It's been some time now since I've made any additions to my collection. There are several reasons. The first being that authentic Ming and Qing porcelains of value are quite rare and difficult to find. The second reason is that the online supply of such is totally out of control. I am speaking mainly of eBay. I like eBay, and in the early days (1998) there was an occasional bargain to be found.

Comparing the early trading days of 1998 to the present, I see many changes. Back in 1998 you could search for the exact phrase "Ming Dynasty" and come up with about 15 or 20 items. Of those, possibly one or two might be authentic. Statements of authenticity were carefully phrased with sellers wanting to build a good reputation. The eBay picture for Chinese porcelain quickly started to change.

Doing that same search on eBay  today now returns about 600 items. Most are guaranteed to be authentic Ming Dynasty. The sellers are now international, many from China. The Chinese authorities would not allow national treasures that belong in their museums to be sold for pennies to outsiders. The Chinese are not foolish. Of the many wise sayings Confucius came up with, he'd have smiled at the famous P.T. Barnum saying that there is a customer born every minute. Time of course has replaced the quoted word customer with the word sucker.  I bowed out of eBay's Chinese Porcelain trading years ago and have only recently returned with a renewed interest. I'm working on the detection of  fakes.

Early in 1999 I reported a certain seller, user  thesaurusfinearts, to eBay as being very dishonest in their claims, thinking they would look into the matter. Nothing happened.   They instead allowed them to continue trading for another 4 years. In 2003 I got the following message when checking the username:

This seller is not currently offering any items for sale

Hmmm .... I wonder why. Here's why.

The US Government finally stepped in and closed down the dealer, Thesaurus Fine Arts of Seattle. Their claims of guaranteed thermoluminescence testing were finally challenged by an investigative reporter. Oxford's Authentication Laboratory of England and Daybreak Archaeometric Laboratory of the US, both world leaders in the field, verified the fraudulent test results. Charges of fraud have been filed causing Thesaurus Fine Arts of Seattle to close down their operation. Click here to view that article.

In the Reference section of this site, under the heading of Buyer Beware, I point out one of the tactics to look out for in online auctions, the private auction. This particular seller quickly converted to the private auction early on. At one point I tallied up the asking price of the 50 some items they were offering that week alone. It came to $250,000.00. So why did eBay allow trading to continue for so many years in opposition of the many complaints I know they received?

Though the sales were few and far between, they must have received a nice commission on some of the 162 transactions listed, 88 from unique users.

I still like eBay, but only hope that they will now establish guidelines to protect the buyers instead of ignoring complaints, and turning a blind eye until the US Government has to step in.

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UPDATE - 21-Feb-2006     Though a little late, the following article from Consumer Affairs offers a toll-free 800 number to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Office in Washington state.  I doubt very much if eBay will be looking out for you if you bought from this seller. By ignoring the warnings for so many years they were partners in the fraud (my opinion) and should be also held accountable. If you dealt with this seller on eBay (or directly), you might call the 800 number as you may be eligible for a refund.  Though not active, they are still listed as a valid seller on eBay.

Here's the article.....

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Seattle Asian Antiquities Dealer Settles Charges

October 31, 2005

A Seattle art gallery has settled charges involving supposed Asian antiquities sold in its downtown store and on eBay. The order prohibits Thesaurus Fine Arts from selling antiques in Washington and requires the store to pay more than $350,000 in penalties and costs.

(The) settlement sets clear standards for representing the age and authenticity of art, collectables and antiques, and serves as notice to all sellers that misrepresentation of such goods is unlawful, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said.

It is also a reminder for consumers to be careful and do their homework when buying such items, especially over Internet auctions. Buyers should look to trusted dealers and consider obtaining second opinions or appraisals from well-qualified independent experts before making a purchase.

The settlement was submitted today to King County Superior Court for approval. It requires Thesaurus to refund customers who purchased and still own ceramic, pottery and porcelain items.

The Attorney Generals Office sued Thesaurus Fine Arts in February 2004. The complaint alleged that between March 1, 1998, and February 28, 2003, Thesaurus misrepresented the age, authenticity and value of ceramic and pottery items sold on eBay and its storefront, formerly located in Seattles antiques and art gallery district in Pioneer Square.

Consumers known to have purchased ceramic or pottery items will be directly notified by mail in the next couple of weeks and provided with information on submitting a refund claim. Any consumers who bought ceramic items from Thesaurus but have not received notification in that timeframe may request a claim form by calling the Attorney Generals Office Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-551-4636 or writing to Thesaurus Fine Arts at 815 First Ave., Box 377, Seattle, WA 98104.

The Attorney Generals Office estimates that consumers may be eligible for refunds totaling $100,000 to $200,000.

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Continuing on now with the detection of fakes,  I've chosen these particular pieces as they have the appearance of genuine Ming blue and white.  In some cases they almost mirror what you would see in a Christies or Sotheby's catalogue.

Because of the explosion of supposedly authentic Ming and Qing Dynasty porcelain now available on eBay, I decided to do some purchasing to put together a page devoted to help identify fakes. I was looking for good quality fakes. What I got was bad quality fakes. Even though they were guaranteed authentic Ming Dynasty, I couldn't complain since I knew they were fakes when I bought them. One however was so bad that I immediately demanded a refund and was granted one with no questions asked. My total expenditure for these items was about 100 dollars, but it might save someone thousands of dollars. I won't disclose the sellers, as they are still trading on eBay under many different names.  I will add however, if you're not careful on eBay when buying China, you can get Shanghaied in a New York minute..

This first item was sold several years back as coming from a sunken ship off the Chinese mainland. It shows the mark Chenghua which is very rare. I've only seen (held) two or three that are authentic. The images on the auction page were carefully chosen in the fact that they hid the important signs of it being fake. It's my belief that the cup did indeed come from a shipwreck and was quite possibly Chenghua. It displayed many of the properties such as very thin potting, a delicate (intricate) play scene, and an under-glaze blue of the native Chinese variety that is characteristic of the reign. The glaze itself was almost non-existent, giving it a more flat or matte finish. This possibly from 500 years of being submerged. The reign mark however is new, added recently. Close examination shows it with a deeper cobalt blue and covered with glaze. The actual shipwreck is on record, documented as salvaged by Captain Hatcher who has made many discoveries of shipwrecks throughout the world. Someone obtained this item, faked the mark, and ruined the treasure.  It did have a numbered Hatcher sticker applied.

It's a soft glaze, since they probably didn't have the kiln, or the knowledge to refire the entire piece.  A poor quality attempt to deceive.

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This next item, recently purchased, is an amateurish attempt to create a Xuande stem cup. I once had such a cup about twice this size, only it was late Ming, with the mark being apocryphal. I sold it under that condition for about what I paid for it, continuing my search for the authentic. The cup shown here however, is a very poor attempt to duplicate a Xuande stem cup. Symmetrically it's perfect, meaning it's tooled or machined. A very thick potting and the under glaze cobalt has run giving it a blurry appearance. The reign mark is supposed to be Xuande, but it too has blurred making it almost un-decipherable. The auction pictures were small, without showing any macro. Just enough to fool the buyer into thinking the image itself was out of focus, but enough detail to see it's a Xuande mark. Glaze is lustrous with zero imperfections or wear showing. A piece like this would have been immediately discarded (destroyed) if from the period.

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This next item is from the same seller and also supposedly Xuande. Again, symmetrically perfect, same characteristics as the previous fake, only the decoration is a little better. Not blurry and it does have the correct color for the rich Mohammedan blue of genuine Xuande.  This classic design is seen on many early Ming porcelains.

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Next is a very easily recognizable fake just from the mark. The strokes are way too difficult, not light and flowing. Instead they are thick and heavy, almost a heaped and piled effect. Sometimes this effect is seen on the decoration of genuine pieces, never on the mark. It shows repeated (retraced)  strokes on the characters. Though the bowl itself is not symmetrical, it was created from a modern machined bowl, just tooled to modify its shape to be slightly out of round. Both the decoration and the reign mark were created by the same hand, displaying the same characteristic. Rarely did the hand that created the decoration also do the mark. The only thing right about the bowl is the deep rich Mohammedan blue of the under-glaze cobalt.

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This next reign mark is an excellent example of a mark made to deceive by someone with little or no knowledge of Chinese calligraphy. I did not purchase this piece, only saved the image for the example.

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This next item is one to pay close attention to. This came from a second hand furniture store. A Westerner with a good knowledge of Chinese calligraphy might be quick to point out that it's a fake since the mark (temple or seal mark in this case) has a mistake, several actually. One of the characters seems backwards and another appears incomplete. Delving a bit deeper into Chinese calligraphy, into the origin and etymology of the characters, shows the characters are indeed correct. I've come across about 5 marks with this exact same characteristic, several in museums. The explanation goes into a bit of detail which includes the connection between calligraphy and seal marks.

Click Here to view that information.

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This bowl turns out to be of Imperial quality and was probably a gift made personal by the mark being placed by the presenter. An old hand in this case. At first glance with some knowledge, it's a fake, and many an expert might pronounce it a fake. However, an in-depth detailed study taking in the quality, characteristic, and specifically the mark, say it's priceless.

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I recently had the opportunity of examining 8 pieces of supposedly authentic Ming dynasty porcelain from a village near Shanghai, China. All but one were fake.  I've chosen one of those pieces to show you since I've started to see several of these same pieces now appear on eBay.

Here is one piece for example. It's actually an attempt to copy the early Ming, or possibly late Yuan style.

The image below shows what a quick cleaning revealed (or exposed).  The dark color looks authentic, and some genuine early Ming pieces have this property.  On the authentic it can also be cleaned up (lightened) to some extent. But on this particular piece it was clearly done to deceive.  If the piece were as old as the unglazed underbase discoloration suggests, the overall surface of the glazed areas would also have signs of 600 years of wear in the way of small scratches, nicks, and cracks.

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The cleaning was done with a stiff bristle toothbrush using soap and warm water. It took very little effort.

Rarely will a piece clean up this easily. It is possible on some genuine pieces, but examination of the other properties show the discoloration was clearly done with intent to suggest 600 years of wear.

This next image shows what appears to be 600 years of wear to the footrim. It looks real, but is  indeed faked.

It's hard to believe the image below is the same image, only cleaned up. It has the right color, the right design, even the right feel. It's looking closer with a magnifier that tells the true story.

Not just in the lack of discoloration, but how the smooth, sharp lines show no wear at all.  This would not be a characteristic of a genuine piece having the discoloration and wear as suggested by the image.

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Close examination under a 30 power microscope reveals straight lines with no visible wear other than from normal manufacture. Not even a good fake.

The image  below is an example of what the entire glazed surface area looks like, completely new. Not a single scratch or sign of wear, even to the rim where it would be most expected.

The entire glazed surface is smooth and uniform. Not a single scratch over the entire surface.

The experienced forgers will at least attempt to create the look of normal wear, but it's almost impossible.

This is where the use of a fairly powerful microscope comes in handy.

Last but not least is the underbase.  Even when the fake discoloration was removed, the color and texture revealed beneath are not that far off from the authentic. The color and texture on this piece were created with a slight glaze. It's easier to obtain the correct coloring with an additive than hoping the kiln will produce it naturally.

Regarding the above piece as well as the other  pieces accompanying it, I was doubtful that the source  would readily admit to their being new. He at first vehemently denied the accusation. But after being confronted with the details challenging their authenticity, he finally admitted that they were indeed modern reproductions. This, after first blaming the source on a villager his father obtained them from. I now know the true story. The one piece I did not challenge was from another source and very authentic. I believe he himself thought it a fake.

I hope the above information is helpful. Thank you for viewing the page, and always remember what P.T. Barnum said.

J.P. O'Brien

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