GRADING ANTIQUE AND VINTAGE CHINAWARE

By: John Hogan

How do we grade chinaware? Well this is a somewhat loaded question that has a variety of answers. The answers may also vary depending on subjectivity of the seller, rarity, age and provenance of item.

Riveted Caughley Chineseorie tea bowl, C. 1799

Riveted Caughley Tea bowl, circa 1799

Foot rim illustration on back of plate

Illustration of "foot rim" on back of plate

Rim chip, example of item in "as is" condition

Rim chip, an item in "as is" condition

Factory stamp and Impressed marks

Factory stamp and Impressed marks

Stilt marks and factory ink stamp

Stilt marks or kiln spurs and factory ink stamp

Kiln crack/split on interior of soup tureen bottom

Kiln split on interior of soup tureen bottom

When grading or describing the condition of an item, the main thing for a seller to do is to be as honest as possible in describing the condition to the best of his or her ability. This would be a good start. Always remember that you do want your customer to be pleased and have no sudden surprises or misleading conditional descriptions.

GRADING CHINAWARE
When trying to grade or describe the condition of the various types of chinaware, e.g. porcelain, bone china and pottery, there are some basic prerequisites about the process of china manufacturing necessary to know that the untrained or unknowledgable may consider as damage, for example: stilt marks, glaze slips, transfer slips, kiln sags, kiln splits, underglaze grit and other terminologies.

As we proceed to explain these terminologies we will afterwords know that some of these conditions are acceptable and expected conditions for many antique pieces of china that were made prior circa 1900 when kilns were heated by coal and wood. The potters pre-heated the ovens/kilns for several weeks prior to firing and glazing. Consequently once the kiln heat reached a certain consistent temperature, the potters tried to maintain this desired temperature so as to prevent some defects from occurring as a result of under-heating temperature or over-heating temperature in the kiln.

After circa 1900 ovens/kilns were gas and electrically heated; consequently china pieces had less factory defects because temperatures could be raised and maintained more accurately. Unlike grading coins, the grading of chinaware, furniture, glassware and metal-wares is quite different.

Some basic terms applicable to chinaware which are necessary to know when purchasing china are as follows. These conditions that commonly occurred during the manufacturing process are considered acceptable and are not considered as damage rather the standard occurrence in the whole process of china manufacture from beginning to end.

  • Stilt mark
  • Pontiff mark
  • Glaze slip
  • Transfer slip
  • Kiln sag
  • Kiln crack or Kiln split
  • Peppering or Underglaze grit

These terminologies above are explained below once we have sorted through the various explanations of condition or grading of chinaware.

Mint condition

Mint condition usually implies that a particular piece of chinaware, metal-ware, glassware and furniture is in as made or like new condition. When using the description terminology mint condition, items should always be free of chips, cracks, repairs, or similar damage or wear. Normal crazing and typical factory flaws that are seen on pottery does not necessarily exclude a piece from being classified as mint condition if it left the factory this way. However such terminology as mint condition should be accompanied by any other pertinent details as found below. In all cases, if these factory conditions are beyond the norm typically seen on art pottery and other earthenware forms, they should be mentioned in the description.

Excellent condition

Excellent condition: Most dealers and or sellers refrain from using mint condition and refer to such condition as excellent condition. When a dealer or seller describes a piece of chinaware as mint condition, it basically means that the piece was never used, new or near new and may come with an original box that is in unused condition. If there are no flaws, chips, cracks, discoloration/stains or repairs, the piece is considered to be in excellent condition.

Perfect condition

Perfect condition is the terminology used to describe a mint condition state and is reserved for pieces void of factory defects that were generally sold off as seconds by the various factories. Basically there is no real standard grading system for describing condition of chinaware. Generally most dealers will qualify their description of condition with further explanation.

Good condition

Good condition generally means that the piece is in very presentable state and may have defects other than how it left the factory. It may have some minor discoloration, minor wear to gold gilding or sponge gold decoration, minor knife and fork scratches, minor restoration and should be explained and illustrated by accompanying illustrations (photos).

Fair condition

Fair condition is a terminology used to describe a piece that is not necessarily of great value due to its faults and damages which have occurred over the years but still has some collector and decorative value. Such pieces have been devalued due to damages such as chips, cracks, stains and unprofessional repairs. The same piece in great condition or excellent condition may have a substantially higher value depending on what it is, age, provenance and scarcity.

Great condition

Great condition is terminology that is usually reserved for a piece in very good shape that is free from major defects, cracks, stains or repairs. Minor surface patina, slight wear or minor surface scratching is acceptable but is worthy of mention when adding further description of condition.

Poor condition

Poor condition is not a terminology that is generally used by sellers or dealers when describing condition. However a piece may be for sale that is exactly in this condition. The reason for selling such a piece may be to preserve it for historical value or because it may be very rare or an only known example available to date.

As is condition

"As is" condition is a description used once the seller has described as accurately as possible any problems with a piece. This is the final wording added to a description of condition to assure the buyer that there are some defects or problems and that the piece is being offered for sale at a lesser value than if the piece was in excellent or great condition. It is a phraseology used so that the buyer is not misled.

Therefore the potential buyer should re-read the conditional description of the piece being made available and take the appropriate decision on a piece before making the final choice of purchase. This way no one is misled. Consequently a sale and or purchase should go smoothly for both parties involved.

SOME BASIC POTTERY AND PORCELAIN TERMS NECESSARY TO UNDERSTAND PRIOR TO PURCHASE:

Crazing or Crackling 

Crazing is the fine crackling one often sees on many glazed pottery pieces and on certain types of antique porcelain. Crazing is in the glaze and is not detectable when one rubs his or her fingernail over the crazing. Art pottery crazing occurs during pottery production when the clay body and glaze cool at different rates. Crazing is a very common condition with virtually all glazed art pottery. Normal crazing or crackling that cannot be seen at a few feet does not typically affect the value of most very high quality art pottery pieces. Buyers should expect some crazing on all glazed or hand-painted art pottery.

Glaze chip

A glaze chip is a chip that has occurred on the piece prior to firing and glazing. Factory glazed chips are not post-production chips that have been subsequently repaired and re-glazed. Factory glazed chips or mold flaws are more common on many pottery (earthenware and stoneware) and art pottery pieces. Many pieces left the British and American factories with such condition. However some of the earlier British factories had very high standards and refused to sell such pieces which are often referred to as seconds by some factories such as Worcester and Davenport. Davenport practically went bankrupt from having such high standards; no seconds were sold by Davenport, not even for export.

Glaze scale

A glaze scale is typically an area where the glaze has flaked from an edge or ridge of a piece of pottery. A glaze scale can also occur on stoneware, other types of pottery and chinaware where the glaze did not adequately adhere to the pottery.

Glaze slip, Glaze skip or Glaze crawl

Glaze slip, glaze skip or glaze crawl is an area where the glaze did not completely cover the pottery leaving an area or areas of exposed clay. Glaze skips are seen more often on early pieces of pottery and porcelain. Many pottery pieces that were made prior to circa 1900 and shortly thereafter have a tendency to have such defect. Many early potteries that made art pottery were experimenting with different types of pottery ingredients and glazes. Consequently such defect was commonplace.

Glaze bubble or Glaze pop

Glaze bubble or glaze pop occurs during the firing process when air bubbles reach the surface of the glaze and burst.

Firing lines, Firing crack or Kiln split

A factory firing line or kiln split is a firing crack that has occurred during the firing of a piece of pottery and porcelain. Firing lines are not damage that occurred after production. Firing lines typically occur at the weakest points in the clay body during the firing. Particular areas susceptible to firing lines include hanging holes on wall plaques, wall pockets, hanging baskets and on the corners of pottery pieces for example a clip-corner platter from the 1845-1865 period. The foot rim of large bowls, jugs and platters is also another location susceptible to kiln split (small heat crack).

Foot rim

A foot rim is the elevated section on the reverse side or bottom of a bowl, teapot, jug, or platter where the piece rests on a table or other surface.

Kiln defect, Kiln flaw or Kiln kiss

A kiln defect, kiln flaw or kiln kiss occurs when the pottery which is in the kiln comes into contact with either another piece of pottery or the kiln wall. A kiln flaw or kiln kiss often resulted in glaze loss on one pottery piece and possibly excess glaze spills onto the adjacent pottery piece.

Hairline crack

A hairline crack is a crack that goes into or through the clay body and can be felt with a fingernail. In some instances, new collectors and less than reputable dealers will refer to hairlines as crazing. If the crack is into the clay and is detectable with a fingernail it is not crazing. Some pottery is susceptible to hairline cracks from minor abuse because its density is less weighty and less durable. The thinner the earthenware, the more prone it is to having hairline cracking or crazing. If the earthenware is thin, it is also more susceptible to staining or discoloration. One prime example is earthenware commonly stamped semi-porcelain which was only begun by British potteries after 1890. 

Impressed Factory Marks

Impressed factory marks are a combination of numbers, letters and symbols in conjunction with identifying cartouche (ink backstamp or trade mark) for a factory which identifies years of production and company of production.

Overglaze

Overglaze is a terminology used to describe any decoration that has been applied to a piece once it has been fired. Many times it has sponge gold, enamel colors which have been applied over transfer printed wares. Hand applied colors overglaze are usually referred to as polychrome. The process of applying polychrome colors over a transfer print for accents is called clobbering.

Peppering

Peppering is the minute black specks (grit) of carbon that is sometimes seen in white or light colored glazes. Peppering is a condition that can be seen in some examples produced by most American and British china and pottery companies. Minor peppering does not usually adversely affect the value of piece.

Pontiff mark or Pontil mark

Pontiff mark is a terminology usually reserved for blown glass once it has been blown and cut off at the bottom. Although some dealers erroneously use it to refer to spur or stilt marks on pottery and antique heavy porcelains, it is a terminology usually applied when talking about blown glassware.

Pontil or pontil mark

The pontil or punty is a solid metal rod that is usually tipped with a wad of hot glass, then applied to the base of a vessel to hold it during manufacture. It often leaves an irregular or ring-shaped scar on the base when removed. This is called the pontil mark. Some dealers use pontiff or pontil. This is a reserved terminology to describe a feature occurring in the process of blowing glassware.

Riveted china

Riveted chinaware is any china (pottery, porcelain and bone china) that has been cracked and repaired by means of a staple repair. Such a repair was executed over eighty years ago. Although crude looking, this kind of repair most certainly held the test of time. Many important antique china pieces in riveted state are preserved for historical value in museums thorough out Great Britain and other European museums.

Seconds

Seconds is a terminology that many pottery manufacturers used to describe pieces of chinaware that did not escape the fault of uneven firing temperatures in the kiln. Consequently some pieces after uneven firing temperatures resulted in having kiln sag, kiln split/crack, glaze bubbles, underglaze chips, underglaze grit which is better termed peppering.

Sponge gold

Sponge gold gilding is the name used for applied gilding overglaze that has been applied by a sponge over sections of decorated porcelains and transfer printed pottery.

Stilt marks, Kiln spurs

Stilt marks or Kiln spurs are three equilateral resting points upon which the piece of pottery for example a plate, a platter or shallow bowl rested, upside down, in the kiln during the firing process between each piece of pottery stacked for the glaze firing. Usually located at three equal points on the reverse or bottom of a platter, a jug or bowl. Usually each cluster contains three resting points totaling nine resting points equalaterally dispersed.

Transfer slip

A transfer slip is where a transfer print is overlapped in sections. All transferware has transfer slips. Some slips are more serious than others. After all, transferware is all hand applied. The un-knowledgeable may think that this is a damage. See article regarding transfer printed wares or transferware: www.passionforthepastantiques.com/media/transferring-to-flow-blue/

Kiln sag

Kiln sag is a warping that occurs or results while a piece of pottery or porcelain is being fired in the kiln. Usually it occurred to heavy antique ironstone (pottery) pieces and resulted as a result of uneven firing temperatures in the kiln. This phenomena usually is associated with antique pottery and other china wares prior circa 1910.

Semi porcelain

Semi-Porcelain: It is not true porcelain. It is earthenware that was much thinner and highly glazed to imitate bone china and other porcelains. It was a change from the heavy thick ironstone of the 1830s-1870s period. Basically it was an incorporated part trade-name and or a trademark used by the various factories to make the wares more salable. Consequently, it passed as bone china in appearance and texture. The main difference is that it was not translucent (meaning transparent or see through) of which bone china and porcelains are capable. No earthenware or pottery is translucent. Semi-porcelain normally would have been more inexpensive than high grade porcelains and bone china at the time.

Underglaze

Underglaze is a term describing any form of decoration that is applied to a piece of chinaware prior to firing and glazing.

Hopefully we have guided you through some basic terminologies necessary to understanding conditions of chinaware.

Click on images to right of this article above for some illustrations of china terminologies.

 


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