Ginger jars have become a perennial favorite amongst “traditionalist” homeowners especially with the grandmillennial movement. Here’s what to look for when buying ginger jars.
Let’s talk Chinese ginger jars. I am often asked if I have any of them—and the answer is (almost always) no! Though ubiquitous in the decorating world today, the antique originals are both rare and expensive. The term ‘ginger jar’ is a Western invention; they were known to the Chinese as guan, or ‘jars’ and had humble, utilitarian origins, used for storing herbs and spices. In the 17th and 18th centuries, they began to feature more decorative motifs, and by the 19th-century, they were used almost solely for decorative purposes and export.
Ginger jars range in size from a few inches to a few feet, and are known for their high shoulders and matching lids. Available in a vast array of colors, most traditionally blue and white, but also famille verte and famille rose, they are beautiful objects for a shelf or mantle.
A favorite for collectors, and relatively rare compared to other Chinese porcelain like plates and platters, a 5 inch jar can fetch hundreds, while an older, larger example tens of thousands of dollars (or more!) at auction. The vast majority seen installed today are reproductions, and any jar claiming to be antique should make a buyer wary. If you don’t want to invest in a $10,000 jar, what should you consider when buying a vintage or even new reproduction? What alternatives are there?
*Can you find one (even a new one!) that doesn’t look like the ones everyone else has? Consider skipping the Double Happiness jar in favor of a more original reproduction.
*Is it hand painted? Look for subtle variations in color and pattern. If something looks too even or uniform, or there are strange seams and the design ends suddenly, there is a good chance it is printed. Make sure multiple jars don’t look identical. Even though many of the patterns are similar, an artist cannot exactly replicate the design.
*Consider other antique blue and white objects that are easier to find, like platters, tureens, even tea sets! Blue and white Canton is typically the most affordable of antique Chinese blue and white, and also looks great on a shelf or mantle. A vase or tureen will give you a more similar silhouette, and while still more expensive than a plate or platter, you can find antique versions for still a fraction of an antique ginger jar.
Think you may have found the real deal? A few tips to help you determine if you are right.
*It has the original lid and the condition seems too good to be true—probably a reproduction. Many of the original ginger jars have been long separated from their original lids, which do not sit tightly on the jars. Expect at least some damage or chipping to them, if they are present, or a replacement wood lid that has been added later.
*Look for hairlines (long, thin lines in the porcelain) and manufacturing defects. The majority of older, shaped Chinese porcelain pieces will have some of these!
*You’ve seen the same pattern a million times. If it looks familiar, it probably isn’t antique.
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