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Antique Chinese Porcelain Figure Buying Guide

This shopping guide covers every aspect of buying antique Chinese porcelain figures. It is designed for shoppers that want to learn a bit about antique porcelain figures produced in China. It includes a brief history of this antique and provides an outline of the different types of figures available today. There are hundreds, if not thousands of listings for Chinese porcelain figures on auction sites like eBay and navigating through them may be difficult. This guide offers tips for using the site’s search engine and offers tips on what to look for when buying antiques from a seller on eBay.

History of Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

The earliest Chinese figures ever discovered dated back to the Neolithic period. These were small figures that resembled the human head and body and were made from clay. Hollow, jar-like figures resembling animals were discovered as well. Some historical sites from this period contained terra cotta figurines. As the civilization progressed, more advanced forms of pottery developed and cultural influences started to affect the design of these figures.

By the middle of the Shang Dynasty ( 1600–1046 BCE), bronze became a common material used to create vessels to hold wine. Statues and figurines were produced as well. They were much larger than previous pieces and were made with the piece-mold technique, which utilized a clay mold. These figures were sculpted with poses and gestures.

Porcelain figures were first made during the early Han Dynasty (25–220 AD). Porcelain was essentially ceramics made from clay by heating at high temperatures. A glazed surface added to the appeal of porcelain. Many of the figures were painted and carved meticulously. By the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), tricolor glazed pottery was used to create figures. The first tricolor antiques were discovered in burial sites. Most of these pieces resembled guardian figures and horses. Similar pieces were discovered during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD).

Most antique porcelain figures that survive today are from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 AD). These pieces were of high quality and featured blue under glaze and decorative images that were taken from books and prints. The beauty of these figures attracted attention from around the world. China began exporting porcelain on a large scale during this period, primarily to Europe and Japan.

Discover Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

Porcelain figures manufactured in China more than 100 years ago are considered antiques and are usually categorized as Asian antiques. The figures are small enough to fit in the palm and resemble people, animals, or mythical creatures. The carvings and stylish paintings of these figures make them popular among collectors. Everyday shoppers looking to give an unique gift should consider Chinese porcelain figures as well. The best place to browse and shop for these antiques is on auction sites like eBay.

Parts/Materials/Components of Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

Kaolin – White clay free of impurities that melts at a high temperature. Primary material in porcelain.
Petuntse – A feldspar mineral that forms a glassy cement to hold the structure together.
Ball Clay – Contains a mixture of kaolinite, mica, and quartz. It appears plastic and fine-grained.
Glass – Clear material made of silica, sodium oxide, lime, and several other materials.
Bone Ash – White material produced from the calcination of bone.
Steatite – Also known as soapstone, this material is made of talc.
Alabaster – A material made of either gypsum or calcite.
Quartz – Clear material made of silica and has a crystal structure.

Types of Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

Type Description Advantages Considerations
Religious Religious figures resembled gods and goddesses. Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, and Budai, the god of contentment, were popular figures. Buddhist and Taoist figures were commonly carved as well. Great addition to any world religions collection. These pieces may look out of place in a contemporary setting.
Secular Figures representing influential people of the time such as emperors, political leaders, and others were produced. Great addition to a historical collection Will look out of place in a contemporary setting.
Common Towns people were commonly the subject of porcelain figures. Activities such as fishing and farming were common themes. Figures are very expressive Usually bought with several figures to complete a scene
Military Soldiers wearing military uniforms and weapons. Figures are elaborate and detailed. Great display piece. Dust will accummulate. Clean figures regularly.
Burial Various figures that guard tombs. Usually have a guarding pose. Expressions are detailed. Very old pieces that may have chips or faded surface
Animal Various animals are sculpted including birds, horses, cows, cranes, dogs, and monkeys. Beautifully carved features. Great display piece. Preserve details with regular dusting and cleaning.

Factors to Consider When Buying Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

There are several things to consider when buying antique Chinese porcelain figures.

Appearance – The first thing to consider when buying an antique Chinese porcelain figure is its appearance. Examine the details of the piece and compare it will others. See if the colors, carvings, and design are what you want.

Authenticity – If you like the porcelain figure, consider whether it matters if it’s an antique or a well-made reproduction. Antiques are very old and usually show signs of wear, including slight chips and stains. They usually have a mark as well which identifies it as a genuine piece. Anything made recently in the kilns of China are authentic pieces, but they are just newer and not considered antiques. Reproductions, on the other hand, only look like Chinese figures. They may not be made of porcelain and are usually manufactured on a large scale.

Condition – Porcelain antiques tend to stain. Be sure all sides of the porcelain figure are visible on the product page. Removing porcelain stains is difficult, and it should be cited to the seller when negotiating a lower price.

Typical Features of Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

Antique Chinese porcelain figures are known for their beautiful carvings, expressive appearance, and small size.

Intricate Carvings – Porcelain figures produced in China more than 100 years ago were hand-carved into the shape of people with detailed features including clothing and accessories. Most were painted with brilliant colors, which further enhance the craftsmanship of the carvings.

Expressive Motifs – The Chinese porcelain figures usually have detailed facial features and poses which produce a reaction from the observer. They can be smiling, have certain hand positions, and be completely bland.

Small Size – Most of these porcelain figures are small in size. They can be stored or displayed easily.

How to Care for Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

Antique Chinese porcelain figures can become discolored or stained over time. This will look unsightly especially against the white porcelain surface. There are a few ways to return the appearance of the figure to its original condition, or close to it. Start by cleaning the surface with a damp cloth or sponge soaked in warm, soapy water. This will remove dust, dirt, and easy to remove stains. For more deep-set stains, consider using a solution of vinegar to remove it.

Popular Antique Chinese Porcelain Figure Manufacturing Periods

Most porcelain antiques from China are identified by the period they were produced. The period is marked on the porcelain figure with a reign mark, which identifies the emperor during which the figure was created.

Ming Dynasty
Hongxi – 1425 洪熙
Tianshun 1457-1464 天順
Jiajing 1522-1566 嘉靖
Chongzhen 1628-1644 崇禎

Qing Dynasty
Shunzhi 1644-1661 順治
Kangxi 1662-1722 康熙
Qianlong 1736-1795 乾隆
Guangxu 1875-1908 光緒

Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures

There are several accessories to purchase with your antique Chinese porcelain figure including:
Display Case
Display Stand
Cleaning Cloth

Finding Antique Chinese Porcelain Figures on eBay

After determining the type of antique Chinese porcelain figure to purchase, visit the Antiques Category portal on eBay, click on Asian/Oriental Antiques, then click Chinese and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique Chinese porcelain figures. For example, to find an antique Chinese Buddha made from porcelain, type antique Chinese porcelain Buddha into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tips page for more advice on searching for Chinese porcelain with keywords. Can’t find a specific porcelain figure? Try shopping eBay Stores.

There are several types of antique Chinese porcelain figures available on eBay. Use this guide while browsing the site as a reference. After finding the right item, review the details of the lamp. The product listing page on eBay contains valuable information including the price, shipping details, and product description. Know exactly what the seller is offering before making a purchase. Also, review the return policy for the antique Chinese porcelain figure. After collecting this information, buy Chinese porcelain safely and securely on eBay.

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