufficiently cooled.
The decorative possibilities were noted and used purposely by the Chinese who even rubbed coloring matter, usually red, into the cracks to make them more outstanding. Crackle can be pro duced by coating the article with a glaze that is less sensitive to the heat and expansion than the body of the ware, thus crackling to form a decorative finish.
Another form of decoration is known as slip ware. This consists of a thin clay and water mixture which is painted on, or dropped on in decorative designs from a cup. Sometimes the whole piece was dipped into light-colored slip and then a design was scratched through, exposing the darker clay body, in which case it is known as sgraffiato. These two forms were favored by the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers and were among the first decorated pottery made in our country. They were especially popular in the forms of household wares.