This article follows on from Part 1, which explains how you should check the age, authenticity and identity of your piece. In Part 2, we look at how you can find any damage, wear or restoration on antique ceramics.
Having some form of magnifying glass or eye glass is always handy when examining a piece. Here are two examples of the different types available that will easily fit in your pocket (click the image for further details):
Draper jewellers eye glass & a chrome folding magnifing glass.
1. Crash, Bang, Wallop…
While it’s important to check the age and authenticity of a piece, your biggest concern should probably be its condition:
1. Ping the piece with your fingernail. Different materials and shapes make different noises – from bell-like to fairly dull. However, a restored piece will give an utterly-lifeless clonk when pinged.
This test is always a good starting point.
2. Run your fingertip around any edges on the piece – you will often find small chips in this way that you’d miss by just looking at the edges.
3. Examine the piece carefully and look for changes in colour, texture or the line of a curve – all of which are tell-tale signs of repair or restoration (eye glasses are good for this – click here).
For example, you may sometimes find that a curved edge has a flat spot on it – this is where a small chip or fault has been ground down and painted over, to conceal it and prevent it worsening.
4. Check any gilding carefully – original gilding may be tarnished with age but should basically be shiny, perfectly smooth and have straight edges.
Gilding that has been applied by hand to restore the original will normally have a duller sheen, will often show brush marks and not have perfectly straight edges, or be as fine.
Again, once you have seen a few you will instinctively recognise restored gilding.
5. Cracks, hairlines, etc. They may be the most obvious of faults, but finding them can be hard. Don’t be afraid to try and find some decent light for this – sunlight is best, but failing that a good artificial light.
If it’s china/porcelain (e.g. a tea service), try holding the piece up to the light. If it’s pottery, slowly examine the whole piece and look for any lines across the glaze. It can be hard to tell the difference between general crazing and a crack – as a guide, most people will consider it a crack if it goes the whole way through or if you can get your fingernail in it – it’s a bit of a grey area…
A crack won’t necessarily stop a piece pinging – so don’t rely on a ping test to decide whether a piece is free of cracks.
4. All Worn Down…
Wear can take a number of forms – depending on the type of piece and the decorating style that’s been used on it. Here are a few examples:
• Gilding wear – can be partial, which is quite obvious, or gilding can be completely missing, which is sometimes hard to see. Look for a slight “shadow” where the gilding used to be and the background colour is slightly darker than elsewhere.
• Enamel wear – piece decorated with coloured enamels overglaze can sometimes have whole pieces of enamel missing. These can just flake of cleanly, leaving no trace behind. Look for any gaps or uncoloured sections of the pattern.
• Glaze wear – rubbing, scratching and sometimes fading can all occur. It’s down to you to decide whether the level of wear is acceptable or not. If the piece is rare enough and the price is right, then why not go for it?
On the other hand, common pieces in poor condition make poor purchases, as a general rule.
I hope this guide has been useful – there is no substitute for experience when buying antique and collectable ceramics, but knowing what to look for and having the confidence to do so is half the battle.