Collecting Chinese Export Porelain

What is Chinese export porcelain?

The term ‘Chinese export porcelain’ is used to over a wide range of porcelain items which were made to be exported to Europe and eventually North America from the 16th century and the 20th century. However, the majority of Chinese export porcelain was manufactured during the 18th century.

Export porcelain was crafted by Chinese craftsmen with the same skill and technical expertise as Imperial porcelain, but with designs altered to suit Western tastes. It is still incredibly popular with collectors from across the globe, with its continued appeal testament to the impressive collaboration which took place between Western importers and Chinese artisans separated by many thousands of miles, and a lack of culture and language in common.

There’s more to export wares than blue and white porcelain

Although the majority of Chinese porcelain export pieces comprised of bulk orders of the instantly recognisable blue and white ceramics, decorated with mountain landscape designs, the remaining two per cent consisted of brightly coloured large enamel wares. These items were incredibly sought after at the time and have still retained their popularity amongst collectors.


Large scale pieces – often described as ‘country house’ wares – were a staple of many of Europe’s eighteenth century stately homes. These items are just as popular as they were hundreds of years ago, thanks to their classically elegant designs which work so well in contemporary interiors.

An additional category of Chinese wares consisted of ceramics exported to the West in designs based upon fashionable silver items, such as tea sets, soup tureens and candle sticks. Again, these items are still highly collectable, largely due to the timeless elegance of the designs which is ideal for modern homes.

A long tradition of Chinese potters were highly skilled in creating lifelike ceramic figures of animals such as exotic birds, dogs and court figures. These items became highly desirable from the outset, with figurines a common sight on mantelpieces, dining tables and sideboards.

Last and by no means least, the Chinese porcelain armorial services which are impressive dinner and tea services made to order by European royals, merchants and the directors of the Dutch and English East India companies, which are the most sought after by modern collectors. Designed to reflect the highest of taste and fashion, these items showcase evolving trends in form and decoration.


Collecting antiques: what’s the best way to get started?

There’s a misconception that collecting is antiques is expensive and intimidating, making it a hobby that’s the preserve of the wealthy. This isn’t the case though and if you’re looking for a hobby which will give you many years of pleasure whilst adding a touch of unique history to your home, antique collecting would be perfect for you. When you think of ‘antiques’ the chances are that ornate furniture or ceramics spring to mind. There’s so much more to antique collecting than this, so from toys or coins, through antique silver or jewellery, the key to successful collecting is to choose what you love and interests you.

With this in mind, a great way to get started is to take a little time to explore what you think might interest you. It can be helpful to consider questions such as what you plan to do with your collection, or is there an era that you’re particularly interested in, such as Georgian, for example. You could also think about specific pieces that fascinate you, such as hand tools or kitchen paraphernalia, and what type of items tend to catch your eye when you’re browsing through an antiques shop or market.

What does antique really mean?

For most items to be considered antique they must be at least 100 years old. However, something newer can stil be considered valuable and collectable, although it’s vintage rather than antique. If you’re buying items simply because you love them and you want them in your home, this distinction isn’t particularly important, but it is a factor to consider if you want to buy items to sell on at a later date.

This is an image of an antique chinese door
Antique Chinese Door

What’s your antique collecting goal?

It’s important to know how antique values work, regardless of whether you’re simply collecting pieces for pleasure, or buying investment pieces. Although sellers can put any price they want on an item, this doesn’t mean that the item is worth this much. Buying antiques is different to buying other items so you need to consider whether the price being asked is fair.


Determining the price of antiques takes experience, but there are a number of things you can consider. Think about how rare an item is, in other words: how many of this item are there? What’s the condition of the item like? Is it damaged or does it have a lot of wear? Does the item have any artistic merit?How old is the piece and is there any information on its provenance or history? Last and by no means least, what is the quality like? Has it been well made using the best materials?

Collecting Chinese antiques

Collecting Chinese antiques has become increasingly popular in recent years, largely due to the simple, clean styling of many items of pieces of furniture, making them easy to incorporate into contemporary interiors. A huge range of original Chinese antiques are imported into the UK every year, with items ranging from furniture such as altar tables and tea chests, through to ceramics, wall hangings and ornamental items.

You’ll find that many pieces of antique Chinese furniture available in the UK have been restored and when sympathetically done by skilled craftsmen, this brings items back to their original beauty, without losing any of their original charm. With such a wide range of items to choose from, collecting Chinese antiques is an enjoyable hobby which will enhance your home’s appearance.

Collecting Victorian antiques

Interest in Victorian antiques never seems to wane and this could be due to the UK’s vast stock of Victorian-era housing. As a result, it’s possible to buy everything from Victorian bathroom fittings through to clothing and jewellery.

Genuine Victorian antiques are very much in demand and because pieces from the period are much copied, it can be difficult to find the real thing. However, finding and buying original Victorian items is the perfect way to bring touches of such a graceful and elegant period into your own home.

Collecting Georgian antiques

Covering the period from 1714 through to 1837 when Queen Victoria was crowned, the Georgian era doesn’t represent just one style of antique furniture. Instead, you’ll find that Georgian antiques encompass styles including Regency, Neoclassicism and Chippendale.

The usual rules apply when looking for Georgian furniture, so keep an eye out for a high standard of craftsmanship combined with a high quality finish. If Georgian furniture appeals to you, you’ll find a wide range of stunning pieces to choose from which, thanks to their elegant design and styling, sit comfortably inside homes of today.


Collecting Chinese Blue and White Porcelain

Beautiful, elegant and incredibly diverse, Chinese porcelain is testament to the skill and ingenuity of Chinese craftsmen. Blue and white ceramics in particular have a unique and highly appealing charm which contribute to their ongoing popularity amongst collectors. 

Chinese blue and white porcelain is decorated using a distinctive cobalt blue colour which was first used on ceramics as early as the late Tang Dynasty between 923 to 937. However, blue and white wares didn’t become popular until the late Yuan Dynasty when production began in earnest. 

You may have noticed that the eye-catching blue of Chinese ceramics often varies and this is because cobalt blue differs in material composition which results in colour variations once a piece has been fired. Early cobalt blue was extracted from Persian ore and is incredibly rich in iron oxide. As a result, pieces decorated in early cobalt blue pigment tend to have a purple tone, often with darker spots on the surface glaze. A clearer, softer blue was achieved at a later date when craftsmen began using a cobalt blue rich in manganese and sourced in China. Another azurite blue from China, known as shinqing, also became available during the later period of the Ming Dynasty.

Collecting Chinese porcelain

Collecting Chinese porcelain is an easily-accessible hobby as the huge range of pieces available offer something to suit every budget. If you’re new to collecting, it can be helpful to start buy narrowing down your search by deciding what you’d like to collect. Chinese blue and white storage jars, for example, are perfect for collecting, whilst iconic decorated plates look beautiful when wall-mounted and grouped together. 

Chinese ceramics are available to buy from a huge range of places, including antiques shops and fairs, auction houses, markets and online stores. It’s worth bearing in mind that buying in person is a great way to get a ‘feel’ for a piece, making it easier to judge whether is particular item will fit within your collection. Buying in person also makes it easier to spot potential flaws or repairs. 

Chinese ceramics for contemporary interiors

Chinese blue and white porcelain has a timeless charm, making it the perfect addition to contemporary interiors. You’ll find that a huge range of pieces are available, from ginger jars and ceramic stools, through to trinket boxes, dinner ware and vases. 

Don’t forget that although many pieces were created for a particular purpose, such as a ceramic stool for example, their use can be adapted to suit modern living. Ceramic stools make wonderful side tables and because they’re waterproof (but not frost-proof) are perfect for using outdoors in the warmer summer months. 

Ceramic storage jars can be used for their intended purpose but if you find one you love that’s missing its lid, why not use it as a flower vase or a pot for kitchen utensils instead? Chinese blue and white porcelain tea caddies are highly collectable and as they were made in a wide range of different shapes and sizes, are perfect for grouping together to make stunning display, or for storing tea, of course!

Last and by no means least, it’s worth bearing in mind that a huge range of newly made Chinese ceramics are available including blue and white porcelain made using traditional pottery and painting techniques. If your budget doesn’t quite run to antiques pieces, many of the new ceramics from China make a stylish alternative.