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A guide to: Antique vases

A guide to antique vases.


It starts small. You get your hands on a couple of antique vases. Perhaps you stumble upon an 18th-century piece in your attic or discover an intriguing selection of antique Delft vases at an auction. All of a sudden you begin finding other vases for sale that you love and next thing you know - you have a collection.

With a vast variety of styles and decorations, antique vases are beautiful and fascinating pieces to collect. This enormous array of antique vases for sale also means you can specialise in specific types: some people choose to collect pieces from certain manufacturers or periods, others aim for a special kind of pattern or motif. 

As we always say, the pleasure an object brings is the most important part of buying antiques. There’s no right or wrong, but knowledge is power - and this guide will get you started when it comes to collecting vases.

What to look for in antique vases

Any flower arranger will tell you the frustration of the impractical shapes of vases for displaying flowers. But, you see, that was not their primary purpose. Vases were originally designed as a luxury ornament, complete in itself or balanced out as a pair. Here’s how it all started:

Antique Chinese vases

Zip back to the Song (Sung) dynasty (960-1279) and you’ll see the first vases carved into existence - delightful stoneware pieces with hand-painted decorations. Later on, Chinese vases from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) are a collector’s dream - you’re looking at seven-figure sums totting up at auction. Don’t mix them up with 16th-century antique vases from what is now Vietnam - these crudely crafted pieces only reach between £100 to £400. 

The most popular blue and white vases are those exclusively made for Europe, when Chinese potters designed them to align with Western tastes. Some Europeans even changed the entire layout and decor of their homes, just to display their epic collections. Keep an eye out for antique Chinese vases with deeper, more complex patterns (especially those with Chinese figures mixed in) - these value between £1500 and £10,000. Want to land yourself a treasure that could sell for up to £20,000 at auction? Look out for vases for sale from the mid-19th century and onwards - they often incorporate the ‘Rose Medallion’, vibrant green enamel scrolls with gilding. 

Antique Japanese vases

Antique Japanese vases in porcelain are always much more expensive than antique Chinese vases. Antique Imari vases are one kind of Japanese vase and another collector favourite - identifiable by their blue underglaze, iron red and gold embellishments. Even the most seasoned collector could be fooled by early Imari vases (those worth between £800 - £10,000) and those from the 19th-century (valuing between £60 - £500). The way to identify the former pieces is to examine them for bubbles on the glaze - millions of tiny bubbles soften the edges of antique Imari vases. Kakiemon porcelain makes up the most prized Japanese vases and you’ll also find plenty of antique satsuma vases for sale (identifiable by their crackled earthenware with gilt and enamelled decoration) around centres, shops and auctions. 

European antique vases

European potters eventually mastered Chinese patterns to create an oriental style of their own, but antique vases from Europe only appeared after the 17th century. Examples of this style can be seen in vases from 18th-century porcelain maker Meissen - the ‘Indian Flowers’ pattern has brighter colours and European figures in Chinese clothing. These are gold and a keen collector will pay up to £20,000 for a quality piece.

The majority of British antique vases from the mid-18th century were made from porcelain. Factories such as Derby, Bow, Chelsea and Worcester spurned from Meissen madness - a pair of English painted vases with rich decorations from between 1760 and 1780 can go for a mammoth £2,000 to £15,000. 

In 1790, Wedgwood transformed the English vase market. Today, the potter’s antique vases still dominate, especially his jasperware. Limited edition black jasperware originally sold for around £50 are now worth more than £40,000 - only 30 of the vases were made.

Antique glass vases

British and Bohemian glass vases of the 18th-century eventually reached the same level of quality as those from Venice. While British pieces were often covered in roses and oak leaves, Bohemian antique glass vases had flowers, mythical figures and coats of arms often engraved into them. Opaque-white glass made in Bristol and Staffordshire in the 1760s soon rivalled imported antique Chinese vases made from porcelain. Lidded, pear-shaped glass vases gilded with chinoiserie motifs can change hands for more than £400 today. Also look for flowers and ferns on antique vases from Holyrood glassworks of Edinburgh from the 1860s onwards - these value at up to £700. 

From stunning pairs of antique Doulton vases to fabulous Art Nouveau pieces, our range of antique vases for sale will pique any collector’s interest. Browse our antiques online or visit our centre - the largest in Europe - to see the fascinating array of collectable treasures in all their glory.

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