Collecting Ming Period Blue and White Porcelain and Bronzes

Collecting Ming Period Blue and White Porcelain and Bronzes

Ming Porcelains and Bronzes From New England Collections

Over the last 30 years while doing estate appraisals here in New England, especially in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Coastal Maine, I've learned not to be surprised to come across some rather exceptional examples of Ming Dynasty porcelains and bronzes. Some we've learned arrived here during the 19th C. while other's were brought back by G.I.'s following the end of WWII.

So many have survived I assume is due to their universal appeal visually, which has apparently encouraged families who know little about these objects to take good care of them. Though they do turn up in the oddest places.

In some cases families who have inherited these early objects are unaware of their current day values and have been shocked upon their sale by us at what they realized. This is particularly the case for people with old estate appraisals or insurance appraisals written by a non-specialist. A typical case is seeing an old evaluation stating a value of perhaps $100 or $400, when today the value is closer to 100 times that amount.

The Magic of the Words MING VASE or Porcelain

While hearing the word Ming or Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), or Ming Vase often conjures up in the minds of people an era of Chinese culture where only the most expensive and financially untouchable objects originated.  The truth is this vision isn't entirely accurate. Collecting Ming period blue and white porcelain and bronzes can be done with a careful eye at a modest price.

Collecting Ming Period Blue and White Porcelain and Bronzes
Chart of Ming Marks and Dates of Periods
It is true that during this period many things produced as decorative or religious art are indeed very expensive today, particularly those things made for the Imperial household. Many more things were made for the well to do and for everyday usage among China's massive population reaching an estimated 160 million people by 1600 AD. 

Modestly priced less expensive items and objects range from bowls, vases, brush pots, scroll paintings, small simple jade carvings to small bronzes can still be found. Many of them are absolutely charming, fun to collect and can be found throughout the United States and most of the rest of the world with a little looking and genuine homework.

Some are extremely rare and were sold to a local dealer or consigned un-knowingly to a local auction house with little expertise in this area of art. As a consequence, they can and do turn up in antiques shops for little or no serious money.

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For those of you with a fixed budget, terrific and interesting small Ming dynasty porcelain bowls can be found and collected for less than a few hundred dollars. Great little blue and white jars can be bought for under $200. Bronzes can be had as well for well under $500 with a bit of looking. Occassionaly you can also find some pieces that are valued way under their market value and are a great bargain. This is after all how dealers make a living, they just happen to know more than most and do not squander their capital buying mistakes, which happens a lot with "armchair collectors".

The market today is flooded with modern fakes, visit Ebay and type in Ming Vase. 99%+ are not of the period represented and 90% are brand new unless you KNOW what you are doing shy away. The Chinese Government is after all in the porcelain business and subsidizes a massive annual output of reproductions.
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Where and How to learn about Chinese items of the Ming Dynasty (and any other Dynasty)

If you're interested in learning about Ming Period items, find museums in your area who have collections of Chinese objects. Most likely, even the smallest will have some Ming examples to look at.  Most importantly, get to know a reputable dealer specializing is Asian art with at least 15 years of experience. I cannot emphasize this enough, despite the self serving nature of the comment. An active dealer will see more in a week, than you're likely to in a couple years.

You can also visit online the Asian Departments of the major auction houses who conduct regular auctions focused solely on Chinese antiques. While their catalogs can be pricey running upwards of $100 a copy, their websites are FREE with the catalogs fully illustrated on them.  A great resource.

Imitation of Ming Wine jar or Guan
Modern Chinese Ming Reproduction Porcelain Wine Jar, Found on Ebay
Bear in mind though the old adage.." a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". Your eyes will lie to you until you know what you're looking at.

If you live in New York, London, Paris, San Francisco, Washington DC or Los Angeles find out about lecture series's being offered either by Christie's, Sotheby's, Bonham's or local museums. They do them more often than you would imagine and are usually free or very modestly priced. In Washington D.C. the Smithsonian Museum does some great lectures through the Freer-Sackler Gallery as well as having an online index of over 6000 examples from their collections. Also do not forget, pre-auction "previews" are open to the public and can be a great way to see and (gently) handle some great objects. PLEASE be sure to check the value of anything you wish to touch before doing so if its breakable! Some small cups and bowls can easily be valued at over $100,000, some for over a million.

You Tube!!!! yes You Tube. Both Christies and Sothebys routinely do videos that end up on there discussing a few pieces coming up in their auctions or as part of their education departments. They are all quite good. Other videos of great and informative quality can also be found there, so look around.

 The Image Archive of 

To see a pretty wide rage of Chinese Porcelains and Bronzes of all ages, feel free to visit our Image Archives. Its a handy tool.

What are some of the things you might find around the open market? 

 Most typically  pieces originating in the Ming Dynasty that turn up are vases, jars, plates and bowls and small bronzes. Nearly all of the porcelain examples will be of the blue and white variety and produced late in the period circa 1580 to 1644. The reason is fairly simple, pieces made during this time were exported to Europe when they were new and tended to survive. Prior to this time, fewer items were made as their was not much of an export market, other than to the Middle East. Many of the items sent early on, are now either lost, broken, have been bought by European museums and collectors or are in Middle Eastern museums. These early pieces date back through the Yuan period and into the Song Dynasty. Most notable among the Islamic world is the Topkapi in Turkey.

Under glaze blue porcelains are decorated with a cobalt pigment originally found and mined in Persia and sent to China in the 9th C. for their use. By the 14th C. the Chinese had mastered its application on massive wares for the Mongol Court. By the Ming Dynasty, it had been further refined and went into wider use by the 15th C.

Collecting Ming Period Blue and White Porcelain and Bronzes

Large Ming Dynasty Charger, Circa 1600. 24" in Diameter.

Foot of Ming Plate from the 17th C.
Back of  24" Ming Charger

Here are the kinds of Ming Porcelains you can expect to find almost anyplace in America with a significant nearby population. If you live in North Dakota or Montana, you'll need to reach a bit outside your own area...the above Charger was a particularly great thing. The above charger came to me from an auction in Palm Beach Florida, it cost less than $800.

Ming period Blue and White Wine jar
Ming Dynasty Wine Jar, Circa 1580 to 1620, drilled as a lamp in the 1920's.

The above jar was most likely made during the Jiajing  to Wanli Period, circa 1600. When I bought it, it had been used as a large table lamp and had been drilled. Regardless, its a very nice example. It cost me less than $2,000 a few years ago.

Wanli Jarlet with deer
Ming Dynasty, Wanli jarlet. Circa 1620

The Ming Jarlet illustrated here can be found all over, they are small less than 3" tall and often depict deer in a landscape setting. The great part is, the cost is usually under $150. You can build a collection of these on a modest budget.

Ming Dynasty Blue and White Bowl
Ming Dynasty Blue and White Bowl with shaped rim, circa 1620
Ming Bowl Foot Rim
Ming Bowl foot rim.
Ming bowls appear all over in a bewildering variety of patterns. Some depicting symmetrical scrolls, others of men on horses or mules and others with honey comb patterns. Many more patterns also exist, way to many to list here. A bowl of this type can be found at local auctions for under $300.

Wanli Kraak Blue and White Bowl
Wanli Kraak Blue and White Ming Bowl, late Ming

Kiln Grit Kraak bowl foot-rim
Foot and Bottom of Wanli Kraak Bowl, with kiln grit.
The above piece is commonly referred to as Kraak Ware and was mad in China during the lat Ming Period Circa 1610 during the Wanli period. .

Wanli bowl from a Boston collection
Late Ming Wanli Blue and White Bowl with Cover

Late ming wanli bowl foot-rim
Late Ming Wanli Blue and White Footrim
Large Wanli jar found in estate collection
Large Ming period Jiajing to Wanli Covered Jar

Ming Period un-glazed base from a Maine Collection
Foot of large Circa 1600 Blue and White Jar, unglazed.
This large jar, measuring 18" tall with it's original lid are often mis-dated as 19th C. .

late Ming Wine jar blue-white
Large early 17th C. Ming Period Wine Jar with Lid, 19" tall, from a New England Estate Collection 

Ming Period Wine Jar blue and white decoration
Ming Period Wine Jar detail

Ming Period Wine Jar brown dressing
Ming Period Wine Jar mouth

un-glazed Ming Period Wine Jar base
Ming Period Wine Jar base, slightly concave , flat and unglazed.
This covered wine jar came from a local estate auction for less than $500, despite internet and phone bidders..they simply missed it. Sometimes just being there is all it takes!
Note the brown dressing around the rim of the mouth, a typical feature of these later wares.

Bronze Ming Period Vase with footed base
Ming Period footed bronze vase. Circa 1500, from a Rhode Island Collection
A dandy Ming Period bronze on bandy legged feet. Its dates to around 1500 and was bought at an estate auction for $65.
Ming bronze Incense Burner
Ming Period Bronze Incense Burner, Circa 1550-1600, from a Rhode Island Collection
The above incense burner is the type that can turn up almost anywhere they typically measure anywhere from 6" to 9" in diameter and have a square seal mark on the base. They DO make copies of these as they bring significant amounts of money at specialty auctions of Asian art. However, should you come across one in a local antiques shop or small estate auction, you might walk away with it for under $250. In an big city Asian Auction expect to pay $4,000 to $8,000 for it.

Ming Bronze islamic inscription
Ming Period, Circa 1600 Bronze with Islamic Script
During the Ming Dynasty squat bronze incense burners were made for the Islamic market and for the Muslim traders living in China. They were often executed with Islamic Inscriptions as seen in this example. Should you come across a real one you might walk off with it for under $600. In a big city Auction add a ZERO at least. WARNING: In the last few years these have become a favorite of the forgers in China, so be careful.

The two jars below, produced during the early 17th C. are often found here in New England and across the globe. The were produced in significant numbers and remain popular among collector to this day.

Foo Lion decorated Wanli jars
Pair of Late Ming Foo Lion Jars from a New England Estate Collection

A Ming Jar from a Boston Estate

Every once in while you can still come across marked Ming period porcelains tucked away in a cupboard awaiting discovery. This fine mark and period Jiajing (1522-1566) was found under a sink in a nice old Boston Massachusetts estate. It was according to the family bought in China during the late 19th C. by a Great Grandfather doing business there. 

Rare Blue and White Chinese Jiajing Period jar from a Boston Estate Collection

Fine six character mark of a Jiajing porcelain jar

Foot Rim and Reign mark of a Rare Ming Dynasty Jiajing jar, Provenance a Boston Estate

Ming and Chinese porcelain Estate appraisal Contents
 I hope you found this useful and perhaps even interesting..if you have an item you want to know more about feel free to contact me with images.

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