How to Avoid Buying Fake Chinese Porcelain At Auction

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Reducing The Chances Of Buying Chinese Reproductions Made Easier

The Proliferation of Fake Chinese Porcelain Today, A Few Auction Basic Rules

How to Avoid Buying Fake Chinese Porcelain At AuctionsKnowing how to avoid buying fake Chinese porcelain isn't all that difficult. It does, however, require a little knowledge about porcelain, common sense and economics. 

These are my thoughts on the topic after nearly 4 decades in the business. 

Until you know a great deal and are rather expert on the topic, you need some rules to avoid being taken and becoming discouraged. 

Also, understand, the copyists are extremely talented and skilled.  Some know as much, if not more about fine Chinese porcelain than Department heads at Sotheby's. 

Never forget, fine RARE Chinese porcelains are not more common today than they were 30 years or 40 ago. It's just the opposite, they are rarer, much much rarer by a multiple of dozens.  Though you would never know it judging by the numerous examples of purported Imperial and high-end Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing which appear on a weekly basis in the market. They are nearly ALL copies.   

If you're relatively new at this (less than 5 or 10 years), this "Post" is for you. 

The Chinese Art Auction Market, A Reality Check  (If it seems too good to be true, RUN.)

The chances of an American auction firm other than Sotheby's, Christie's, Bonhams, Phillips, Freeman's and Doyle-New York,  offering one fine Imperial early Ming to early Qing vase in a year is very improbable. Having more than one the chances are about zero.  After looking at Live Auctioneers or Invaluable, you'd think these pieces were as common as Coke bottles. 

If a small to medium size regional auction house advertises they DID actually land a fabulous "Old Collection", (NOTE: Most were formed PRE-1970) be VERY suspicious.  These old collections are few and far between. 

Great collections are nearly always well documented. Upon dispersal usually, they are sold one of two ways. Most experienced collectors leave specific instructions on how best to handle the sale of their collections. 

  • They go to a major auction house or
  • To a known established dealer to be sold.
  • On occasion, they are divided between the two options. 

Great Chinese art collections are rarely if ever handed over knowingly to small regional auction houses.  

The Power Of The Web, IS Your Enemy 

While the internet is a big part of daily life for everyone, it's also a dangerous place when it comes to buying art.  In particular when it comes to Chinese antiques. Auction houses across the country have sprung up like weeds. All of them it seems, offering alleged rarities, with great sounding stories and rare finds from coast to coast. 

Many firms claim provenances ranging from the decedents of Chinese Missionaries to retired Chinese Generals who came to America in 1949 after fleeing Mao. They are pretty much all fibs concocted by the auctioneer and his consignor in partnership. These porcelains, bronzes, jades, scrolls, and scholar's objects all came here recently on container ships.  Here is a classic example of an auction of fakes

Here is a classic example of an auction of fakes we blogged about on our other site.  An Auction of Copies

Avoid Buying Fake Chinese Porcelain on the web, the Auction Trap

Pretty pictures, convincing stories being offered by all appearances by a well established local auctioneer. The Website looks good, they have nice descriptions about themselves, encouraging messages to contact them with any questions. It's all so inviting and seems so legitimate. Best of all, you think you "discovered" this amazing auction nobody else has! 

If this is you at some point, run for your life.  The possibility of the auction being legitimate is in negative numbers of possibility.  

But You Say! Potential Chinese Buyers Are Previewing!!

This means nothing and plays into the assumption that all Chinese people understand Chinese art.  In truth, most of the Chinese buyers are no more knowledgeable than most interested Americans. In the US there are some really sharp highly paid Chinese nationals who work as buyers for Hong Kong and Mainland collectors. You won't be seeing them at these auctions. I know many of them, they can tell at a glance what is real and what isn't.  They do not attend these auctions. 

Discouraged Yet? Don't Be! Here are the simple rules. 

Collecting Before Computers, The Old School Was The BEST School

In the past, during the "pre-internet age", collecting Chinese ceramics required a few essentials. These have withstood the test of time and have not changed. It requires patience, thought, getting good information and do not be a bargain hunter. You can bargain hunt later once you really KNOW what you're doing. It will take years of diligent and enjoyable learning, trust me. 

  • Every GREAT collection was built with the help of a good dealer, without exceptions. It is also a lot more fun. An active dealer sees more in a month than the average active collector sees's in a year or two. So, build relationships with a long term knowledgeable dealer(s), this is essential.  Sure you might pay a bit more for things, (you might also pay a lot less too by not overpaying for real things and by avoiding mistakes) you will also learn much more and more quickly than going it alone.  In the long run, you'll come out way ahead in every way.
  • Get to know the folks at the bigger auction houses mentioned above too. They are nice people and are always willing to share information. However, don't become a phone pest, they are incredibly busy. So make the time to attend auction previews when it's likely to be quiet, and ask lots of questions. They will help you.
  • Buy great books, specialized books pertaining to your area of interest. Before buying ask your dealer what he/she recommends.
  • Join a good Asian ceramics society.
  • Join a few museums with good Asian Departments. Most of the major museums have their collections online these days, bookmark them and learn from them. 

It's not all that complicated but requires controlling the urge to dive in, and not knowing what you do not know. Once you learn how to avoid buying fake Chinese porcelain and copies you'll have a terrific and satisfying time.

Relax, read, listen, study and enjoy.

Can You Spot The Modern Copies?

Copy of Chinese Song Bowl
Song Dynasty?

Copy of Qianlong Hu vase
Qianlong Blue and White "Hu" ?

Copy of Ming Bowl
Ming Dynasty?

Copy of Longquan Celadon
Ming Celadon?

Copy of Ming blue and white
Ming Blue and White?

Copy Qing Butterfly vase
Qing vase?

Copy Song Celadon
Song Celadon?

Jiajing Copy jar
Ming ?

Copy Yuan underglaze red vase

Fake receipt from John Sparks Asian Art
John Sparks Purchase?

Ming fish charger copy

Copy of Qianlong vase
Imperial Qianlong?

Ans: They are ALL brand new modern copies.  Yes, even the John Sparks receipt is a fake, Alfred Clark died in 1950.