We feel this is a very important section of our Canton museum. As long as there have been art and antiques, there have been problems verifying what is authentic. Generally, authenticity is given to an object by an expert in the field. It is based on that person’s credibility in the field, comparison to similar objects, previous ownership (provenance) and documentation. Certainly, new or modest collectors sometimes are not sure if they have bought or are about to buy genuine Chinese export Canton. There are times when advanced collectors, ourselves included, often ponder making buying decisions. Three definitions are in order:
1) Fakes—We define Canton fakes as pieces deliberately made to fool buyers, and most if not all have been made recently in China. They follow a known Canton form as closely as possible; however, mistakes are made in the details or they are made of lighter or heavier porcelain than a comparable form or they are too perfect without any blemishes or signs of wear. Blemishes such as black specs, glaze gaps and bubbles, and firing cracks are normal in antique Canton. The reasons are that the old kilns used wood which introduced ash specs and created uneven temperatures in the kilns. Modern kilns use gas without fly ash and temperatures can be more closely regulated. Some experts detect by feeling, a grittyness or lack of smooth glazing. This fake category of “Canton” is often the hardest to distinguish.
2) Fantasy Items—These are the second easiest to detect as they do not resemble any known antique Canton forms. This website helps new collectors as they can look up a form they do not recognize. If they cannot find it here, it is a fantasy item. Advanced collectors probably will quickly perceive fantasy items.
3) Reproductions—We define these items as clearly marked by the maker with company name and place. Be careful that on the bottoms there are not places where names were ground off. Chinese export Canton is hard porcelain, whereas many factories in Europe, especially in England, made soft paste porcelain. They did not hand paint their pieces but used instead transfer prints which were perfected in the 1750s. These are basicaly decals that were laid on the object and glazed over. Notable English companies that made Canton pattern transferware pieces were: Wood & Sons, Ashworth Bros., Mason’s. Their pieces were often described as “Ironstone China”. In the United States, Greenwood China in Trenton, NJ made transferware Canton pattern pieces as did the Shenango China Co. in New Castle, PA. We also have 2 examples marked “Hand Paint Made in Japan”, they obviously did not use transfer prints. From the 20th Century to date, Canton pattern china has been widely reproduced by Mottahedeh and by Sleepy Hollow Restorations, NY-hand painted and made in Holland, and by Historic Charleston. We approve of these reproductions as they are clearly marked and were not made to deceive despite some of them being quite fanciful. They can be found in museum shops, gift stores and online clearly marked with their origin.
FAKES: Shown below is an example of a fake square canister on the left along side a real one. We bought the fake in 1992 on purpose. Some differences are readily seen: the fake’s top is not domed and on the underside there is no overhang. The fake’s inside top rim is thicker than the original’s rim. In the third picture the bottom is unglazed and it looks like it was darkened to indicate age. All genuine Canton canister bottoms are glazed and have a square bottom rim. Side by side, one can see decoration differences. A difference not easily seen are the surfaces of each: the fake has a surface full of teeny holes, the original is smoother to the touch and shinier. Inside the canister the fake is very uniform in color and surface whereas the original has some glaze unevenness and there are several imperfections. Generally, fakes do not have firing imperfections or signs of wear like scratches or glaze fritting.
Below are a pair of Double Handled Gravy Boat Stands. The Canton stand on the left is an original and on the right is the fake. Note the well executed, smooth and carefully painted lines on the left stand. Conversely, the fake has hurried, blotchy painting. Also, the stands indentations are more exaggerated and the stand is deeper than genuine stands and on the reverse side (not shown) there are indications that an electric wire brush wheel was used to smooth the bottom rim.
Another fake is this pair of unmarked barrel shaped Garden Seats in a beautiful setting on a patio. They were moved to take advantage of the fountain and green hedge background. Their dimensions are: Top Diameter-11 1/4″, Bottom Diameter-11″, Middle Diameter-13 1/2″, Height-17 3/4″. Often the first clue to a fake is their price. In this case they were first offered for $1,000. then lowered to $500. a not unreasonable price but far, far below what a pair of genuine Canton seats are worth.
Below are 3 Square Tea Caddies. The one in the middle is the old caddy and it is flanked by 2 fakes. In the first picture one can see that the fake’s painting is poorer and in the second the butterflies and bats are clearly distinguishable. The third picture of the bottoms and tops do not show much difference in the feet but the fake’s tops are not as detailed as the old caddy. We believe that old tea caddy is of late 19th century vintage and is a later caddy than the hexagonal and octagonal caddies. The 2 fake caddies cost $100. each and the early caddy $2,000.+
Our next example are squat Cider Jugs shown below. On the left is the fake and on the right a genuine Canton jug. In the next 2 pictures, the most obvious clues are shown: the handles and Foo dogs. The original has a twisted handle and elaborate attachments, the fake a single strap handle and poorly made attachments. See the closeups of the Foo dogs, on the left is a poorly formed, slouching Foo dog on the fake and on the right there is a much a more carefully done one in a crouching stance. Also, remember that modern fakes mostly do not have black specks, glaze gaps and bubbles and firing cracks. If a piece looks too perfect it probably is a fake.
The last fake examples are a Baluster Vase and a pair of Bough Pots. The fake vase is on the left, it is generally well done until you see the bottom portion with the spiky leaves which are out of character with the two originals on the right with leaves and flowers. The pair of Bough Pots below the vases are the most ambitious and very well done reproductions of any Canton pieces we have seen. We do not have an original to show the comparison but there is a picture of an original pair on page 241 of Herbert Schiffer’s 1975 book. As with most reproductions, the Baluster Vase and the Bough Pots are without the telltale ash specks, glaze imperfections, firing cracks and signs of wear that original pieces would have.
FANTASY ITEMS: These are made-up items whose forms never existed in Canton. All have typical Canton scenes and rain cloud borders. Pictured are: 1) a Scalloped Bowl bought in 2012 from a known Chinese importer for $64. Its dimensions are: 7 1/2″ x 10 1/2″ x 2 1/2″. Note the unusual curlicue bottom rim. 2) a Sugar Bowl bought circa 1995 from Sleepy Hollow Restorations. Note particularly the elephant head & trunk handles! Size: 6 1/8″ diameter x 6 7/8″ tall. 3) a Cut Corner Salad Bowl, looks normal in pictures until a matchbook is put alongside. Yes, its a miniature only 4 5/8″ square x 2 1/4″ high! All genuine bowls of this form are 9″‘ square x 4 3/4″ high. We bought it in 2012 from a premier Chicago auction house for $20.! 4) a pair of Candlesticks (one shown), called by some “middrip or bell candlesticks”. They are 5″ diameter x 8 1/2″ tall. They were bought at an auction in Vermont for $55. in 2006. 5) Next is a large 8″, unmarked Teapot that bears no relation to any Canton teapot. Canton teapots of this size have long straight or curved spouts, they do not have verticle ridges or the type of knob that this one has. The teapot has rain cloud borders on the top and upper part of the pot, they are poorly done and missing in places. The decoration may be a combination of transfer prints and hand painting. We do not believe its origin was Chinese but, quite possibly Japanese. 6) The last piece is a fantasy dish with 2 handle holes and a gilt rim. Has typical scene with rain cloud border. It is soft paste porcelain probably made in England using transfer prints, no marks. It is 8 5/8″ wide x 11 1/4″ long x 2″ deep.
REPRODUCTIONS: Here are a few examples of early marked reproductions most known as “transferware”. Some marked “hand painted” and Mottahedeh items are not transferware. An English Wood & Sons saucer with their mark. Next to it is a marked Mason’s Patent Ironstone gravy tureen. On the second line are an Ashworth Bros. platter and plate along with the Ashworth Bros. mark. On the third line are 2 Greenwood China Co. pieces together made in Trenton, NJ. The mark is almost impossible to see as it is impressed into the china. On the right is a green dish from the Shenango China Co. in New Castle, PA along with its Indian trademark. On the fourth line are 2 dishes with straight line borders and they are marked “Hand Paint Made in Japan”. To the right of the dishes are a bowl and a ginger jar, both marked “Old Canton Hand-Printed © MANN MCMLXXX” (1980). Seymour Mann, Inc. had its headquarters in NYC and in the earlier days the china was made in Japan. They are not current reproductions.
Lastly, we have two contemporary sellers. First, below on the left is a syllabub cup and saucer, fairly crudely made and painted in Holland for Sleepy Hollow Restorations, NY. Next to them is a trumpet vase and a round tile made by the largest makers of reproduction Canton today, the Mottahedeh Co. based in New Jersey. Its Canton is made by the Vista Allegre Co. in Portugal. Of the 40+ different patterns that Mottahedeh designs and sells, their Blue Canton line, by far, has the most different forms: 83. Some examples of their highest priced forms are: 6″ Ginger Jar Lamp-$1,500., Soup Tureen & Stand-$875. and a Cider Jug-$550.