May 28, 2018
Blogs and Columns Latest News | Poll Questions | George HW Bush | Memorial Day | Long Creek

Prices, interest have dropped for Chinese export porcelain

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of
The molded leaping stag weathervane sold for $10,350 this summer in a James D. Julia auction in Maine.
By Danielle Arnet, Tribune Media Services

Q: Any info on my three Chinese porcelain bowls? The marks show they are from the Guangdong porcelain factory, 1875-1916. They are floral garden style, in very fine condition.

A: Readers have really reacted since we covered the current market boom in Chinese wares.

Reviewing images sent by this reader, we see that he has three bowls — two 8 inches across, one 12 inches across — decorated in what’s commonly called the Rose Medallion pattern. The pattern belongs to a design family called Famille rose. That means “rose family” in French, named for its dominant pink to purplish rose colors.

Appearing first in the mid-1600s, Famille rose Chinese porcelains have been made since the beginning. Examples are still made for export.

Smart collectors know that boatloads of Oriental wares made expressly for export were shipped to the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was the era of a burgeoning middle class, and every aspirational home considered a Chinese vase, bowl or ceramic piece to be a mark of refinement. Famille rose decoration was especially popular.

This is a good time to draw the line between traditional Chinese artifacts and Chinese decorative wares. Big money goes to the former. Made in quantity for overseas buyers, decorative wares are still common and too plentiful. Remarkable pieces do sell well, but standard export wares are ho-hum.

Looking at the painted rose medallion decoration on the reader’s pieces, one notices general lack of refinement in detail. Made as mass production, the bowls were produced for look and Oriental effect.

Bowl insides are painted with the pattern’s characteristic four panels of decorative scenes featuring people, butterflies, birds and flowers, but they are not finely rendered. In all, decoration is sketchy.

A decade or so ago, large 14 inches or wider rose medallion bowls, called punch bowls, were prized as decor and were the darling of decorators. That bloom is past, though mint condition and well-designed larger pieces have held value best.

Then, prices were astounding. On, we found a mint condition late 1800s bowl measuring 14½ inches that sold for $2,500 in 2004. A similar bowl with extremely ornate hand painting brought $3,800 in 2006. Both were retail sales.

But looking at recent sale results on, we saw a 15-inch bowl that sold this May (estimate $800-$1,000) at auction. Only one bid came in — over the Internet — and the bowl went for $300. A 16-inch version brought $800 this month at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago.

The lessons are clear:

• In a very old form, the earliest and finest bring serious money. Be honest about how your item compares.

• When a market is down or many examples exist, buyers can — and do — hold out for the best.

• Tastes and demand change. Ditto prices realized.

• When a form is desirable, especially fine and rare versions often bring more.

• When you want to know realized prices, pay for short time use of a databank such as those mentioned here. Some are free. Read details about the sold items. Compare what you have and learn.

Considering the late date (first decades of the 1900s) and quality of the reader’s bowls, retail value today is under $100 each.

Q: What is this? It is the size of a pocket watch, but is actually a metal container with a screw-off top.

A: Seen in an image, the white metal item is exactly as described. Tipoff on function is the long metal needlelike extension attached to the top.

Called a perfume dauber, it tells us that the metal bottle held scent and was meant to be tucked into a purse. The decorative figure at the dauber top is another major hint.

Check the sides for broken surfaces where chains might have been attached. That would make it a chatelaine, hung on a belt.

Value depends on the metal used. If silver, that’s one story. Common alloy is quite another.


An earlier column erred on contact info for Andrew Lick, director of Asian sales at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. It is Mea culpa.

Auction Action

A leaping stag weathervane that brought $10,350 this summer in a James D. Julia auction sold high because it was aesthetically fine. Horse vanes are far more common; the leaping stag is a rarer form. The attractive vane had original gilt and verdigris patina, and sold with a museum mount.

Collector Quiz

Newspaper and magazine illustrations (some early) gave us popular images of Thanksgiving. Can you match the artist with the image?

1. Thanksgiving Day, 1860

2. Thanksgiving 1914

3. Catching the Turkey 1943

4. The Farmer’s Wife 1933

5. New Yorker Cover 1992

a. Revere E. Wistehuff

b. Saul Steinberg

c. J.C. Leyendecker

d. Grandma Moses

e. Winslow Homer

A: Answers are 1-e, 2-c, 3-d, 4-a, 5-b. Source: “Thanksgiving: An Illustrated History,” by John and Sandra Thomas (Schiffer, $29.99). Covers postcards, illustration art, magazine and newspaper art.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.


Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like