Collection progress...

Started by Isaac1998, Aug 19, 2021, 16:19:25

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Hi all!

It has been a long time since I posted anything here. I thought I would come and update you on my collection and thank the users here (particularly Peter) for helping guide me in my early days.

Over around the past 18 months I shifted away from bronze and became a lot more serious about collecting ceramics; my tastes also evolved quite considerably. I am now thoroughly addicted; and buying on a scale my bank account struggles to keep up with... There were a small number fakes along the way, but since starting, I feel my eyes have improved a ton & I have learnt an incredible amount, making very few mistakes now.

I now focus almost entirely on Song & earlier ceramics, particularly smaller lesser-known kilns. Over the past year I have travelled extensively to different parts of China, visiting kiln sites, buying local pieces, and studying and collecting shards. I will probably write a separate post about it later, but I am now working on a book about Song teabowls from Hunan- Xiangzhan 湘盏, as I call them- of which I have started accumulating an ever-increasing number of, and am running out of space for!

Anyway, a brief runover of some of what I have collected over the past year: lots of Qingbai from Fujian and xiba 西坝 from Sichuan, many many small Hunan kilns and small northern kilns, a little jun (Henan), huozhou 霍州 from Shanxi, yuanshi 'proto porcelain' from the Warring states period, Xiangzhou 相州 ware from Anyang, Henan, Zibo 淄博 ware from Shandong, Yunqing 云清ware from Fujian, and a lot of Cizhou and Xing from Hebei.

The highlight of my collection (so far!) is undoubtedly a late Tang (circa 9th/10th century) Xing ware 邢窑 teabowl inscribed with the character Ying 盈. Ying-inscribed pieces are extremely rare and most scholars agree these pieces were made specifically for the personal treasury of the Tang Emperors.

Anyway, there's probably too much to write about all in one post but I will attach some pics and if there is anything you have a question about or would like more pics I am happy to oblige. I just felt like sharing my progress...


A few Hunan pieces.

It is probably worth a separate post, but the bottom centre piece has quite a story... After obtaining permission (which is something I never thought would happen!) I was able to trek through six hours of jungle in Hunan to find a kiln site and collect a few samples for my book. The bottom centre is a piece I found at the kiln site and hope to restore- it was quite a surreal feeling being the first person to have seen it for over 800 years!


Cizhou-type hare's fur glaze, Northern Song/Jin


Black glazed Zibo ware with a white rim, Song


And my most treasured teabowl...


Oh, and here's one of the nicer fragments from Hunan...


Thanks for showing the items!

The small white on the middle shelf, far left, and the one on the far right of the bottom would be interesting to look at more closely.

BTW, may I ask why you assume the one with the bi-shape bottom is from Xing kiln? The shape is right, the clay is white, but the glaze appears a bit dark. I got the impression that Xing wares are rather having a more white glaze than this picture shows. Or is that different from early to late periods of the Xing kiln?
Are you aware that Gongxian (Gongyi) kiln, for example, also had bi bases? Never saw one, though, so I do not know what type of top rim the bowls actually would have had. Just got to know that when studying a jar from that kiln. I got a bit involved in white wares in the last couple of years, but more centered on Ding, which have a tendency to be less white than Xing at least in the Northern Song period.


Will take some pics  in a min; is getting a little dark here so will use artificial light.

The saucer is very normal. Qingbai from Fujian (it has been suggested it is Hutian Ware but I think the quality is a little poor). This was the first Qingbai piece I bought, the quality is pretty standard and these are not rare here. Probably late Five Dynasties-Southern Song.

The bottom right is also not much to write home about. It's a very simple white-glazed bowl from Fujian (I am pretty sure). I'm not so good at these Fujian kilns because there are so many of them & I've yet to make the trip.

Most of the pieces on the shelves are actually very cheap examples from small kilns that I just bought for studying or because I liked them aesthetically.

I was fortunate enough to study Xing ware quite intensely over the last few months- mostly because I became friends with a rather zealous Xing ware collector here who was able to teach me a lot and took me to his hometown to visit the Xing kilns.

Xing ware actually comes in a huge number of glazes- from green, to yellow, black, and even sometimes sancai. A huge number of Xing pieces (most of which aren't seen in the West or online because they are less desirable) are not guan/official wares and are low quality. There were dozens and dozens of Xing kiln sites and they were churning out huge numbers of pieces of varying quality in glaze etc. The highest quality ones, as you noted, are indeed usually (but not always) a brilliant white glaze, often with a mild green/grey tint.

This piece, which was excavated, has been cleaned up a little- it was actually a little darker before cleaning. This is because the glaze isn't quite perfect & is not as fine or glossy as it should be.

A relatively large number of ying-inscribed pieces- almost all containing defects- have been excavated across Northern China, mostly in aristocratic tombs, kiln sites, or temples. This has led to speculation that even the ying-inscribed pieces with defects were nevertheless still highly sought after- either presented as gifts by the Emperor or purchased by social climbing aristocrats trying to feign an imperial connection.

This piece, I presume, was one such piece that didn't come out properly and as a result didn't quite make the cut for Imperial use- though that is what it was originally intended for.

P.S. after re-reading your comment- did you notice the 盈 character? This was only used by the Xing kiln.

If you like I can upload some pics of non-white Xing another day and recommend some good books.


Here's the qingbai.

I should clarify- I made the mistake of sipping tea from this which stained it. It is an easy problem to resolve but I haven't gotten round to cleaning yet.

As I said, it's a very run-of-the-mill piece. I wish the glaze was just a little finer.


Here's the Fujian bowl.

This stuff is very common here and people don't really bother to collect it. I am sure you can find in Taiwan. I just liked the shape & it's in pretty good shape.


Oh- just one more note on distinguishing Xing from other wares. It is very difficult sometimes- the key is in the clay rather than the glaze. There's a huge variety of consistency, texture, colour in Xing and early pieces in particular are sometimes very easy to confuse with Xiangzhou 相州 from Anyang.

Both Gongxian and Xianzhou were relatively tiny kilns in comparison to Xing, however- which in many ways makes it a little easier as these two generally have less variety. But some pieces are very difficult to distinguish, even in person. I'm not sure it's possible with photographs unless they are very good quality. These three 'wares' were all in very close proximity and their production times lapped over with one another.

In terms of Gongxian however, my understanding is that their glazes never attained the heights of those in Xingzhou due to technical problems. This is why some Western scholars have dubbed Xing the first 'true' porcelain and Gongxian a close imitation- it is important to note that the Xing kilns also produced lesser quality pieces though.

Since almost all of the pieces I buy are excavated I generally try to get as much information as possible while buying, which sometimes helps with identification. The vast majority of excavated pieces come from kiln sites.


Don't underestimate Gongxian kiln. There has been little known about it for a long time, and it has not been producing very long. But, during the Tang dynasty it also produced ceramics for the imperial court. Its strength seems to have been sancai and white wares.


Oh, I wasn't dismissing Gongxian as poor quality. It's just that, from what I have seen, their glazes never quite attained the perfect, extremely fine & glossy white of Xing, which only a small number of their best pieces have.

Personally, my favourite Gongxian wares are their black glazes; I have seen a couple of conical black-glazed bowls from Gongxian with white glaze on the inside. These are extremely rare & sadly well out of my budget.