What to Look for When Shopping for Blue and White Porcelain

Elizabeth Pash reveals her secrets to finding pieces you'll treasure forever.

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Elizabeth Pash, designer and owner of Elizabeth Pash Interiors & Antiques, will be sharing one item you should be on the lookout for when shopping for antiques. Get to know our Girl on the Ground, just in time for your weekend shopping!

Blue and white are like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall—a classic duo that will never go out of style. In design, the color combination goes with absolutely everything—greens, reds, browns, and orange, and of course taupes and other neutrals—and I love hunting for blue and white Chinese export porcelain. It is a great way to add accent pieces to a room.

Chinese export porcelain has a storied history and has long been a part of trade between East Asia and the West, going back to the days of the Silk Road. By way of history, during the 19th century, China trade brought exotic goods to the West, including Chinese blue and white porcelain. Before Western trade existed, the highest-quality porcelain produced in China was reserved for Chinese royalty. Some of these designs were later used as inspiration for the first chinoiserie designs created in Europe. When trade opened, Chinese exported not only to America and England, but to also to the Dutch, Portuguese, French and Persian markets. The markings “Made in China” were required by law after 1891, so a good way to have an idea of the date of production is to check out the bottom or back of a piece.

During the early period of export, the pieces made were generally strong and not too refined, as they had to endure the stress of overseas travel. Today “blue and white Chinese pottery” covers a wide range of objects, both pottery and porcelain, decorated under a glaze with a blue pigment. The decoration is applied by hand, originally brush painted, but today is often done by stenciling or transfer painting. One reason that blue and white porcelain has lasted the test of time is that the blue cobalt pigment can withstand the highest firing temperatures that are needed for porcelain.

Here are some of my favorite blue and white pieces to collect:

Ginger Jars

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These are characteristically round with lids. Originally created to store ginger, which is an important spice in Chinese culture, these jars today are great decorative pieces. They are gorgeous as a single, in a pair or in a big grouping. I love to use them on a mantel, a centerpiece or as vases.

Helpful hint: If looking to purchase antique ginger jars, one of the easiest ways to determine age is by the weight of a jar. The early ginger jars are often quite heavy. There is some belief that the added weight was to provide a ship’s ballast during transport.

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Amanda Greene

Plates:

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Dinner plates are usually 9 to 10 inches in diameter. They look beautiful on a shelf or table on a simple stand. In my opinion, a grouping packs a stronger punch than one or two pieces.

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Vases:

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I love these on their own or filled with flowers or tall branches, such as cherry blossom or quince branches.


Garden Stools:

Just a word on Chinese garden stools: Although they look great in blue and white, they are now produced in a fabulous array of colors. Every home needs at least one of these! These barrel-shaped seats have been used in China for at least 1,000 years, but they didn’t gain popularity in the US until the mid-20th century. Traditionally created for outdoor use, they look great inside as well. They add a bit of color, sheen and texture to a space and make a great table or accent.

So many to choose from:

How fabulous is this bright orange pair?

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