April 2012 Newletter

“How much does damage affect the price?” This must be one of the most common questions that I am asked. The answer is never straight forward and the considerations outlined below relate to Chinese ceramics and I have no idea if they would be the same in English or European collections and they represent my opinion.

The buying trends of collectors have noticeably changed over the last five years. The rapid rise in prices has curtailed the ability of some to buy certain pieces and therefore bringing back into favour some form of damage. Interestingly the pieces that have been restored using a gold lacquer have always found a good price. The perception being that this expensive form of restoration was only applied to high quality pieces which in most cases is true.

Chinese porcelain is mainly ‘hard paste porcelain’, and as such does not absorb moisture through cracks or chips and therefore the damage is not stained around the edges, thus making a chip, crack or frit remain clean even when they were done possibly just after production. Early English porcelain is ‘Soft Paste porcelain’ and it does stain when damaged. Some people erroneously think that the damage on Chinese porcelain is recent because of this clean appearance which is easy to maintain just by washing the piece. All dealers clean the pieces for re-sale even when acquiring from a collection as it always brings a sparkle to the surface, (a good soak in Vanish for Chinese porcelain is the best) and will clean up any cracks and chips.

Upto about five years ago even rare pieces were relatively cheap when there was any form of damage and this allowed some excellent collections to be put together that included damaged and perfect pieces. The damaged pieces would otherwise if perfect have been totally unaffordable for the collector. Today the value of these collections has increased rapidly and now many rare pieces even when damaged command eye watering prices. Always purchase the best you can but if that is a damaged piece then do not undervalue the value of that piece. That damage is allowing you to purchase something rare and lovely. Chinese porcelain upto the mid 18th century did and does have a tendency to ‘frit’; this is where the glaze breaks away in some areas along the edges of pieces. There is fragility to the rims and edges where the glaze is at its thinnest and the rims and edges are at their sharpest. When firing the glaze has to melt on to the surface and before it has properly set it will have moved down away from the edges and pooled a little in the hollows. I have heard potters refer to the fritting which occurs on Kraak porcelain in particular as a ‘de-naturing that happens over time to the glaze’. The thinner the glaze the more prone the piece will be to fritting; this applies to Kangxi porcelain, as well as Kraak, which also has a fine body. Remember that Chinese porcelain was been produced for around eight hundred years before Europe learnt the secret, and so some damage will happen on the early pieces which were for the age very finely potted especially Qingbai ware of the Song dynasty (960-1279). The two Kraak plates below show some fritting to the edges as described earlier.

I tend not to get things restored and leave the aesthetics of the damage upto the collector. If you choose to restore then take a photo of the damage before the restoration as then there can be no ambiguity about how much has been replaced / repaired / hidden. But please leave any staples in that have been used to repair the piece to make it useable again. This form of repairing pieces began as early as the Roman period and allowed broken pieces to remain useable. Handles were stapled; bowls that were cracked or broken were put back together or strengthened with these rivets as were plates, tankards and vases. The staples were lead, iron, copper, and silver and on rare occasions gold. But they all have one thing in common they allowed well loved pieces to continue being loved. Broken pieces or damaged pieces have become so because they have been owned by many different people and enjoyed by them all.

Firing flaws are defects and damage that occurred while in the process of being made. The vase shown has a piece on the rim where it was knocked before firing but
It was still glazed then fired. The celadon planter has a firing flaw to the under side which appears as a crack but does not go through the body and when looked at there is glaze inside the crack and a defect to one of the pad feet which is glazed over as seen in the picture. These are flaws but not damage and should not affect the price although I do tend to make allowances if it is aesthetically unsightly.

Real chips, glaze flakes and hair cracks have to be your opinion. Can you live with the damage? Glaze flakes should be considered in the same light as nibbles and frits. Their affect on the price is negligible. Cracks and chips can be unsightly although hair cracks can be difficult to find let alone see while the larger cracks and chips although possibly disfiguring may be the reason that much wanted Yen Yen, Brush pot or stem cup has become affordable

To conclude be prepared to accept damage, the ‘damage affect’ on price is diminishing and in some areas seems to have completely gone. If you do go for restoration there are two choices, either opt for museum quality restoration or have it completely hidden But Chinese porcelain is notoriously hard to do well, another reason I leave damage alone and nothing is worse than poorly done restoration. If the piece is rare then accept more damage. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that if you like or covert something then others will also so there will always be a buyer.

I have also attached to the e mail two e tickets to the Antiques for Everyone at the NEC in Birmingham 12th to 15th April and the Prestigious and Inaugural CADA Antique Fair at Blenheim Palace Oxfordshire 20th – 22nd April. This ticket will also get you into the beautiful grounds of Blenheim Palace so you can have a wonderful day out with a picnic. Please feel free to print the e tickets off as often as you like.

Have fun collecting