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The world of antique ceramic – what’s valuable and what’s not

From the living room to the bathroom, antique ceramic pieces can reinvigorate any space and although some may be centuries old, ceramic is as popular today as ever, amongst interior enthusiasts desiring traditional designs.

The three main types of ceramic are hard stoneware, course earthenware and delicate, fine porcelain which is why antique ceramics rank among the most varied items that can be collected. So, with all this variety, how do you know whether your piece is valuable or not?

Experts agree that there are five areas to consider when valuing your antique ceramic piece, which are collectively referred to by the acronym RADAR; Rarity, Aesthetics, Desirability, Authenticity and Really good condition. If you find a piece that meets these criteria, you will probably have a piece that will appreciate in value over time.

Let us take a closer look at the five criteria here:


An item is considered a rarity if there are few of its kind. In the case of antique ceramics, a piece may be considered rare because either it was made in small numbers, there are few original pieces remaining, or it has an unusual shape and size. Examples of unusually shaped pieces can be found in antique oriental ceramics, with a Chinese tri-lobed double gourd form vase, dating from the mid-18th century, realising £245,000 at auction in 2017.


This area of antique ceramics is a very subjective one. One person may look at a pair of traditional Staffordshire antique dogs and fall in love, while the next person may see no beauty within, preferring Royal Doulton’s iconic bulldog, ‘Old Bill’. If you are having difficulty putting personal preference to one side, there are pieces which hold a universal appeal and visiting museums and researching in reference books will help to highlight the better pieces.


Desirability is determined by the prevailing fashion, in other words what is currently popular. However, as with most areas of antiques, ceramics experience seasons of popularity. Majolica ware, for example has seen peaks and troughs in its popularity, while many Moorcroft pieces have recently seen a drop in value. It is worth noting that as fashion and trends in interior design come and go, so will the demand and therefore the desirability of antique ceramics. There is nothing to say that an item that is not considered particularly desirable today may not see a resurgence of interest in a few years’ time.


With the quality of reproductions and copies ever-improving, it is important to distinguish a genuine antique from a reproduction. There are a number of ways to check the authenticity of antique ceramics, but a sensible starting point is the maker’s mark. Get to know the marks of the producers of your favourite pieces. For example, Royal Doulton has used a multitude of marks, logos and backstamps over the years, accompanied by the artist’s initials. However, there are a vast number of pieces that do not feature anything to identify the artist, displaying simply a backstamp. Reputable ceramics houses produce an identification guide which is invaluable in determining the authenticity of a piece. If a piece looks and ‘feels’ too new and shows few signs of wear and tear or ageing, be prudent and get a second opinion. Similarly, some signs of age may not be visible to the naked eye and in the case of antique porcelain, black light testing may be used. This involves passing an ultra-violet light over the piece, in a darkened room, which will highlight cracks, chips and evidence of restoration.

Really great condition

It would be ingenuous to expect antique ceramic pieces to be in the same condition as they were when they were first produced. An antique ceramic pipe for example will have remnants of the tar and juices from the tobacco burned within the bowl, while other pieces may have gone through a lot in their lifetimes, as with shipwreck pieces of antique oriental ceramics. Regardless of a piece’s history, condition is broadly described in the following ways: ‘Mint’ condition indicates the piece is perfect with no chips, breaks or cracks, ‘Excellent’ condition indicates minor flaws such as a flake in the glaze of a porcelain vase and ‘Good’ condition will reflect that a piece has age and a story to tell – perhaps a figurine has lost a finger which has been expertly repaired at some point in time. Generally, in terms of condition, be on the lookout for chips, cracks or fractures, as well as signs of repair and missing or broken parts. It is worth bearing in mind that a minor chip or crack in an antique ceramic piece may not necessarily reduce its worth as much as the same damage would devalue a piece of glassware, as the ceramic can be restored by an expert.

Our selection of antique ceramics here at Hemswell is a joy to browse, and if you’re unsure about the value of your ceramics, a visit to Hemswell Antique Centres will be hugely beneficial. As one of the largest antique centres in Europe, we have over 300 dealers, with specialists in antique ceramics, including early oriental pieces and European pieces dating from the late 18th century. Their displays will offer an insight into the value of these pieces and when our experts are on site, they are always happy to share their experiences.

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