Various civilizations have engaged in pottery since cooking became a prevalent part of human life. The practice began as early as the Pre-Neolithic period and was facilitated by the pottery wheel’s later invention in Mesopotamia. Thanks to its enormous clay deposits, Ancient China impacted the ceramics world by developing porcelain, also known as fine china, around 2000 to 1200 years ago.
Porcelain is generally lauded for its luster, strength, and delicacy. These features make it a more refined choice for tableware and decorative arts than other major ceramics like earthenware and stoneware. Consequently, there’s a significant demand for fine china, and the contemporary fine china collecting movement has bolstered the global porcelain market. Antique and vintage porcelain items are typically valuable, with some worth millions of dollars.
In this light, we’ll review and present a list of the 5 most valuable fine china brands. This guide commences with a brief overview of porcelain before the main survey. We’ve also attached an extensive guide for fine china collectors and dealers.
At the end of the article, you’ll realize the most acclaimed fine china brands, their costs, what makes them special, where you may find or display them, and other relevant information. Potential buyers and sellers of antique porcelain will particularly find the guide useful.
A Brief Outlook of Porcelain: The Fundamental Nature and Significance of Fine China
Porcelain is an elegant high-fired ceramic material produced by heating kaolin, a type of fine china, to about 1200–1400 degrees Celsius (2200–2400 °F). The ultimate result is a relatively durable and translucent vitrified pottery composed of mullite. Due to its quality and difficulty to scratch, fine china (porcelain) became the most adored and costliest type of pottery.
Fine china is typically hand-painted, depicting dragons, flower motifs, landscapes, or human activities. This craft developed in China, first appearing in the Shang Dynasty and later perfected in the Eastern Han Dynasty. However, it wasn’t a recognized art form in the western world until the 17th century.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to export porcelain sets from China, selling them at significant rates, usually for an equivalent weight in gold. This predisposition led individuals to dub porcelain “white gold.”
European potters soon began imitating the original Chinese porcelain design and producing cheaper replicas. The early European attempt at replicating fine china is now known as soft-paste porcelain. Similarly, another European model, bone china, was first created in England in 1748. Bone china is currently produced globally, including in China.
Hard-paste porcelain, the original Chinese variety, remains the most sought-after and prevalent type. The surviving authentic fine china initially belonged to a few families. You may conveniently discern them through their flawless bodies, translucence, thermal resistance, and brilliant paints.
The Top 3 Most Precious Antique Fine China Brands
Let’s prepare your mind for the main exercise by pointing out the top-tier fine china brands on the list.
Here are the top 3 most valuable antique fine china brands:
1. The Most Valuable Fine China — Qing Dynasty Porcelain
Worth $84 million; authentic oriental hard-paste porcelain; high-quality pottery; manufactured between the 17th and 20th centuries during the Qing Dynasty; sports striking enamel colors.
2. The Most Valuable Fine China of the 14th Century — Blue and White Porcelain
Valued at $21.6 million; cobalt blue porcelain; produced during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties; durable and colorful pottery.
3. The Most Valuable Red Porcelain — Jihong Porcelain
Auctioned at $10 million; enhanced red porcelain; adorned pottery; made during the Ming Dynasty; incredibly rare with less than 100 left.
The Five (5) Most Valuable Fine China Brands
The Chinese conceived various porcelain designs in antiquity, especially during the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties. These authentic oriental models are typically more valuable than European replicas. Accordingly, the distinguished “four great porcelains“—blue and white porcelain, colored glazed porcelain, blue and white rice pattern porcelain, and powder-doped color decorated porcelain—originated from China.
Finding authentic antique Chinese fine china is rather difficult in contemporary times due to their rarity. Therefore, collectors are eager to acquire them at great costs, while holders desire to make substantial profits from selling them.
We’ll review the most prized antique fine china brands based on the following considerations:
- Their most recent auction price
- Their manufacture period
- Their history and former reputation
- Their composition
- Their availability status
- Their defining features
- Their design and embellishments
- Details of past auctions, collectors, and owners
- Information about where you may find or exhibit them, if available
Here are the five (5) most valuable fine china brands:
- Qing Dynasty porcelain
- Blue and white porcelain
- Jihong porcelain
- Blood Red porcelain
- Joseon porcelain
Keep reading as we view these authentic Chinese porcelain brands through a broader lens.
1. Qing Dynasty Porcelain
The Most Valuable Fine China Brand
- Last Auction Price: $84 million
- Manufacture Period: Qing Dynasty (17th to 20th century)
- Main Ingredient(s): China clay and China stone
- Model or Design: Authentic oriental hard-paste porcelain
- Defining Feature: Overglaze enamel colors
The Qing Dynasty porcelain is an authentic fine china model produced to display artistic class on the behest of the Qing rulers. It comprises China clay (kaolin) and China stone heated at a high temperature to obtain a durable, lucid white ceramic material. They sported various shades of opaque overglaze enamel colors to make it more appealing.
This porcelain variety also features flawless bodies, creative decoration techniques, and cultural elements. In the 18th century, porcelain production in China was overseen by Imperial rule. This inclination allowed the Qing rulers to dictate how they wanted the fine china to look, and the potters were keen on impressing the emperors.
An anonymous wealthy Chinese industrialist purchased an ornate 18th century Qing Dynasty fine china vase for $84 million in the British auction house Bainbridges in 2010. This purchase set the record as the most expensive porcelain ever bought and the costliest Chinese art piece. Previously, the auctioneer—Sotheby’s—sold another 18th-century Qing Dynasty porcelain vase for over 70 million Hong Kong dollars (9 million USD) in Hong Kong.
2. Blue and White Porcelain
The Most Valuable Fine China Brand of the 14th Century
- Last Auction Price: $21.6 million
- Manufacture Period: Yuan Dynasty to Qing Dynasty (14th to 18th century)
- Main Ingredient(s): Kaolin clay
- Model or Design: Enhanced cobalt blue porcelain
- Defining Feature: Underglaze blue and white colors
Although the cobalt blue porcelain model first appeared in the Henan Province in China in the 9th century, it wasn’t widely produced until the 14th century. The enhanced form, known as the fine and translucent blue and white, was developed in the Yuan Dynasty in the 14th century in Jingdezhen, a city in China’s Jiangxi Province. Fine china vendors and admirers historically regarded Jingdezhen as the world’s porcelain capital due to the striking fine china produced in or near the region.
The refined blue and white porcelains featured a cobalt blue oxide underglaze — a significantly expensive pigment worth almost twice the value of gold. One remarkable feature of cobalt blue oxide is its tendency to withstand the high firing temperature required in porcelain production. Thus, its outstanding heat-resistant capacity allowed the potters to apply it on the fine china surface before heating it in the kiln, unlike the more common overglaze method.
During Emperor Kangxi’s reign in the Qing Dynasty (1661 and 1722), blue and white porcelain production reached its peak. European potters attempted to reproduce the authentic Chinese model and came up with the less durable and valuable soft-paste blue and white porcelain. The oriental hard-paste blue and white porcelain outclassed the European replicas since the Chinese potters employed the finest cobalt blue to decorate the pottery.
An unnamed telephone bidder purchased an impressive 500-year-old blue and white porcelain vase dating to the Ming Dynasty for $21.6 million at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong. This purchase established the record as the most expensive blue and white porcelain item ever auctioned.
3. Jihong Porcelain
The Most Valuable Red Porcelain
- Last Auction Price: $10 million
- Manufacture Period: Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th century)
- Main Ingredient(s): Kaolin clay
- Model or Design: Red porcelain underglaze
- Defining Features: Red color and elaborate adornments
Jihong Porcelain is a variety of red porcelain dating back to the Ming Dynasty. The Ming emperors appreciated this brilliant red porcelain and reserved them for sacrificial ceremonies.
Etymologically, “Jihong” stems from two words, “ji,” meaning “to sacrifice,” and “hong” indicating “red.” Jihong overshadowed other red porcelains due to its superior luster and embellishments.
The potters applied a copper-red underglaze to Jihong porcelain vessels and vases and usually decorated them with pearls, jade, corals, gold, and agate. Hence, the production process was difficult and demanding.
Currently, the exact techniques to produce this beautiful porcelain are lost to the sands of time. Several attempts have been made to reproduce Jihong porcelain to no avail. There are few Jihong porcelain items left, with only ten in the Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum. The total global amount of Jihong fine china pieces doesn’t exceed a hundred.
The auction house Christie’s traded a rare underglaze copper-red Jihong porcelain vase produced in the early Ming Dynasty period (14th to 17th century) to the Las Vegas casino mogul, Steve Wynn, for $10 million in Hong Kong in 2006. Wynn donated the pear-shaped antique piece to a Macau museum.
4. Blood Red Porcelain
- Last Auction Price: $9.5 million
- Manufacture Period: First produced in the Tang Dynasty (7th to 10th century)
- Main Ingredient(s): China clay
- Model or Design: Red porcelain underglaze
- Defining Features: Red color and elegant decorations
The first red porcelain stems from copper-red glaze during the Tang Dynasty (7th to 10th century). Ancient Chinese potters accidentally discovered red porcelain when they observed that specific heating temperatures could make some types of porcelain red.
However, the production technique didn’t properly develop until the Song Dynasty (10th to 13th century), and the red became more striking in the Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th century). Red porcelain established itself as one of the most precious fine china brands during the Qing Dynasty (17th to 20th century).
Blood red porcelain became increasingly popular and sought-after in China and other parts of the world. The Chinese particularly adored this porcelain variety because red symbolizes joy, luck, and happiness in their culture. Yet, the required materials were expensive, and the production technique was complex and forgotten since the Qing Dynasty.
A red porcelain bowl embellished with two lotus flowers dating to the Emperor Kangxi period of the Qing Dynasty (1662–1722) fetched $9.5 million in a 2013 Sotheby’s auction. The purchaser was a Hongkongese private collector.
5. Joseon Porcelain
- Last Auction Price: $4.2 million
- Manufacture Period: Joseon Dynasty (14th to 20th century)
- Main Ingredient(s): White clay (kaolin) and petunse (China stone)
- Model or Design: White porcelain
- Defining Feature: Brilliant white color
The Joseon baekja or Joseon porcelain is a white porcelain variety conceived during the Joseon Dynasty (14th to 20th century). Unlike the other fine china models on this list, this brand originates from Korea during the country’s longest-lasting imperial dynasty. White porcelain endured five centuries of transformations within this period.
Joseon whiteware became the most prevalent and acclaimed ceramics in Korea in the 15th century. During the early Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), it also enjoyed attention in China. Moreover, the porcelain exists in other painted colors apart from its usual white glow.
Joseon porcelain items tend to be considerably expensive. A whiteware vase colored in cobalt blue, portraying a bearded mountain spirit dragging a tiger’s tail, currently holds the record as the costliest Joseon baekja ever auctioned after fetching $4.2 million. Meanwhile, Christie’s sold a rare uncolored Joseon porcelain jar for $1.2 million in a 2013 auction in New York.
A Detailed Guide on Assessing, Auctioning and Collecting Valuable Antique Fine China Brands
Here, we’ll enlighten you on determining valuable antique fine china and the best places to purchase or auction them. This section begins with several tips for assessing porcelain items and continues with the buying and selling directory.
Expert Tips for Assessing Valuable Fine China
Appraising fine china isn’t a piece of cake nor rocket science. Still, there are several methods to discern if a porcelain piece holds a crucial value. These pointers will enable you to earn decent profits from auctioning an antique fine china piece or hit a worthy deal when purchasing one.
These are some helpful tips for evaluating the worth of fine china items:
Examine the Porcelain Type
There are three major fine china types, namely:
- Hard-paste porcelain
- Soft-paste porcelain
- Bone china porcelain
Their composition and heating temperatures are primarily responsible for their disparity. Hard-paste porcelain, the authentic oriental variety, contains kaolin, a type of white clay, and petuntse, also known as China stone or feldspar. To produce a translucent ceramic material, the potter heated them to 2400 to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Soft-paste porcelain is the product of the European attempt at replicating the Chinese model. This variety comprises clay and frit, a finely ground glass material. As its name suggests, it’s softer and more porous than hard-paste porcelain.
Bone china is a pottery variety first produced in England. It’s composed of clay and bone ash. Unlike hard-paste fine china, soft-paste and bone china porcelain are fired at lower temperatures of about 2200 to 2300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hard-paste porcelain pieces are often more expensive than their European counterparts due to their superior quality, more demanding technique, rarity, and greater durability. Still, some elegant soft-paste porcelain items may have a more significant value than hard-paste fine china.
Determine the Piece’s Place and Time of Manufacture
It’s vital to validate where and when a porcelain item’s production occurred before purchasing or listing it for sale. You may typically find marks stating a piece’s origin details on its underside.
Chinese pieces often have an impression known as a reign mark indicating the emperor’s reign or dynasty during its manufacturing period. European porcelain items may also possess distinctive marks, often accompanied by a number or letter hinting at its manufacture year. Similarly, some European potters periodically changed their marks, suggesting the piece’s manufacturing period.
On the flip side, evaluating a piece’s worth through its marks may prove unreliable at times, as marks are easy to forge. Yet, it’s a useful method when you don’t have many leads.
Check for Damages and Repair History
A fine china piece’s condition is a great determinant of its worth. Generally, collectors prefer relatively intact pieces to damaged and repaired ones. While a considerably small nick can significantly devalue a porcelain item by 20–25%, a larger crack can bring down its cost by half. On the other hand, a full break can render it completely worthless.
Regardless, a repaired or chipped item may fetch a significant price if it’s extremely rare or precious. Therefore, it’s best to assess a piece’s degree of damage and repair history before purchasing or listing it for sale.
Record the Item’s Size and Dimension
A porcelain piece’s size may considerably influence its price. Larger items are more expensive because their production requires more materials, effort, and time. When analyzing the size and dimensions of a piece on a picture, you may need a reference guide.
Provide or Request a Certificate of Authenticity
You need a certificate of authenticity, an invoice, or a receipt indicating where you purchased a porcelain item to properly appraise it. A certificate of authenticity could add value to a piece if you purchased it from a prominent and trustworthy dealer. So, providing the documentation or proof when auctioning the item can boost its price.
Consult Reputable Fine China Specialists for Guidance
It’s difficult to tell the age and authenticity of a fine china piece without an expert’s assistance. This predisposition partially exists because potters still produce porcelain in Jingdezhen and Europe using several methods similar to the original techniques.
Additionally, due to its durability, porcelain doesn’t visibly age like wood or textiles. Thus, you need a professional appraiser to determine its age and authenticity without obvious wear in the piece.
Scrutinize Its Color, Pattern, and Style
You may properly authenticate an antique porcelain piece through its color, pattern, and style. Original antique fine china items often have evenly distributed glaze colors. Similarly, you can familiarize yourself with special antique designs like blue and white porcelain, white, and red porcelain. Some antique porcelain makers also employed distinct patterns when producing fine china.
Best Mediums to Purchase and Auction Valuable Antique Fine China Brands
It’s critical to consider a medium allowing its purchasers to find authentic collectibles and enabling its dealers to amass substantial profits when choosing where to acquire or auction a valuable antique porcelain item.
That said, the best places to purchase or auction precious fine china pieces include:
- Auction houses
- Online auction platforms
- Flea markets
- Direct medium
Let’s examine these in more detail.
If you can handle the intense competition, auction houses are the best places to acquire and sell the most valuable fine china pieces and strike a befitting deal, as indicated in the most valuable fine china brands list. Sotheby’s and Christie’s are some of the most trusted auction houses among prominent fine china dealers and collectors.
Online Auction Platforms
The upswing of e-commerce has made it more convenient to auction and collect antique and vintage porcelain items. eBay and Etsy are the leading online mediums for buying and selling valuable fine china pieces. Again, Chairish is an e-commerce platform dealing with antique and vintage china dinnerware.
Flea markets are a great choice to buy and trade second-hand fine china pieces.
You may also sell a valuable porcelain piece to a direct buyer on agreed terms or directly purchase fine china from an interested seller.
How much is fine china worth?
Fine china is the most valuable type of pottery, with the most expensive piece—a Qing Dynasty porcelain vase—fetching $84 million in an auction.
What’s the value of old china dishes?
The price of old china dishes ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on their age.
What’s the most valuable fine china?
The Qing Dynasty porcelain is the most valuable fine china, with a record-setting price of $84 million.
Collecting antique fine china pieces is a worthwhile pastime since the activity is enjoyable and can simultaneously serve as a lucrative investment. You may join a porcelain collectors club or dealers association to appreciate and learn more about fine china from other more experienced enthusiasts.