Junk or Gem?
How to Authenticate, Date & Avoid Fake Chinese Antiques

A selection of fake and reproduction Chinese "antiques" offered to us to purchase more recently.

The volume of fake being offered for sale in the Chinese antiques as genuine pieces is unprecedented and an ever increasing growing problem.  There are some exceptionally good fakes too, ones that that even fooled major auction houses.  Buyers need to understand that determining authenticity requires a combination factors to be evaluated.  Aside from buying from a dealer that values its reputation (all ours do), other key factors include:

Provenance

How did the seller acquire the antique and what is the prior history of ownership?

Stylistic Assessment

- how realistic are the proportions, patina, motifs and other physical attributes of the artefact for the claimed period that originate from?

Scientific analysis

Together with strength of provenance and satisfactory opinion of an expert in stylistic appraisal, scientific analysis is required to affirmatively determine the genuinity of the piece.  

If you are unsure on how evaluate any of the above, seek help from an expert who has scholarly knowledge of the type of Chinese Antique you are looking to authenticate.

Carbon Dating Chinese Antiques

This is used for organic materials such as Chinese Works of Art constructed from:

  • Wood
  • Ivory
  • Bone
  • Textiles (for example, canvas)

Carbon Dating measures the amount of Carbon 14 to determine the time of death of the organism.  In the case of a tree, then this would be when it was cut down and cotton, when it was picked.  

The accuracy of Carbon 14 dating varies between +/- 100 years for materials older than 300 years and for those younger, +/- 250 to 300 years.   

Thermoluminescence Testing of Chinese Antiques

Also known as TL Testing, this was established around 30 years ago and is the most widely accepted method of authenticating terracotta.  Combining TL testing with X Ray testing and stylistic evaluation provides the best level of assurance to a prospective buyer.

TL testing provides an estimated age of the last heating / firing of the material with a standard deviation of +/- 20%.  Companies offering the testing service such as Ciram and Oxford Authentication, face an increasing challenge to find ways to identify forgeries.  For example, forgers have been known to artificially irradiate artifacts or construct them with old material in areas that that are typically selected for sampling, although this may fail the X Ray testing.

Example Thermoluminescence Analysis (TL) Certificate by Oxford Certification

It is arguable whether TL testing of Chinese porcelain using this technique due to the potentially destructive effect.  

X Ray Radiography & Scanning of Chinese Antiques

X Ray as most people are familiar with, allows Chinese Antiques to be assessed from a structural perspective in the literal sense and without physical intrusion of the artefact. This means detecting areas of restoration, how forgeries are have been assembled using ancient, imperial and modern Chinese materials.   The X ray process enables internal virtualisation by placing the art sculpture through .

  X Ray of a Tang Dynasty Period Terracotta Horse

X Ray of a Tang Dynasty Period Terracotta Horse

X Ray is in effect, a form of testing that should supplement either Carbon Dating or Thermoluminescence Testing.  

Some Terracotta pieces including horses, riders and equestrians, for example, may pass an Thermoluminescence Test but upon X raying, would fail, revealing numerous Terracotta pieces assumed with a modern technique.