Look at the dirt – quick tips for authenticating neolithic and ancient Chinese pottery

Super quick post regarding a recent discussion I was having about cleaning antiquities, particularly those which would have been buried underground. While there are many highly specialized and scientific ways to authenticate a piece (for example TL testing), there are also some very practical clues one can look out for. For example dirt. When an item has been buried underground for millenia, the soil itself will likely take on certain characteristics, which are easily seen when compared to some of the more obvious fakes. There are differences in climates to account for but a general rule is that dirt does not equate to age. Fakers, particularly in the case of lower end fakes, will opt for lots of dirt under the assumption that the uninitiated buyer will equate dirt with age. This is particularly true with pottery, earthenware and ceramics, though holds true to a degree with furniture as well. So lets quickly compare the soil compacted on the surfaces of both an authentic piece and an obvious reproduction.

real verse fake chinese porcelain-earthenware-ceamic-terracotta

The fake on the left is about 2 years old. The jar on the right is about 2000 years old. Notice the extreme differences in the soil compacted on the surface of each jar? The fake has had mud compacted on its surface to simulate burial. Its dry, crumbly and peals away easily leaving little residue.  It feels more like its been sunk into a muddy field for a short period of time, rather then in a tomb for several thousand years. The one on the right is covered in a thick, very finely compacted build up of hard soil. Nor does it crack away easily. This is the product of gradual build up over a very long period of time. Its completely dried out, yet extremely dense and does not remove easily.

Private Collection sale: huanghuali, Han dynasty & Ming dynasty pottery

The following Chinese antiques are for sale from a private collection.

Han Dynasty Tao_tie_mask

All items were purchased during the 1990′ies from well know antique deals specializing in Asian arts and antiquities. As the original owner has passed on, the family would like to sell them. All are in excellent condition. The images below are a small sample. For the complete collection including larger, detailed images with dimensions please click here into our image gallery.  For prices please inquire below or email roger (at)  antique-chinese-furniture.com

Robed male and female Ming Dynasty tomb attendants with green glaze and red pigments

Robed male and female Ming Dynasty tomb attendants with green glaze and red pigments

2 tiered "Huang hua li" hardwood "tihe" picnic box

2 tiered "Huang hua li" hardwood "tihe" picnic box

Pair of Ming dynasty green glazed heavenly horses

Pair of Ming dynasty green glazed heavenly horses

Pair of Han dynasty painted court lady heads on acrylic stands

Pair of Han dynasty painted court lady heads on acrylic stands

Complete collection of images can be found here:


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A “Laowai” from ancient times: A closer look at a Han dynasty bearded foreign groom

Laowai (老外) is a common Chinese word often heard by any foreigner in China. Literally translated as “old foreigner” we often hear it all to many times. Yet, it seems foreign devils in China are not recent occurrences, judging by this foreign gentleman, who is a bearded XianbeiXiongnu guardian (or more likely a groom) based on the hat, eyes, large nose and upturned chin & beard.  He’s lost a hand along the way, though understandable after 2000 or so odd years. He is likely from either the Western Han dynasty or  the Northern Wei Dynasty (Ad 386 to 534). (Quite an interesting article debating the origins of the Xianbei people can be found here.) While foreign grooms are more common during the Tang dynasty, the rough features seem to lend more towards Han.

This particular Chinese tomb sculpture is about 40 cm tall, from the ShanxiShaanix region and is made from low temperature fired earthenware with cold-painted red and blue pigments over a white ground.  His long flowing robe is draw up in the front. While ceremonial/ritual representations and funerary art predate Han as far back as neolithic times (5000 BC – 3000 BC), it was during the Han dynasty that it flourished and became almost a true art form in itself.  Belief in the immortal world was particularly strong in all layers of society during this time. However unlike the archaic Bronze forms often seen in Shang,  Zhou and prior dynasties, Ming Qi goods were not seen as ritual offerings but rather symbolic and practical representations of personal items and were found in both the common man’s tomb as well as in royalty’s.

Often placed near the front of the tomb (or in larger tombs nooks and  in side chambers), they were intended to provide the tombs occupant with surrogates of various daily objects which might be needed for the next life. As burials became increasingly more elaborate, reaching a golden age during the Han period, an entire industry sprang up creating Ming Qi goods. Often relatively inexpensive to produce (as opposed to bronze wares), these objects would have many times been very “middle class” in nature, though not exclusively.  Nor was Ming Qi limited to pottery, as specially made clothing was even considered a form of Ming Qi.

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Retired chocolate factory worker discovers his blue and white vase is a rare 600 year old Ming dynasty moon flask worth millions!

Just a super quick update post since the folks at Chine Gallery in Hong Kong have been keeping me quite busy these days. Though with lots of cool things there to look into like this 18th century cinnabar lacquer box from Beijing can you blame me?

carved chinese cinnabar lacquer box

On to the latest “record price” headline, this one picked up from the BBC. Whats amazing is the guy walked in with the vase stuffed inside a cardboard box!!!

Cardboard box Chinese Ming vase ‘may fetch £1m

A blue and white Chinese Ming Dynasty vase that arrived at a Dorset auction house in a cardboard box is expected to sell for more than 1 million.

The 11.5in (29cm) vase is the largest ever recorded from a rare group of early Ming “moonflasks” from 1403-1424, Duke and Son auction house said.

The Dorchester-based firm said it was believed to be one of the most exciting works of art to come to light in years.

The seller, a retired Cadbury’s worker aged 79, does not wish to be named.

‘Spectacular find’

A Duke’s spokesperson said the man “lives modestly and has been interested in antiques for many years”.

blue and white ming moonflask vase

Guy Schwinge, of Duke’s, said: “When my colleague initially showed me what had arrived in a cardboard box I could not believe my eyes.

“The vase is in perfect condition and it is amazing to think that it has survived unscathed for almost 600 years”.

Duke’s consultant for Chinese Works of Art is Anthony du Boulay, a scholar and author, who said the vase was “a spectacular find”.

The vase will be sold at auction in May.

Original BBC story:


Qianlong vase initially valued at $1300 sets record price of $69 million at auction

Its been happening so frequently that these headlines are almost starting to become old news. Still, it does make you want to go poking around in your grandmothers attic…


Credit: Reuters/Bainbridges

Neglected Family Vase Sets 66 million Record for Chinese Art at Auction

Apparently the  18th-century  Qianlong-era porcelain vase was discovered while cleaning out a modest London suburb home. Other then knowing it was acquired in the 193o’s, the anonymous family who owned it knows little else as to its origins. According to the auctioneer Bainbridges, the vase itself dates from the  Qianlong period (1740′s) and would have  most definitely been fired in the imperial kilns before finally residing in the Chinese Royal Palace. According to the Antiques Trade Gazette, Bainbridges is a small suburban auction house which normally deals with cheaper antiques, equipment and lawnmowers.  Not bad, considering they stand to reap a 13.8 million dollar buyers premium from the sale. Purchased by a Chinese bidder on behalf of an undisclosed buyer, the sale price was not only more than 40 times the pre-sale estimate, but it set a new record for a Chinese work of art. But wait – it gets better.  “About 30 years ago it was shown on a television show called Going For A Song where an expert appraised it at $1300 as a “very good copy.” Poor guy – I definitely would not want to be him right about now.

Regardless of whatever price was paid, the real or fake, the vase really is absolutely stunning. Beautiful!

The downside? A tax bill totalling a few million.

Read more on the web:

The 47,000 USD dollar tooth brush holder – Chinese porcelain brush pot in owners bathroom sells at auction for staggering sum.

Here’s a great tidbit from the Dailyrecord:  China pot which owner used as toothbrush holder sells for £30k at auction. Quick – everyone run into their bathrooms right now to see what you got in there! I have a pristine tube of Crest toothpaste which I have been holding onto for years – definitely going to have it appraised!

An antique Chinese pot sold at auction for £30,000 (47,000 USD) was used for years by its owner as a toothbrush holder! Gordon Murray didn’t think the ceramic writing brush holder was worth much and reckoned he’d be lucky to get £400 for it. So he was left stunned when it fetched the princely sum at auction in Edinburgh.

Gordon, who runs Atholl Antiques in Aberdeen, cleaned up the pot for it to go under the hammer at Lyon and Turnbull on Wednesday. He said he began collecting antiques as a boy in Aberdeen in the 50s and his passion continued to grow.

He said: “On Saturdays I’d head off into the antique shops in town, including Young’s in Belmont Street and Alec “Cocky” Hunter’s in Castlegate, where I would buy what my meagre pocket money could afford.”

One thing for sure is there are definitely hidden gems out there waiting to be found! Here’s another one from the Dailymail from about the same time: Antique Chinese bowl valued at just £600 by auctioneers fetches £38,000… after bidding war breaks out among buyers.

Have you got one of these in your attic?

This antique Chinese bowl, which had a guide price £600, sold for more than £38,000 (60,000 USD) at auction yesterday.

The blue and white porcelain pot, which is believed to be a 19th century copy of one made in the Kangxi dynasty of 1662 to 1722, was bought by a Chinese man who lives in Britain.

Unassuming lot 379, which is eight inches wide and depicts a man ploughing a paddy field with water buffalo, attracted a surge of interest from its homeland after the auction catalogue was put on the internet.

Auctioneer Steven Moore, of Anderson & Garland, Newcastle, said: ‘I wasn’t surprised by the price, as I knew the amount of interest it had generated.

‘Chinese people are trying to find and collect their heritage.

A Chinese man living in the UK bid the highest price at this week’s auction.

Mr Moore added: ‘There is the possibilty that people have these things or things similar to this sat in their house and it is very possible that they are also worth this amount of money.

‘This is definitely the best time to sell Chinese porcelain.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1310188/Antique-Chinese-bowl-valued-just-600-fetches-staggering-38-000-auction.html#ixzz11YAvdWzG