God Speed the Plough

“Let the wealthy and great, roll in splendor and state
I envy them not, I declare it.
I eat my own lamb
chickens and ham,
I shear my own fleece
And I wear it.
I Have lawns, I have bowers,
I have fruits, I have flowers,
The lark is my morning alarmer.
So jolly boys now,
Here’s God Speed the Plough,
Long life and success to the farmer”

Today I am sharing one of my favorite items from our Pipe Creek Farm collection. We furnish the farm with utilitarian (yet artsy) items that have a function rooted in the history and purpose of the surrounding land. And yes we have the occasional Pumpkin- as many people refer to the historic house as Pumpkin Patch Farm. Most items are from the Baltimore-York corridor and the harvesting of hay, corn and cattle are the main staples for revenue here- so when we found this pattern of china, Farmers Arms, by Burgess & Leigh, we got very excited.

The 19th C china was actually made in England with its original saying coming from “God speed the plough, ‘a wish for success or prosperity,’ was originally a phrase in a 15th-century song sung by ploughmen on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Day, which is the end of the Christmas holidays, when farm laborers returned to the plough. On this day ploughmen customarily went from door to door dressed in white and drawing a plough, soliciting ‘plough money’ to spend in celebration.

Chaucer’s Monks Tale penned in the 16th C. “God spede þe plouȝ: & sende us kǫꝛne Inolk” turned it into a short, satirical complaint, listing the various indolent members of the clergy who will demand a share of the ploughman’s harvest, rendering his work futile. But the

But today, the charming bright colors and the simple hard working life depicted are reminders of an era when families worked together, planted and harvested together- and we yearn for that.

We were lucky in that our large charger (13.5″) and several accompanying plates were sold during the William K. du Pont Collection sale this year from his home Rocky Hill. Because the plates were in varying stages of distress and because the buyers gathered for these auctions were looking for Americana, we were able to purchase these plates. And it is important to note that the plates in order to be collectable must still be readable and that is an issue with pottery this old. I would not recommend using them but they do make a fabulous Place Plate, or cabinet plate.

We offer a set of 8 on Chairish and on our website, which are the best of the lot and we are happy to retain the more worn ones and the Charger here at the farm.


Classic Blue Willow China 

Learn more about the classic design found in kitchens, diners and castles around the world

One of my first introductions into the the antique world was a fascination with my Aunt Jill’s blue willow. She told me the story of the star crossed lovers and told me that most blue willow had three men on a bridge but if you find a piece with only two men, it was very valuable. NOPE!

But the more you know, the more you appreciate. So here is the really interesting and true story of Blue Willow. It begins in the late 13th Century during the reign of Kubla Khan known as the Yuan Dynasty. A trader from Persia, now Iran brings pottery with deep cobalt blue into China and it is admired but they are unable to copy it because they do not possess the cobalt ore necessary. And so one of the first global chain import routes is formed. China will go on to import Cobalt from other regions as well because in the mountains near Jingdezhen and the unique clay found there coupled with the dragon kilns that snake up the mountain, the Chinese have learned to fire white almost iridescent pottery. The blue-and-white porcelains of the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, made in Jingdezhen, China, represent the highest level of the ancient porcelain making handicraft in terms of both quality and volume and represent one of the most influential aspects of human cultural heritage known. 

In Europe, people are eating off of pewter or wood plates. If they have crockery at all it is made with a lead glaze which gives it a dark grey brown finish. Small windows let in little light and dining experience even in daylight was a dark. This changed in 1602 when the Dutch East India Company, the world’s first formally listed public company was formed to bring spices to market from the East. When the traders saw this light yet sturdy pottery they took a chance on making their fortunes in the auction houses of Amsterdam, where goods from the unloading ships would be put up for sale immediately upon their arrival. From 1602 to 1682, at least 16 million pieces of Chinese export porcelain were transported around the world by Dutch merchant ships. Eventually word of the mad crushes at the auction houses made it to England and traders were dispatched to Amsterdam to see what it was all about. Meanwhile the ceramicists of Holland were busy trying to copy the imported goods. They at first copied the Chinese designs and then created their own. This pottery is known as Delft- but this is a story for a different day..

The English tried and failed to produce the white china but succeeded in the 18th C. By then the British fever for white china and moreover blue and white was at a fever pitch. People waited a year for an imported punch bowl or tureen. Prices were through the roof and families actually bankrupted themselves buying the latest status symbol. The English potteries were losing out to importers. And so in 1780 Thomas Turner designed what he imagined a Chinese scene to look like complete with fret work fences, pagodas, boats, bridges, pavilions, willow trees and swallows. It would be engraved onto a copper plate and finally not produced in his factory but at the factory of Josiah Spode. Even Thomas Minton got in on the fever first managing Spode then striking out on his own.

The Blue Willow design by Thomas Turner was eventually produced in over 800 factories throughout England. The process is not a simple one. First the white pottery must be almost flawless. Then the design is engraved onto a copper plate which is heated and the ink applied and scraped off repeatedly while hot to fill the fine lines of the this complicated design. Then paper was applied to create the “transfer”. It was cooled and put through a press and delicately removed and cut until the design could be fitted on anything from a plate to a cup. The transfer is then placed on the pottery- with precision and lined up then hand ground with soft soap and pestle to create the design. This required thousands of artisans across England and it was the care and precision that created the differences in price and quantity even in this subset. Fine intricate patterns were desired by some while other makers preferred the flow blue look- using more cobalt which tended to spread during firing because to them it was more reminiscent of the original Chinese examples.

At some point, in order to stand out in “catalogues” and department stores which were now where you went to buy your wares- the story of Chang, the humble accountant and Koong-se the daughter of the wealthy merchant who plans to marry her off to a wealthy colleague comes to play. The story is apocryphal, it does not exist in any Chinese literature and was purely Victorian hype. It has stayed the test of time as you can still find you-tube videos of antique collectors eagerly telling the tale of the pottery.

The pottery also was changed by human events. Potteries shut down during war as men were needed to fight and some skilled workers did not return. Cobalt was restricted as it was needed for the war effort. Manufacturing became expensive and was eventually exported to Japan where the designs were changed whether there was permission to do so or not. The Americans made it as well. In fact my personal favorite besides the Ridgway version, is that of Buffalo Pottery who made it as a give away to accompany their soap products.

So in our search for the origins of Blue Willow we have seen the first global import market between Persia and China, the development of the largest public company in the world in the Dutch East India Company, and the creation of the knock-off and its changes over time. It tells the story of the times, the dark living in Europe- transformed by light and delicacy. The mad crush of trade and importation on Europe. I think seeing the Blue Willow collections in this light makes them even more attractive and I personally love the differences when collecting. You can see the imperfections from the transfer process, even some funky design decisions made with left over transfer paper. You can tell the pieces that were meant to make large complicated collections and those that were given away with soap. And you can see the cultural differences between those who relished their ability to produce a clean design and those who preferred the blurry line in a tribute to its origins.

Today, the Blue Willow is iconic in both England and the US. Aunt Bee used Blue Willow on The Andy Griffith Show. Even the Munsters sat down to dinner on Blue Willow. William Randolph Hearst had a special version made for his castle in San Simeon, CA with a gold rim. In the 1930’s, a grill plate or divided plate was made with three sections. It was sold to diners and restaurants and was the inspiration known as the Blue Plate Special, a well balanced yet affordable meal.

So to some the value is in the history. To some it is in the wide array of sizes, hues and objects that can be collected. For many, it is the chinoiserie design. There are even those of us that are comforted by its familiarity. Nothing is better in my house than a Blue Willow platter heaped high with fried chicken.

There is a lot of Blue Willow changing hands. It is very easy to compile a set of any size if you can mix and match. But if you are looking to match and not mix- the value goes up. 12 Ridgway plates or Allerton all made the same year and same size might be had for 300-350.00. Coffee pots, creamers, sugars, platters and covered dishes are harder to find and therefor more valuable and can go for over 600.00. Some collectors buy hundreds of pieces at 5.00 each and hope to make a score. Some people buy what they need to make up what they don’t have in another transfer pattern because one of the great benefits to Blue Willow is that is blends with other blue and white but is also a great stand alone. Price guides are available but I like to check out either Ruby Lane or the even better, Chairish where today there were 366 Blue Willow items including a meat strainer and a pate bowl. Covet!

this description is slightly off but since its not true….do we need to correct it? good enough!

At the Auction: An Old Friend Comes Home

At another time in my life, I had the opportunity to see in person the opening of Thomas Pheasant’s very first showing for Baker Furniture in High Point. I did not have anything else to do and the hustle and bustle of High Point was over whelming for a small decor store owner. So as I took a walk through the town away from selling and ordering: I passed a small store front and in the window were two small slipper chairs I had sol to the decorator Charlotte Moss from my Georgetown store. The little storefront was for an upholsterer and furniture maker outside of town and this was his idea of an advertisement.

I got the address and off I went until I found a factory- no AC and no heat and all the employees were busy stuffing, sewing, tacking – all with cigarettes hanging from their lips. I found the owner and that day I started my own line of furniture. Man, I am naïve!

I did not do a lot but I had about a dozen pieces and some weren’t terrible. My favorite was the Gore Dean sofa and chairs. I loved the sleek style of the back and somehow I got lucky and the pitch of the chair made it easy to raise yourself without pushing out of the chair even with a down wrapped cushion. I sold a good number and kept one set from which I could take orders.

One day, designers Glenn Pushelberg and George Yabu happened into our Georgetown store and ordered enough to finish the room below for the St Regis in Mexico City. Our Delano chairs in the forefront and our coordinating sofas done in celery green velvet for the area right before the bar.

We had some orders and the lounge chair was particularly popular in a nubby white thick, loose weave bright white fabric that you can see in our Baltimore store below. Eventually I was going to take my samples home…and I would have that chapter of my life forever. That was until the flood came in 2008 during a hurricane.

My store was carted off by FEMA to the trash pile, Bernie Madoff hit and designers stopped ordering and High Point factories closed including mine- along with my patterns…I thought I may never see my chairs again…..

But you know what happened !!! Yes, last week at the all too wonderful and always terrific weekly sale at Weschler’s in Rockville, Md….I saw what had to be my chair.. Albeit, in a different pattern- maybe a bit overstuffed now- but one look at the feet below the now skirted bottom and I knew. Baby had come home!

leave it? or rebuild to the original? A softer cushion, straighter back and skirtless….

Which is why I always look through every auction…just look sometimes…because you will never know what memories you might unlock or what you’ll find…….at the auction.

Collecting Copper Pots and Pans

When decor, collecting and use mix happily…

There are many options for cookware. Personally, I could not make it without my cast iron but there are so many options all with their plusses – enameled, cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel, aluminum, nonstick, and copper – and they all have vastly different uses and price points.

The cost of copper cookware can be intimidating but lets face it – its fabulous on display. And when you consider the decor value plus its use value- its the hands down winner. Here are some things you need to know and consider. I sell several Brands of copper that are contemporary. But we also have a good sized collection of antique and vintage copper.

Because its easy to control its temperature, copper pots are perfect for melting chocolate and candy makingBecause its easy to control its temperature, copper pots are perfect for melting chocolate — Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Because of its heat conducting properties, copper heats up quickly and evenly. So you don’t have to worry about hot spots. Copper cookware is great for when you need to control and maintain consistent temperatures. This means you don’t have to use as much heat to get it cooking. If a recipe calls for medium-high heat with your regular cookware, use medium-low for your copper.

Copper is not great for high heat. It is best for delicate proteins such as fish and sauces which is why it has traditionally been preferred by professional chefs.

Julia Child infamously stocked her kitchens in Cambridge and Provence with the wares of Dehillerin in Paris.

Copper is a reactive metal. In most cases, that means it will have a chemical reaction to what you’re cooking so most copper pots and pans are lined with a non-reactive metal like tin or stainless steel.

Buying new ? You will be getting the heavy duty stainless steel which can stand up to a lot of abuse from utensils. If you’re purchasing older, used copper pieces, you will almost certainly be dealing with tin. Tin gives your copper a great, non-stick surface to work with, but the melting point is around 450 °F’ so cook low.

Tin is also easily scratched and chipped with metal utensils and harsh scrub brushes. It’s best to use wooden spoons and softer utensils when working with tin-lined copper cookware. On the other hand, older pieces have a fabulous luster so finding a great item that needs to be re-tinned is just fine. You can go to https://eastcoasttinning.com/ and calculate the cost of re-tinning and polishing a pot. As long as it doesn’t have any holes in it, it’s relatively easy to return your copper cookware to its former glory- if it is tin lined. Stainless Steel that is damaged must sadly remain a No Buy. When antiquing remember tin will discolor unevenly sort of in patches and be discolored. Stainless will have concentric marks where applied. Some people eye the rim, if you see silver on the rim, it can be assumed to be tin or nickel.

So where someone else may pass up a pot in need of tinning- you can find a treasure that will last you a lifetime.

Martha Stewart’s Collection- mixing antique, vintage and new

Keep that Shine…

A bit of lemon juice or vinegar can revive your copper’s shine or some salt and half a lemon (but do not scour! gently polish and let the acidity do the work) or some Bar Keepers Friend and a soft cloth. I am a salt and lemon girl but Spider (the chief polisher) swears by Wright’s Copper Paste. But before you polish, you must clean. So soap and water, a good soak sometimes makes the work easier.

Antique Mauviel on display and you can visit the factory outlet on your way to Mont St Michel

If you want an eco friendly version you can try

DIY Copper and Brass Cleaner

  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • Enough white vinegar to form a loose paste

If you suspect that the piece is lacquered, test a part of the bottom with a bit of nail polish remover to see if there is a thin layer on there. It needs to be removed before you cook in it. It was common in the 1960’s to lacquer the items for display use so that polishing was unnecessary.

and lastly, you may wish to forgo polishing all together. “In the case of copper, a patinated surface is becoming harder and more thermally efficient,” says Mac Kohler of Brooklyn Copper Cookware. “Professional chefs cultivate a good, dark patina as one does bloom on wine grapes; it improves what the thing is supposed to do.”

See our copper collection on Chairish

New Copper can be found on DGD Home Catalog

New from Mainly Baskets: the Vineyard Collection

“Let us offer you the quality and design of all that is natural from Mainly Baskets

to bring warmth and texture into your world that will last for decades to come.”

Shop Mainly Baskets

Cleaning, restoring and preserving iron garden ornaments

There are many methods…this is how we do it at Parterre Garden Shop

Whether you like your garden ornaments, hitching posts or urns to be Rusty Crusty or Pristine, there are still some valuable hints to be them around and in service longer.

The first step is to identify the age, purpose and value of the items you want to restore. A new but rusty urn can take a good deal more abuse from cleaners and abrasives than you would subject a 17th C Italian urn to. 10,000 dollar garden sculptures should probably not be blasted. You get where I am going…

Brand new iron garden ornaments have an overly rusted appearance which can be fixed with a good clean and museum wax

Because in the end it all comes down to abrasives and chemicals when you want to clean. It also is important to know the function of the item. Urns that are on your porch, should not be allowed to rust through sending scarring stains down brick and cement that you cannot get out. Do you empty your urns each year or use urn caps ? If not you will want to clean, and treat those urns every two years so they can withstand the wet soil that will eventually erode them. A statue should be cleaned once a year and professionally restored. etc. My rule of thumb is easy- if its good- treat it well. If its temporary, do your best.

The faded paint on these urns should be preserved and protected. It makes them entirely unique

At Parterre Gardens Shop, we use any common detergent. If we are outside in the garden or driveway, we use Dawn as it is environmentally neutral. (You can also use vinegar and water). We scrub a new urn or hitching post with a rag and water with a good amount of detergent. We then rinse it and towel dry sitting it in the sun to dry completely. If the urn is made of parts-then we dry each separately to ensure we have no standing water in any crevices.

Note: This also applies to painted iron- urns, jockeys, even fences and trellises. You have to wash them because what is in the air and earth can be very chemically active.

Once you have removed pollutants, you can scrub with a wire brush for furniture and more meaty iron and a nylon brush for painted pieces, ornate urns and statuary. There should be no flaking paint or powdery rust when you finish. For furniture that is being repainted, you should now sand it down.

Repairs are now made at this point, handles soldered back on, chips repaired, holes puttied up etc.

Once you are clean, dry and non rusty–you can proceed to the Rust Inhibitor. There are many on the market. For furniture- you must prime coat with a rust inhibitor like Rustoleum. For intricate expensive ornamental items, we use a museum wax or Briwax (our choice).

Now dont think for a minute that I dont like that rusty look of old iron. I just dont want active deterioration. So cutting off oxygen to the item is essential. That means air and water. So at Parterre, we are a huge fan of Krylon matte finish- every two years on everything from garden gates to flower urns to soap dishes. Painted surfaces especially will last with the Krylon matte which you apply as soon as you are happy with your restoration.

Note: If you are looking to add that turquoise blue to a pair of urns or want to give a red hue to your hitching post, Briwax can be mixed with everyday paints (water based!). This will create a thin coat of color. The more you apply the heavier the color and it can be rubbed down for a subtle look and removed altogether with more clear Briwax.

FAQ’s : What is the difference between a Salesman’s Sample, a miniature and a toy?

It can be easy to confuse a true salesman sample from toys or children’s items especially if you are looking at Ebay where every small item is a salesman’s sample. But the proof is in the detail. If you look for great detail and specific aspects of the product you may well find the coveted sample. Salesman samples in metal usually have prominent company logos. Most salesman samples were made to 1/6 scale or 1/8 scale when compared to the actual product. (1/6 scale 1 inch is equivalent to 6 inches in full size and 240 inches long would be 30 inches in 1/8 scale.)

So id we find an item- we have but do the math.

I always say that everything before Andy Warhol was utilitarian. By this I mean that before we turned tomato soup into art, we made things for a reason. If you put yourself in the place of the consumer or maker- you can usually intuit why it was made. A small chair made for a child is going to be able to withstand a beating no matter how fancy- so weight so it does not tip over, lower seat height, arms usually low to hold them in and sturdy materials. For a doll, the maker would not use arms or if he did, they would be high to support the dolls arms and hold it up, it can be light weight and more in proportion to a real chair. In other words- good for display- not use. A miniature is going to be exactly to scale. And what would you need if you were a Salesman on the road in the late 19th C.

First you would want your customers to take you seriously and for you not to appear to be selling toys -so your samples would be lovely and beautifully finished. They would be perfectly to scale using the blueprints of the manufacturer and in scale, too would be the fabric. It would be an object that would not lend itself to play.

So when we go to sites that sell salesman samples of primitive or rustic furniture; it flies in the face of the purpose of a sample from a manufacturer. Not to say that furniture makers might not make a small version for sale as a decoration or toy- they might but they would be just that and you can see it in the details.

The example above of the Hoosier Cabinet shows working components in the exact materials as the original. A woman could see the flour sifter and the roll tops working. The examples below show the sturdy, weighty and low chair designed for a toddler, rustic toys to be played with and the perfect miniatures of furniture that would be available for order. We can also see the doll chairs that while lovely, would not be appropriate for a child and if blown up to 6 times the scale would not be in proportion.

Just In…

in 16 or 19 inch diameters

Our round rattan serving and ottoman trays with glass inserts will instantly add a gorgeous touch to any room of your home. Adding this tray to your décor brings both decorative and functional style with a 5 mm glass insert to protect the tray in heavy use environments.

Perfect to organize your coasters and remotes, set a table, serve drinks, or just add a new elegant touch. Products are handmade and each piece is unique therefore slight variations and imperfections exist.

  • 5mm Glass Insert Included
  • Hand Woven by Local Artisans from Burmese Rattan
  • Natural and Sustainable Product
  • Wipe Clean with Damp Cloth
  • Made in Myanmar

I use this on my Study table to keep my topiaries organized and from staining my table. In summer it becomes a drinks tray and bar on the porch. Great for ottomans as well.

$125 for the 19 inch

$107 for the 16 inch


10 Designers Share Their Cozy Paint Picks

Designers embrace the boldness of dark, saturated paint colors like it’s an easy peasy plunge, but for the rest of us some guarantees of gorgeousness can be invaluable. To buck up all those dreaming of cozy, statement-making walls with gravitas for days, we asked ten interior designers at the top of their game to share the dark paint colors they love to use. From deep blues to warm browns, discover your new roster of pro-approved paint colors.

Designer: Cece Barfield Thompson
Paint Pick: “Right now my favorite is “Day’s End” by Benjamin Moore.”
Designer: Eche Martinez
Paint Pick: “For bolder rooms (as an unrepentant blue addict), I have a special place in my heart for Farrow and Ball’s “Drawing Room Blue” (253).”
Designer: Sarah Wittenbraker
Paint Pick: “My current favorite is Benjamin Moore’s Lafayette Green.”
Designer: Caitlin Murray
Paint Pick: “River Blue by Benjamin Moore.”
Designer: Ashley Whittaker
Paint Pick: “Farrow & Ball’s Bancha green in a high-gloss lacquer finish is perfection. Though neutral, the color offers a bit of uniqueness and quirk, while still being completely versatile and calming.”
Designer: Shelley Johnstone
Paint Pick: “My favorite color is Benjamin Moore 2107-10: Chocolate Candy Brown. I have used this color for my home office for over 20 years. Of course, it’s lacquered. It swaddles the senses with its depth and rich, earthy warmth.”
Designer: Pierce & Ward
Paint Pick: “Retreat by Sherwin Williams. Paint colors can be tricky, and this one works in any space no matter the lighting.”
Designer: Rachel Halvorson
Paint Pick: “Currently my favorite is Farrow and Ball’s “Studio Green.” It’s so romantic.”
Designer: Young Hu
Paint Pick: Blue Muscari from Benjamin Moore’s Century collection is a new favorite. This deep blue is transporting.”
Designer: Matthew Carter
Paint Pick: “My favorite paint color is dark brown. Specifically, Fine Paints of Europe E25-30 and Benjamin Moore’s Classic Brown.”

A Man Bought a Drawing for $30 at an Estate Sale…

It May Be an Authentic Dürer Worth $50 Million

A man in Massachusetts attended a routine estate sale four years ago, where a small drawing of a woman and child caught his eye. At the bottom was one of art history’s most recognizable monograms: “A.D.”

On a lark, he bought it for $30. At the very least, it was “a wonderfully rendered piece of old art, which justified purchasing it,” he recalled.

As it turns out, the drawing is very likely worth much more—maybe up to $50 million. At least that’s what Agnews Gallery in London is asking for the piece, believing that the “A.D.” behind the artwork is indeed German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer.

The gallery has good reason to think it’s an original drawing by Dürer. After analysis, Christof Metzger, head curator at the Albertina Museum in Vienna and a leading authority on the artist, declared the work to be genuine. Metzger has even included it in his forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the Old Master. Giulia Bartrum, a former curator of German Prints and Drawings at The British Museum, also believes the drawing is authentic and has organized an exhibition around it on view at Agnews now.

Both experts suspect the work was created around 1503 as a preliminary study for Dürer’s well-known watercolor, The Virgin with a Multitude of Animals, which was finished roughly three years later. (The painting is now in the collection of the Albertina.)

For the consigner, who wishes to remain anonymous, getting to this point of recognition—and the payday that may come with it—has not been easy. After he acquired the artwork in 2017, he brought it to several experts for authentication or potential sale, only to be denied in each instance, according to Agnews.

It wasn’t until the owner was connected by chance to Clifford Schorer, a Boston-based collector, that the artwork was seriously considered. Schorer brought the drawing to Agnews—where he’s a shareholder—who in turn took it to Metzger and other experts. A paper restorer, for instance, confirmed the age of the material, and located Dürer’s signature Trident and Ring watermark.

More was learned about the provenance of the piece, too. An architect who lived outside of Boston had inherited the drawing as a family heirloom, and it was likely purchased in Paris by his grandfather in 1919. The architect died in 2012. 

The gallery has not set a specific price for the piece, called The Virgin and Child with a Flower on a Grassy Bank, according to the Art Newspaper, but Schorer suspects it could go for as much as $50 million. 

According to a spokesperson for Agnews, the gallery has a “standard consignment agreement” with the owner of the drawing, and will be “compensated for the three to four years of research” required to authenticate it. 

Taylor Dafoe

Christie’s Guide to Collecting Chinese Pottery

Christies has managed to use such phenomenally rare pieces and astronomical prices that it might put off most people. But these Rules are as honest and useful that they would apply if you were scouring a local flea market in search of a treasure. I especially agree with Number 3- Buy what you love. In all things antique and decorative- if you have a talent for collecting; your gut leads you to as many treasures as an advanced degree.

I however, am not blessed in this regard and I offer up the following story to prove it.

I found a Blue and White Yen Yen Vase in the closet of my aunt. I asked her what I should do with it in her new apt and she said she thought it was awkward and not worth anything- Please take it away! So I had the “not worth very much” in my head and never applied the Rules below- ever- not even when I opened an antique store in Washington, DC. I did not look at it when I took it to my farm on the Northern Neck or to my home in Roland Park where I used it as a doorstop/umbrella stand. I only looked at it sparsely when a dog hit it coming in the house and sent it sprawling across the floor. I said exactly to my husband what was said to me “its not worth very much- take it away” and into the store it went.

Luckily we are lazy dealers and it was never priced or photographed. I only slightly noticed when my husband mentioned that a very nice Chinese gentleman said he would like the price. Spider had told him that he wasn’t even sure it was for sale. But something went off in my brain and I asked my husband, “how long did he look at it? ” For quite awhile he said and then I got on line and the first thing I saw was that the Baltimore Antiques Show was in town. 2 + 2 and I was in the car the next day and driving to Freemans Auction. Freeman’s suggested that it was worth 1500.00 and they would stick it in the next auction. I told Spider that if the man came back, he could contact Freemans.

Now I am a fan of Freemans. But the auction catalog arrived and my vase was not even pictured. And had what I would say was a rushed description. No photos at all- not the vase not the underside- nothing. And the auction was in 2 days. I called and did my part to get a do-over by placing a Reserve- which could not possibly be met with no photography.

The buyer paid $19,800. Enough said!!

Lessons Learned: Don’t let anyone else tell you what something is worth- figure it out yourself. Don’t be lazy when putting things up for sale and apparently don’t ask me or my husband anything.

Christie’s Collecting guide:

10 things you need to know about Chinese ceramics

What new collectors need to know about palettes, glazes, reign marks and more, plus why it pays to handle as many pieces as possible 

1 Handle as many pieces as possible

A teadust-glazed hu-form vase, Qianlong incised six-character seal mark and of the period (1736-1795). 13¾ in (34.9 cm) high, Japanese wood box. Estimate $100,000-150,000. Offered in Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 23-24 September at Christie’s in New York

A teadust-glazed hu-form vase, Qianlong incised six-character seal mark and of the period (1736-1795). 13¾ in (34.9 cm) high, Japanese wood box. Estimate: $100,000-150,000. Offered in Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 23-24 September at Christie’s in New York

Chinese potters have copied Chinese ceramics for hundreds of years, both out of reverence for an earlier period and to fool buyers — so beware. There is no quicker way to learn than to handle as many pieces as possible. Large numbers of Chinese ceramics are offered around the world at reputable auction houses, which, unlike museums, allow potential buyers to handle them, so make the most of the opportunity. This creates an understanding of the weight of a piece and the quality of the painting — of how a ceramic should feel in the hand.

2 Ask questions

A very rare blue and white dish, Yongle period (1403-1425). 13¾ in (34.8 cm) diam. Sold for $637,500 in Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 25 September 2020 at Christie’s in New York

Building the knowledge needed to authenticate Chinese ceramics can take many years. Reading reference books can give structure to the field, but pick specialists’ brains and ask as many questions as possible. There is nothing that a specialist with a little time on their hands likes more than to talk about their subject.

3 Buy what you love

Do not necessarily think of buying for investment. If you buy what you like, you will never be disappointed. Try to buy the best quality example your budget will allow.

A very rare yellow and green-enameled ‘dragon’ vase, Jiaqing incised six-character seal mark and of the period (1796-1820). Estimate $150,000-250,000. Offered in Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 23-24 September at Christie’s in New York

A very rare yellow and green-enameled ‘dragon’ vase, Jiaqing incised six-character seal mark and of the period (1796-1820). Estimate: $150,000-250,000. Offered in Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 23-24 September at Christie’s in New York

4 Familiarize yourself with different palettes and glazes

Palettes and glazes evolved over the centuries. For example, the wucai (literally ‘five-colour’) palette was used in the Wanli period (1573-1619) and led to the famille verte palette, which was introduced in the 17th century and the Kangxi period (1662-1722). This was a palette of green, predominantly, plus blue, red, yellow and black. The famille rose palette was added to the ceramic painter’s repertoire in the 1720s and featured a prominent rose colour; the enamels were opaque and there was a wider repertoire of colours. In the 18th century, there were many technical advances, and glazes such as copper-red and flambé were introduced.

A rare and unusual Doucai moon flask, 18th century. 12¼ in (31.2 cm) high, hardwood stand. Estimate $50,000-70,000. Offered in Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 23-24 September at Christie’s in New York

A rare and unusual Doucai moon flask, 18th century. 12¼ in (31.2 cm) high, hardwood stand. Estimate: $50,000-70,000. Offered in Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 23-24 September at Christie’s in New York

5 Learn about the differences in glazes across kiln sites

Ceramics were made all over China and the kilns in the north and south produced different types of wares and glazes. During the Song dynasty (960-1279), for example, beautiful celadon-glazed ceramics were produced in the Longquan area of southwest Zhejiang province, and also by the Yaozhou kilns in the northern Shaanxi province. The celadon glazes differed between these two kilns, with the Longquan glaze often giving a warmer, bluish-green tone, compared with the Yaozhou glazes that were more olive.

Jun wares from the Song dynasty were produced with beautiful lavender glazes, often highlighted by abstract purple splashes. The Dehua kilns specialised in ceramics with white and cream glazes. In the late Ming dynasty in the 17th century, Dehua wares were creamy in tone, but by the 19th century, these had became more ivory and white. Also during the Ming dynasty, the kilns at Jingdezhen in the south of China produced most of the blue and white ceramics.

6 Look underneath

A rare underglaze-blue and enamel-decorated dish, Zhengde-Jiajing period (1506-1566). 7 in (17.7 cm) diam. Sold for $81,250 on 25 September 2020 at Christie’s New York 

The way the base of a vessel was cut, finished and glazed changed from one dynasty to the next, which can help enormously in the dating and authenticating process — especially as forgers don’t always get it right. They may not have an original example to copy, relying instead on photographs in auction catalogues or books, and these don’t always include images of the base.

7 Recognize changes in blue decoration

This decorative element changed a lot over the centuries. A characteristic of 15th-century blue and white porcelain, for example, was the so-called ‘heaped and piled effect’, in which the cobalt-blue underglaze was concentrated in certain areas, bubbling through the surface of the glaze and turning a deep blue-black. This inadvertently gave texture, energy and shading to the design and was highly admired in the 18th century. 

Chinese potters subsequently mastered the technique of firing blue and white wares to achieve a more even cobalt-blue tone. But the tone varied from one dynasty to the next. During the Wanli period (1573-1619), for example, blue and white wares often had a greyish-blue tone, while in the Jiajing period (1522-1566), the tone was almost purplish-blue.

8 Pay attention to shapes and proportions

The shape of ceramics also evolved. Song dynasty ceramics, for example, were often inspired by nature and foliate in form. Chinese ceramics are also well known for their beautiful proportions. A vase or bowl that looks out of proportion is an indication that a neck or mouth has been ground down.

A flambé -glazed ‘pomegranate’ vase, Qianlong six-character incised seal mark and of the period (1736-1795). 7 78 in (20 cm) high, Japanese wood box. Estimate $50,000-70,000. Offered in Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 23-24 September at Christie’s in New York

A flambé -glazed ‘pomegranate’ vase, Qianlong six-character incised seal mark and of the period (1736-1795). 7 7/8 in (20 cm) high, Japanese wood box. Estimate: $50,000-70,000. Offered in Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 23-24 September at Christie’s in New York

9 Consider the condition

What makes the condition of a ceramic acceptable or otherwise depends on whether or not it is Imperial-quality and when it was made. For example, on a non-Imperial porcelain vessel made in the 17th century — such as a Kraak ware charger — you would expect to see some kiln grit or kiln dust on the base and perhaps a firing flaw that would have occurred in the kiln. Both would be acceptable. 

However, you would not expect to find these kind of flaws on an 18th-century Imperial mark and period ceramic, because the firing techniques would have been refined. Fifteen years ago, only mint-condition mark and period ceramics would have been considered acceptable. Now, however, collectors will consider ceramics that have been broken and restored, or which have hairline cracks.

10 Familiarise yourself with marks

Reign marks state the dynasty and the name of the emperor for which an item was made, and were used on all ceramics made for the emperor and his imperial household. Do not rely on a reign mark to establish the age of a piece, however. Marks were often copied and can be apocryphal.

A pair of rare gilt-decorated coral-ground ‘dragon’ dishes, Yongzheng yuan nian jianzhi marks, corresponding to 1723, in underglaze blue within double circles and of the period. 7⅞ in (20 cm) diameters, softwood stands. Sold for $43,750 in Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art on 25 September 2020 at Christie’s in New York

A useful reference book is The Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics, Gerald Davison, London, 1994. Reign marks should be studied alongside the many different variations of hallmarks, auspicious marks, potters’ marks and symbols that you find on the bases of Chinese porcelain throughout the ages.



It’s hard to explain what attracts the human eye to one shape or form over another. It’s a matter of scale, proportions, symmetry and of course color. Chinese potters throughout history have been more influential than any other culture in setting the standards by which nearly all vases are viewed. Today, it’s nearly impossible to buy a table vase that doesn’t owe it’s shape in some degree to an original Chinese form.

Antique Chinese vases have over the centuries been produced in a wide variety of shapes and styles. Some forms were based on prototypes originally carved in jade or cast in bronze. Their constant evolution throughout history, always adapting but never losing their stylistic roots from their earliest days is a testimony to their timeless designs.

Jade Congs came originally in a great variety of sizes and are frequently found in Liangzhu tombs, sometimes arranged in a circle around the body. Their original meaning and function remain unknown. 

The form came back into fashion in ceramics during the Song (960–1279) to Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) and then again during the Qianlong Period (1736-1795) and became particularly popular during the 19th C. as a porcelain form


The earliest examples were produced during the Tang dynasty (618-907)  were used as wine vessels. By the Song dynasty (960-1279) their use had evolved into being used to display plum blossoms, hence the name they are known by today “Meiping”. The word literally translates into “plum vase”.  The Song to Yuan examples were done in Cizhou, Yaozhou, celadons and Qingbai wares. During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644)  they were produced primarily in blue and white and on rare occasions in underglaze red. During the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) the ranges produced expanded immensely, including blue and white, langyao, flambe glazes, sancai, famille verte and famille rose decorations.  Among the millions of porcelains produced over the centuries antique Chinese vases in the Meiping shape remains one of the most popular forms. 


Yuhuchunping vases were first produced during the Tang dynasty (618-907) and were made to hold holy water. By the Song dynasty  (960-1279) the form had become a popular type of wine vessel.  During the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) the shape became more refined as well as being decorated with both underglaze blue and red. This tradition continued into the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and into the Qing dynasty (1644-1912).  Today they are often referred to as “Pear Shaped vases”. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties the form was further adapted by the addition of handles and spouts for wine.


The Huluping derived its shape originally from the actual double gourd plant during the Song dynasty at the Longquan kilns. Double gourds are thought to have magical medicinal healing properties and were believed to absorb “negative energy” known as KI. They are also symbols of fertility.  The first dated examples were produced at the Souther Song Longquan kilns. They can be found in every palette of colors imaginable. Including Tea Dust, black, Famille Verte, Wucai, Sancai, Flambe etc.  During the Kangx period in particular, numerous triple gourd examples were made as well. 


GU vases also known as “Beaker” or “Flaring” vases have their roots in the early bronze age during the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1600-256 BC).  It’s original purpose was as a wine drinking vessel. The first porcelain examples are thought to have been during the Yuan dynasty.  The form became particularly popular during the middle of the 17th C. right through the Qianlong period.  Most often decorated with celadon glazes, underglaze blue and with overglaze enamels in Wucai, Famille Verte and Famille Rose. Flambe examples also come onto the market once in a while.  This particular shape can be found in a variety of other antique Chinese vases with slight variations in style. 


The Garlic mouth or garlic head vases were first produced in bronze during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). The form is that of a  pear shaped vase with a garlic head shaped into the top at the mouth.


 Moon Flask or Pilgrim Flasks were first produced during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) based on Middle-Easter vessels produced in silver and gold brought to China by traders. The bodies are of circular flattened form is fitted with a narrow cylindrical neck with flanking applied handles linking the neck and body. Typically the early Ming examples are decorated in underglaze blue and later periods enamels were also used. On very rare occasions they were also produced in underglaze red.  The earliest examples made during the Ming dynasty had a swollen area on the neck and are generally referred to a “Pilgrim Flasks”.  Today “moon flasks” are still extremely popular among collectors of antique Chinese vases. 


First developed during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), these are notable for their heavily rounded bulbous bodies and long straight necks.  During the Qing dynasty particularly in through the Qianlong period these became court favorites and were made using a wide variety of decorations.  Among the wide range of antique Chinese vases this particular form is among the most enduring. 


A shape developed during the very end of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and into the earliest days of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). Most recognized as a development of the “Transitional Period” .  The literal translation for Xiangtuiping is “Elephant foot” vase.  The term Tongping refers to “sleeve vase” or are referred to using the Dutch word “Rolwagen”, a term that evolved when they were first brought to Holland in the 17th C. The form noted for its brief waisted neck and relatively straight vertical sides. 


The name, Liuyeping, is derived from the vase’s slender profile, which resembles a willow leaf. The shape originated in the Kangxi Reign (1662–1722 AD) during the Qing dynasty, and is often found in a peach-bloom glaze.


The term Bangchuiping translates literally from Chinese to “Wooden Club”. A name derived from this vases form of a cylindrical body with flat shoulders with a cylindrical flanged neck.  French Asian art historians coined the term Rouleau due to it’s roll-form body. The shape was developed during the Kangxi period (1661 – 1722.). Most often this form is decorated with underglaze blue, Famille verte and with the two combined.  Minochromes in cobalt blue and Famille Noire examples also exist.  Among antique Chinese vases of the Kangxi period, Rouleau examples are among the most sought from the Kangxi period.  Numerous convincing later copies can be found on the market as well. 


The form, most commonly known as Yen-Yen vases is derived from the earlier GU shape originating as a bronze form during the Shang dynasty. The began being made during the Kangxi (1662-1722) and are often used in garniture sets coupled with tall covered jars. They were produced in Famille Verte, Famille Noire, cobalt blue and mirror black.  During the Yongzheng and Qianlong period few in this form seem to have been made but came back into fashion during the 19th C.  Yen-Yen’s are among the most recognizable of all antique Chinese vases associated with the Kangxi period, be careful when buying some very good copies are now on the market.


The form, most commonly known as “Mallet vases” is characterized by the bell form and long narrow circular neck. The most well know examples were made during the Kangxi period (1662-1721) During the Yongzheng and Qianlong periods very few in this form seem to have been made and fewer were made during the 19th C.  The majority of these fine and rare antique Chinese vases were done with underglaze red decorations. 


The vase’s recognizable characteristic is that it is a lobed vase – in other words it has a lobed/sectioned mouth and most often has lines running down the vase, splitting it into panels or sections.

Many thanks to Peter Combs to whom I refer constantly.