Perhaps you’re hunting for that ideal piece to begin your collection of Chinese porcelain. Maybe you’re looking for that one-of-a-kind gift for a favourite family member. Whatever reason you’re hoping to purchase Qing dynasty pottery, it’s crucial to learn the signs of an authentic piece.
In the early Ming dynasty, which began in 1368, porcelain makers in China started using reign marks regularly. They range from complicated markings in Chinese characters to auspicious symbols like mushrooms, sceptre heads, and leaves.
Qing Dynasty Reign Marks
Chinese porcelain made in the Qing and earlier Ming dynasties is more accessible to date than pottery produced in other eras. Qing and Ming objects are more likely to feature a reign mark.
There are ten Qing reign marks, each covering different dates:
- Shunzhi (1644 to 1661)
- Kangxi (1662 to 1722)
- Yongzheng (1723 to 1735)
- Qianglong (1736 to 1795)
- Jiaqing (1796 to 1820)
- Daoguang (1821 to 1850)
- Xianfeng (1851 to 1861)
- Tongzhi (1862 to 1873)
- Guangxu (1874 to 1908)
- Hongxian (1909 to 1912
Reign marks recorded the dynasty’s name and emperor’s active when the porcelain vessel was made. The mark is made up of four or six Chinese characters. If a piece of early Chinese art has a reign mark, it almost always means that it was created for use in the imperial palace.
How to Read Reign Marks
So how, exactly, do you read a Chinese pottery reign mark? In almost every case, they follow the same rule as Chinese characters today: top to bottom and right to left.
The dynasty is represented in the first two characters, while the second two name the emperor. The last two characters mean something akin to “made for” in English. If a reign mark only has four characters, it will show only the emperor’s name and the “made for” inscriptions.
Reign marks make it easy for professionals to date a Chinese porcelain piece. However, amateurs should be wary. These marks are easily applied to copies, too.
Is This Reign Mark Authentic?
One giveaway as to whether a reign mark is real is its location. In most cases, it’ll be found on the base of a piece. But occasionally, you’ll see it in the mouth of a vase.
Note, too, the overall quality of the tableware. If a Qing porcelain bowl had a reign mark, it was made for the emperor’s household. That means the glaze, the clay body, the inscriptions, and the decoration will all be of the finest possible quality.
Another confusing factor is that makers often copied reign marks of previous dynasties or emperors as an act of reverence. These are known as ‘apocryphal’ marks and are not considered forgeries.
If you suspect the quality doesn’t match the reign mark, or vice versa, get the item appraised by a professional well before buying it.