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Subject:Chinese Elephant
Posted By: Peter Tue, Nov 05, 2019 IP:

I would sincerely appreciate any help in dating (as accurate as possible) a Chinese porcelain figure I recently acquired.
The underside bears a 'Ya wan zhen cang' seal, which I understand denotes a C20th piece.
The figure has a small number of glaze contractions as well as cracking of the unglazed clay at the base of the candle(?) holder on the elephant's back - presumably cooling cracks.
Could this piece possibly be from the Republic Period, rather than the latter part of the C20th, as some experts suggest for this particular seal?

Many thanks for taking the time to read this post !

Subject:Re: Chinese Elephant
Posted By: Bill H Thu, Nov 07, 2019

"Experts" might be defined as individuals who know more and more about less and less. However, there's already a dearth of available data about this mark, though everything and this forum have on it seems to indicate it is just what you've already found.

"The Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics" by Gerald Davison has a lot of old marks that use the term "Yawan" (雅玩 - "Elegant Trinket"), but not in combination with "Zhencang" (珍藏 - "Precious Collection").

The porcelains found with this mark include dishes, vases and the like in styles clearly identifiable as made in the post-1940-to-contemporary era. All of the animal figurines I've seen, including your crackled-glaze pottery(?) elephant, resemble transfer-decorated pieces made from the third quarter of the 20th century and onward, the earliest being from Hong Kong and Macao, and the others probably including Mainland kiln products.

The crackle glaze on your elephant appears to put it into the category of decorative low-fired pottery wares that's been pouring out of Mainland China into the West since the fourth quarter of the 20th century. This type of pottery usually is much heavier than porcelain, so you may be able to tell the difference when lifting it.

Best regards,

Bill H.

Subject:Re: Chinese Elephant
Posted By: Peter Fri, Nov 08, 2019

Hello Bill !

Many, many thanks for taking the time and effort to answering my query. It is much appreciated, especially as I am a novice to this field of collecting.
I have examined the figure further using a loupe, as the pics may not have been quite as clear as they could have been.
It appears (to me) that the (overlay?) decoration is all done by hand, including borders. The raised decoration can be felt by touch, and even differences in the surfaces of the enamels can be seen. There are also small areas of wear in a few parts of the decoration.
My next (and probably final!) question is -
do the above facts in any way affect the desirability (or perhaps throw-away-ability!) of this item ?
A voice in my left ear says 'Bin it!! Bad experience!!' whereas a voice in my right ear seems to say 'Don't do it ! You'll regret it!!'

What do you say ?

Best regards,

Subject:Re: Chinese Elephant
Posted By: Bill H Sat, Nov 09, 2019

I say how about a tour of a modern Hong Kong factory producing decorative reproductions of Chinese antique porcelains, courtesy of All you see have varying degrees of tactility to the surface patterns.

Best regards,

Bill H.

URL Title :porcelain factory

Subject:Re: Chinese Elephant
Posted By: Peter Sat, Nov 09, 2019

Hello again Bill,

Many thanks for your comments.
I had made some close-up pics about twenty minutes ago and have just received your reply in the forum.
I've forwarded the pics in any case so my work won't be vain!
As a (obviously mistaken!)novice, the artwork appears to done by hand.As the saying goes, you live and learn !
Thanks again for your time and help.

Subject:Re: Chinese Elephant
Posted By: Bill H Sun, Nov 10, 2019

From where I sit, I can see evidence of the repetitive forms that come with transfer decoration, plus a lack of coherence in the iconography. Traditional Chinese art, which largely was the rule until 1949, not only was balanced in form but also in substance. Your elephant is decorated in a cut-and-paste pastiche of symbols, none of which add up to a coherent theme. Lotus leaves here, cash coins there, a sprig or two of vine in an arabesque yonder and then, out of the blue, the Buddhist Endless Knot, which in the old days would have been found mainly amidst the Eight Treasures of Buddhism in a reverential and cohesive motif.

But no need to can your elephant, nor feel remorse unless you paid more for it than the price of a well decorated one seen at the link below. Actually, I've seen a pair of the same carefully caparisoned critters for less, but I think I'll keep it a secret until I decide who deserves white elephants on my Christmas list! :)

Best regards,

Bill H.

URL Title :Elephant Candle Holders

Subject:Re: Chinese Elephant
Posted By: Peter Sun, Nov 10, 2019

Hello Bill,

Many thanks for your comments.

My main regret is the time expended (especially yours) is researching the thing.

I've no remorse for buying the item - I suppose you can't expect miracles for five Euros!

Once again, sincere thanks for your help and expertise.

Peter | Associations | Articles | Exhibitions | Galleries |