Tips for Buying Antique Pottery: What Collectors Need to Know

Antique pottery is a fascinating realm for collectors, offering a blend of history, art, and craftsmanship. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or a novice looking to start your collection, buy pottery requires knowledge and discernment. Here are essential tips to guide you through the process.

1. Educate Yourself on Pottery Styles and Periods

Understanding the different styles and periods of pottery is crucial. Antique pottery comes in various forms, including earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain, each with distinct characteristics. Familiarize yourself with major pottery styles and their historical contexts:

  • Earthenware: This is one of the oldest forms of pottery, often characterized by its porous nature and typically covered with a glaze to make it waterproof. Common types include Majolica, Delftware, and Faience.
  • Stoneware: Known for its durability and non-porous quality, stoneware became popular in the medieval period. It includes styles like salt-glazed stoneware and British stoneware.
  • Porcelain: Originating in China, porcelain is a high-fired, translucent type of pottery known for its delicate appearance and strength. It includes famous styles such as Ming Dynasty porcelain and Meissen porcelain.

2. Research Pottery Marks and Signatures

Pottery marks and signatures are vital in identifying and authenticating antique pottery. Many renowned potteries and individual artists mark their pieces with distinctive stamps, signatures, or symbols. Invest in reference books or online resources that catalog these marks. Recognizing these identifiers can help determine the piece’s origin, age, and maker, thereby influencing its value.

3. Examine the Condition Carefully

The condition of antique pottery significantly affects its value. When inspecting a piece, look for the following:

  • Cracks and Chips: Check for any cracks, chips, or repairs. Minor imperfections might be acceptable, but extensive damage can diminish the piece’s value.
  • Glaze Quality: Examine the glaze for crazing (fine cracks), discoloration, or signs of restoration. A uniform, well-preserved glaze indicates better quality.
  • Structural Integrity: Ensure the piece is structurally sound. Tap it lightly and listen for a clear, bell-like sound, which indicates it is intact.

4. Consider Provenance

Provenance refers to the history of ownership of an antique piece. A well-documented provenance can significantly enhance the value of pottery by providing a verifiable history. Provenance can include auction records, previous owners, and even historical significance. When possible, request documentation or proof of provenance from the seller.

5. Buy from Reputable Sources

Purchasing from reputable dealers, auction houses, or galleries increases the likelihood of acquiring genuine pieces. Reputable sellers often provide guarantees of authenticity and condition reports. They are also more likely to have a comprehensive understanding of the pieces they sell, offering valuable insights and information.

  • Antique Shops and Fairs: Local antique shops and fairs can be excellent places to find unique pottery pieces. Building relationships with knowledgeable dealers can lead to valuable recommendations and insights.
  • Auctions: Established auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonhams regularly feature antique pottery in their sales. Auctions can provide access to rare and high-quality pieces, although prices may vary widely.
  • Online Marketplaces: Websites like eBay, Etsy, and specialized online auction platforms offer a vast selection of antique pottery. However, exercise caution and thoroughly research sellers’ reputations and return policies.

6. Understand the Market Value

The value of antique pottery fluctuates based on factors such as rarity, condition, provenance, and market trends. Use price guides, auction results, and expert opinions to gauge the market value of pieces you’re interested in. Be prepared to negotiate and make informed decisions about your purchases.

7. Trust Your Instincts

While knowledge and research are essential, trusting your instincts also plays a significant role. If a piece resonates with you, it might be worth pursuing, even if it doesn’t perfectly align with all valuation criteria. Collecting should be enjoyable and personally rewarding.

8. Protect Your Investment

Once you’ve acquired antique pottery, proper care and maintenance are crucial to preserving its value. Display your pieces in a stable environment, avoiding extreme temperatures and humidity. Clean pottery gently with soft, dry cloths and avoid using abrasive materials or harsh chemicals.

9. Join Collectors’ Communities

Engaging with fellow collectors can provide valuable learning opportunities and resources. Join online forums, social media groups, and local clubs dedicated to antique pottery collecting. Sharing knowledge, experiences, and discoveries can enhance your collecting journey and help you stay informed about trends and new finds.

10. Stay Informed

The world of antique pottery is ever-evolving, with new discoveries and market shifts. Stay informed by subscribing to industry publications, attending exhibitions, and participating in workshops. Continuous learning will sharpen your expertise and enhance your appreciation of antique pottery.


Collecting antique pottery is a rewarding endeavor that combines historical appreciation with the thrill of discovery. By educating yourself, examining pieces carefully, buying from reputable sources, and protecting your investments, you can build a valuable and meaningful collection. Remember, the joy of collecting lies not only in the acquisition but also in the knowledge and connections you gain along the way. Happy collecting!