Let us clear the way a little. First of all, the word china, as used by the non-collector, is vague. He calls Wedgwood ware, for example, china. It is not. Wedgwood never made any china in all his long career. He made earthenware. Nor is most of the china we use on our tables china to the collector; it is also earthenware.
The distinction is quite simple: earthenware is opaque; china, or porcelain, is translucent. Earthenware is clay; porcelain a mixture of china clay and china stone.
The collector, then, should first decide whether to collect earthenware or china. He may, of course, wish to collect both, but he would be well advised to concentrate on one or the other if he is going to make a serious collection, though there is no need to be absolutely exclusive about it.
Limiting the Field
Having made this decision, he had then better limit the field still further. He can do this in any of various ways. If he decides upon earthenware, he may collect pieces of a period or type. He may, for example, go in for early English ware, English delft, stoneware, agate or coloured ware, cream ware (which in itself offers endless variety), the ware of Wedgwood and his successors and imitators, lustre ware, figures, or the nineteenth century semi-porcelain ware. He may collect jugs, or mugs, or statuettes, or plates, or tiles. Staffordshire figures mako an attractive collection; cream ware is amongst the most beautiful. Chinese Porcelain 11 he decides upon porcelain, his range in time is more limited, unless, indeed, he is rich enough to embark upon Chinese porcelain, which has a history dating back Jong before the birth of Christ, and the first glorious period of which extends from the disputed date when porcelain was discovered, to the Sung dynasty, which commenced A.D. 960.
The Chinese were making exquisite porcelain while our ancestors were painting themselves with woad. But to collect ancient Chinese porcelain one requires a very long pocket indeed. Even then it is impossible to make a comprehensive collection.
True porcelain was not made in Europe until the early eighteenth century; in England not until nearly the middle of the century. Old porcelain, as we have said, ceases about 1820. Less than one hundred years covers the range of old English china.
The beginner will do well to confine himself, for a while at least, to English china. He can get more information about it, he is less likely to be misled by fakes and imitations, there is more of it about, and on the whole, if we exclude the cheaper and nastier Continental ware, it ia cheaper. Dresden and Sevres are nice words to say, but genuine old china from these places is quite beyond the means of the average collector.
So, no doubt, are also early Worcester, choice Derby, fine Chelsea, or rare or elaborate ware from any well-known English manufacturer. But not all old English china is expensive. One expert collector says: You can buy fine old china for less than the price of china that is fine and new.
The Cost of Collecting
The big china factories turned out ware literally by the ton, and a very great deal of it was for ordinary domestic use or to decorate quite ordinary homes. There is any amount of it which will never rise 35 in prico beyond the roach of quite moderate pockets.
One of the most frequent questions asked by the would-be collector is, of course, What will it cost me to collect old china?
A very proper and natural question, but, unfortunately, one to which there is no definite answer, except that it will cost you exactly what you are prepared to spend on it. If you are prepared to study your subject thoroughly, and then resolutely to keep your money in your pocket every time you strike a piece that is not exactly what you want, you may acquire a very choice and beautiful collection of small ware at no more than an average of a few shillings apiece.
Do not expect that such a collection will contain rare pieces from the better known factories. It will not; but there is no reason why it should not contain beautiful pieces. If you are prepared to spend in pounds, then you can make a very choice collection indeed, provided you exercise care and discretion in selection.
Following the Prices
Prices naturally vary. You will find by inquiry at dealers how prices are running. Reports of sales, with prices, are frequently given in the newspapers and weekly periodicals. Examine particularly those periodicals devoted wholly or in part to arts and crafts, house furnishing, and antiques; you will find there not only accounts of sales, but countless advertisements of dealers. A little time spent comparing costs will enable you at least to rule out lines you cannot afford. Some Words of Caution
Here let us interpose a few – maybe unnecessary – cautions. Do not buy any old thing simply because it was made at Worcester, or Derby, or Bow, or Chelsea. Do not buy broken, cracked or badly chipped specimens; they are neither beautiful nor valuable. Do not buy the inartistic, poorly-decorated work which nearly every factory turned out at some time or another. .And do not buy any piece simply because it is cheap; always be suspicious of bargains.
But to return to the main point. One fascinating method is to collect only ware from a single factory.
If you wish to limit the field still further, collect the ware of one period or one maker in a factory. Other people prefer to make collections of, cay, figures and groups – a favourite choice – plates, plaques, vases, bowls, or knick-knacks such as inkstands, pastille-burners, or candlesticks. The choice is almost endless. Many people prefer a small representative collection, a piece or eo from each famous manufactory.
Whatever your choice, let your collection be perfect of its kind. To ensure this, you must know your ware. There are forgeries and imitations galore – many of the latter made, indeed, with no intention to deceive, but quite capable of deceiving the unwary or ignorant collector. Old Moulds Still Used
The present-day china factories are using the moulds and decorations of one hundred and fifty years ago, and turning out ware that to the uninitiated is often quite indistinguishable from genuine old china. Much of it is very beautiful, but it is a pity to include in your collection of old Derby ware that was made at Drby only a few years ago.
We would offer the beginner two bits of general advice. Be modest, and be prepared for a Uttle hard work. Of course, if you are rich enough to walk into the office of a recognized West End expert and say: I want a dozen genuine Chelsea figures, or Can you please get for me a few choice specimens of genuine early
Worcester? All well and good, but few of us can do that; and it is hardly collecting.