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Suggestions For Amateur Porcelain Collectors
( Article orginally published August 1962 )
Anyone interested in collecting porcelain should realize in the beginning that this has been the hobby of countless people of varying circumstances in many parts of the world for more than two centuries.
It is not restricted to people of wealth, the aesthetically trained, or the sophisticated, as so many persons are inclined to believe. It should also be remembered that even serious collectors were once beginners and had to learn from study, observation, and experience.
Consequently, almost anyone who develops an interest in porcelain, and has good taste, a fairly good eye, and a willingness to do a reasonable amount of studying, consulting, and observing soon should be able to make creditable selections.
Timidity will disappear with study and experience. Thus the amateur will be able to discuss the history, quality, and marks of porcelain with increasing confidence and authority.
At the same time he will begin to realize that porcelain is only one segment of the whole field of ceramics. Indeed porcelain is so !extensive in itself that it is desirable, if not necessary, for the collector to concentrate his studies and collecting on one particular aspect of this broad field.
For example, some may desire to collect teapots of all shapes, sources, and ages; some only figures. Others may collect almost anything of a certain factory or mark, a specific period, or a definite style, color, or composition.
The opportunities for collecting rare old porcelain are naturally limited to the larger centers. However, it pays to search everywhere. One never knows where a treasure will be found.
Basic Procedures In Collecting Porcelain
There is no direct or sure method for the average person to follow in achieving expert proficiency in a short time. However, like all other hobbies or games, there are some basic criteria and practices which will be found helpful. The beginner should observe the following:
1. Acquire standard books and magazines on the general subject and add more specialized ones as interest and taste develop. Well chosen books, like properly selected porcelain, are a good investment.
Such people are usually willing to advise, and some may take pride in appraising, which may prevent the beginner from making serious mistakes. Museum curators, however, do not like to estimate values or become involved in pieces which are in the process of sale.
Inspecting and Appraising Porcelain
Certain techniques will be found helpful in handling a piece of porcelain to determine its manufacture, vintage, and artistic, and physical qualities.
In picking up an item be careful but don't be timid. Confidence and skill in handling will develop with experience. Use both hands while making a thorough inspection.
Never hold a figure by the arm or an appendage. Pick it up by placing the fingers of one hand securely around the head and shoulders, and then support the base with the other hand.
When an item consists of more than one part, inspect the pieces separately. For example, the top of a teapot should be removed before handling the pot.
Assuming that the amateur has gained a working knowledge of the subject of porcelain through a program of study, observation, and inspection, the responsibility of intelligent shopping now becomes his own.
The observation of at least six factors will be found helpful in judging the quality and genuineness of a piece of porcelain:
1. The factory mark. This usually appears under the bottom of the piece for the purpose of showing what factory produced the item. It is a good clue, but not a guarantee of the origin of a piece of porcelain.
As previously discussed, marks are generally reliable. However, some pieces are falsely marked. Others are copies. Some have no marks at all.
The principal German factory marks, which will be shown in PART V, may be helpful. However, many books have been prepared on marks, and even the experts cannot agree as to their reliability.
2. The body or paste of the material reveals its texture, degree of whiteness, translucency, and general physical quality. A good piece is fine-grained, uniform in color, and reasonably free from defects.
However, early MEISSEN, and VIENNA, and perhaps some other porcelains, have a green tone, are irregular in texture and translucency, and often possess light spots (called "moons" or "tares") when viewed by transmitted light.
3. The glaze should be scrutinized for transparency, thickness, and reflective lustre. Turn the piece over and around in all directions to determine the reflections. If the glaze is dull or scratched, and is of varying texture or thickness, the value of the piece is affected accordingly. 4. The form and contour of the item is also an important factor in determining the age and artistic value of a piece. !Many old porcelain pieces have been copied in recent years.
An old form, with characteristic decoration of the same period, further associated with an old factory mark, make a combination of factors which practically guarantees that the piece is an antique.
5. The decoration is a decisive factor in determining the age and final quality of the piece. The pattern design, subject of the painting, combination of colors, and degree of gilding affect the beauty and value of the piece, and in considerable measure determine the age.
6. Mismatched and restored pieces must be carefully checked. It is important to see that the parts of an item, and the pieces of a set, match in quality of material, in form, and in decoration.
Frequently old teapots and similar containers have tops of a different age and style. This can usually be determined by the comparatively fresh white color of !a later lid or by the decoration which may vary in style or colors.
Old cups and saucers, vases, trays, and tea and desk sets are often mismatched and not detected until the purchase is made. Every piece should be laid out and matched piece by piece to determine discrepancies, if any.
Also, many pieces of old porcelain have been slightly or seriously damaged. Often the damaged pieces have been repaired (restored), so it is necessary to scrutinize every item carefully.
The fingers, arms, feet, necks, and other appendages of figures are the places most likely to be damaged. Handles, spouts, feet, stems, edges, and bases of table-wares are the parts most susceptible to breakage.
Things Not To Do
As there are certain things to do in selecting porcelain, there are certain things not to do. In order to avoid as many mistakes as possible, the following don'ts are submitted for the consideration of those with limited experience:
1. Don't buy anything for your permanent collection which is distasteful, since you have to live with it. It should be remembered that beauty is the first criterion of every good collector.
The amateur will soon learn that it pays to make a round of visits to all antique shops periodically. Good pieces come and go, and one never knows where or when he will run across a treasure.
When dealers become familiar with your interest and taste, they may be very helpful in locating and setting aside items which they believe will interest you. They are anxious to cultivate satisfied clients; so mutual understanding and confidence will develop a business relationship which will be advantageous to both the buyer and the dealer.
It is only fair to warn the buyer that good pieces of old porcelain from favorite factories command comparatively high prices. This is particularly true of old figurines, which are often sold for large sums.
One should realize, however, that old artistic porcelain is very scarce and becoming more so as time goes on. As a rule, good quality antique porcelain bought at a fair price is considered a good investment. Most collectors purchase cautiously and try to acquire pieces which are at least worth the price paid.