A Ming bowl with a Chenghua mark.

Chinese porcelains are all over the auction market right now. Many are being offered as Ming Dynasty pieces with prices ranging from hundreds of thousands to a few hundred. However, while hundreds of reproductions of blue-and-white porcelains with Ming signatures show up for sale, few prove to be authentic. The good news is that many have yet to be discovered. Back in 2021, a $35 purchase of a blue-and-white, floral-patterned bowl sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $722,200.

You’d be surprised at the number of letters I get from readers who believe they have a valuable piece of Ming porcelain, usually blue and white. Or, they claim their Ming item has carmine or rose color motifs. The piece is usually inherited and sometimes came with a handwritten letter saying, “This is a valuable piece of Ming china.”

Historically, Ming (1368-1644) porcelains were introduced in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. Literally thousands of pieces were imported from China.

I first came in contact with blue-and-white Ming porcelain in a Wilmette, Illinois, garage sale, in the 1970s. It was a small, covered ink box. The price was $5. I was skeptical, so I showed it to an appraiser who specialized in early Chinese porcelains. Yes, it was authentic and the value at that time was $150. A “twin” is in the Art Institute of Chicago.

CLUES: What if the piece is blue and white, and has Ming-reign marks and motifs? Even so, it is not necessarily Ming. The Japanese copied and exported “Ming-type” porcelain, complete with reign marks. One way to tell the difference is if the motif is people. Chinese figures were in dignified poses. Japanese portrayed people in a relaxed, happy way. The most popular Chinese motifs were elaborate scrolls, flowers, peacocks, birds and human figures.

Imperial Ming porcelains appeared in the general marketplace after 1920. Before that, pieces being made in Chinese provincial factories were being collected in Europe.

Back in the 1970s, my collector friend, who was an authority on Ming porcelains, traveled to Beijing, China. He reported that fakers were busy turning out so-called “Ming” items. He said the reign marks were so authentic that he had a hard time realizing they were fake. The best advice is to be skeptical and get an expert opinion. You may get lucky.


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