How to Tell if a Chinese Vase Is Valuable
The world's most expensive vase is worth about $50 million in USD. That's about $392 million in Hong Kong dollars. Because of the value and elegance of Chinese porcelain, this high-value piece is one of the most beautiful in the world.
If you're looking to view or purchase gorgeous Chinese ceramics for your own use, you'll need to learn how to tell if a Chinese vase is valuable. Read on to learn some tips and tricks on how to be sure that you're getting the real thing rather than a knockoff.
Many people looking to buy Chinese ceramics try to find deals and discounts online. This may make sense at first brush. After all, even some less-expensive pieces go for several thousand dollars.
Unfortunately, this is a surefire way to get ripped off. The raw materials for bone china are expensive in and of themselves. It includes about 30-45% bone ash, ball clay, quartz, silica, and kaolin, which are generally rare and difficult to source.
The manufacturing process is also costly. It also takes a lot of work to make. The sculpting needs to be perfect, and the high kiln temperature requires a lot of trial and error.
Sellers retailing real china vases for under $500 are selling them at loss. Even the least expensive pieces will cost almost $1000, and that's a lowball price. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
A reputable source is also a sign that your Chinese ceramics are real and high-value. You don't want to buy something from a random seller on eBay or Etsy. It's important that you only work with retailers that specialize in selling pottery and Chinese vases which a tracked history of being an authority in the field and publications.
This isn't only because people might try to trick you. Some people selling vases don't know how to identify real works of art themselves. They see something beautiful, believe it's real, and sell something with no real value despite their good intentions.
Before you decide to buy a Chinese vase, do some research on the seller. Look into their background and how long they have been selling ceramics. It's best to buy from someone who is actually in Hong Kong or another part of China because these sellers will have greater access to real historical pieces.
Read online reviews from previous buyers. Take a close look at what the seller is offering. This will help you figure out what's real and reputable vs what is not.
If you already are in possession of a vase and want to figure out what it's worth, you can get it professionally appraised. This means consulting with an expert to see if they can determine the value of your piece. It will give you more accurate information than what you can discern from online research.
One of the best things about an appraisal is that most experts specialize in a specific era. There's a lot of variety when it comes to Chinese vases, and professionals can date your vase and determine its materials. They can then come up with a more accurate value estimate.
If you don't have a vase you're planning to purchase in your possession, you still may want to consult with an expert. Show them images of what you intend to purchase and let them assess the vase. This won't give you as accurate an estimate as you would get with the physical item, but it will give you some expert input before you shell out a lot of money for a piece.
The shape of a vase is one of the most important things to look at when determining its value. This isn't because some vase shapes are inherently better or worse than others. It's because different vase shapes were popular in different dynasties.
Some shapes are:
- Plum, pear, cong, and double-gourd vases (960-1271 AD)
- Beaker or flaring vases (1271-1368 AD)
- Moonflask, pilgrim flash, and globular vases (1368-1644 AD)
- Willow leaf, Ruleau, Phoenix-tail, or mallet-shaped vases (1644-1911 AD)
Color and Glaze
Most Chinese vases are blue and white. Some include other hues as well, but this is pretty standard for every era. You need to look at the blue paint and find any imperfections within it.
This paint was made from cobalt. Sometimes, the cobalt would be local. Other times, it would be imported.
This depends on the timeframe in which it was constructed. You need to compare the look of the paint to the shape of the vase to make sure they come from the same era. If they do, your vase is likely authentic and pretty valuable.
Some ancient vases use red paint underneath the blue. If you see this, your vase should be shaped like a plum, Cong, pear, or double-gourd.
Ming Dynasty vases have clumpier cobalt and will look a little splotchy and uneven. They won't look bad- they'll just have hand-painted character. Late Qing Dynasty vases might have been made as late as the early 1900s and will have a very uniform look.
You also will want to look at the glaze of your vase. Different eras also use different glazes based on what was available when the vase was made.
For example, three-colored vases of green, amber, and cream mean a Tang Dynasty vase, as does crackle glaze. Blue and purple tones indicate the Tang or Song Dynasty while the five-colored vases that used enamel to create color are from the Kangxi period.
Look at images of authentic vases from the time period you suspect that yours is from. Compare their overall look to what you have or are considering buying. This will give you an idea of whether or not yours seems authentic.
Imagery and Patterns
The first thing you should do when it comes to patterns is to look at the vase for whether or not the images look stenciled on. Black outlines are surefire proof that they were, but so are flat or stretched-out pictures.
If you see these on a vase you own or plan to buy, it's not real. It's just a poor copy, and you should avoid it.
You also want to look at the images themselves. Chinese vases use different images and patterns than other cultures' vases do.
Flowers are an extremely common motif. Look for peonies, roses, orchids, lotus, and jasmine. Hibiscus and crab apple trees appear frequently, too.
You also should keep an eye out for groupings of four objects. The number 4 is considered unlucky in China to the point that hotels skip straight from floor 3 to floor 5. If you see a grouping of 4 items on a vase, it almost certainly isn't made authentically in China.
The bottoms of authentic Chinese vases will have something called a reign mark. This will be 4-6 characters denoting who the emperor was at the time the vase was made. It's usually blue or red and will stand out starkly on the base.
You can translate the mark and determine whether the emperor was actually in power when that vase was made. Compare this date to the dynasty that the shape of the vase and the imagery on it denotes.
Make sure that the cobalt used to make the mark is the same as the ink on the vase. If it isn't, the vase probably has very little value.
However, it's important to note that not all real and authentic vases will have a reign mark. You'll need to talk to an expert if you don't see one. It's just something to look for.
Weight and Texture
If you're not shopping online and have a chance to touch the vase you're trying to value, pick it up.
If it's super thick and heavy, it probably is Japanese porcelain that's being incorrectly marketed as Chinese pottery. This is way less valuable and is often used to trick and scam buyers. You want it to be thin and light.
Look at the texture of the glaze, too. Authentic glaze is very durable, so it's probably not real if it's worn down and chipped.
Beyond How to Tell if a Chinese Vase Is Valuable
Chinese porcelain is incredibly beautiful and adds a sophisticated touch to any space. However, no replica can compare to a real ceramic set.
Now that you know how to tell if a Chinese vase is valuable and authentic, it's time to begin looking at exceptional art to better understand the beauty of these pieces. Check out our viewing and acquisition page to learn more about the Weisbrod collection and buy beautiful ceramics.