Ginger jars are some of the most beautiful and sought-after Chinese antiques you can buy and sell.
Small, delicate, and ornate, they are tied closely with Chinese history and have several features that help verify their authenticity.
Ginger jars make the perfect addition to any porcelain collection, and every day more and more rare finds are rediscovered in thrift shops, yard sales, and old attic boxes.
Today we’re going to show just how valuable your ginger jar could be. As well as that, we’re going to explore everything about ginger jar identification – from dating your piece to evaluating it and educating yourself on how significant these little jars truly are.
History of ginger jar
Ginger jars are the perfect Chinese antique because they reflected several artistic changes in Chinese culture throughout history. And although they are quite small and made of delicate porcelain, they were made with great attention to detail and high craftsmanship.
The first jars date as far back as the Qin dynasty (221 – 207 BCE). They stored salt and ginger and were incredibly basic in design.
The earliest jars as we know them today, date from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). They served the same purpose – transporting spices, salts, herbs, oil, and more to the Western world.
Jars had beautiful and intricate designs on their sides and became an instant hit with European audiences. They weren’t used to such high-quality finishes on porcelain ceramics before.
Right until the late 19th century, demands for these jars surged across Europe, transforming them from simple containers into luxurious commodities. It’s here they earned the nickname ‘ginger jars’.
The jar’s designs featured trees, flowers, animals, and mythology that Europeans were unfamiliar with. Designs soon became highly collectible.
Today, ginger jars are highly collectible because they helped document important cultural and artistic changes in China, and also remain some of the highest quality ceramic, even by modern standards.
The differences between ginger jars and a temple jars
Ginger jars are often mistaken for other Chinese pottery, most notably Temple Jars.
So how can you tell the difference? Here are 5 areas to focus on.
|Ginger Jar||Temple Jar|
|Shape||Ovoid forms, with rounded, high shoulders||Fishtail|
|Use||Store ginger and perishables||Thought to store loved one’s remains|
|Lids||Simple and domed||Protrusion on top|
|Designs||Simpler, everyday scenes||Mythology|
|Common Colors||Often traditional blue on white porcelain||Variety of vibrant colors|
How can you tell if a Chinese vase is antique?
Chinese pottery is incredibly popular nowadays. Manufacturers often imitate their ornate style, colors, and decorations to tap into this interest.
For this reason, there are unfortunately a lot of reproductions on the market, which can confuse and con antique dealers.
Here are some ways to determine if your ginger jar is an antique or a modern-day ripoff.
Authenticate the period
One of the easiest ways to verify your ginger jar is to find out how old it is. By spotting specific features, themes, and colors, you may be able to work out the likely date of production.
Chinese antiques are often categorized according to dynasties. As time passed and trade expanded, modern dynasties saw more advanced techniques, colors, and styles.
Below is a short timeline of the some of the major dynasties affecting ginger jars:
- The Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE): Ginger jars were first used.
- The Song Dynasty (960 – 1290 AD): Pottery was often plum, pear or double-gourd shaped.
- The Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368): Beakers and mouth vases were popular.
- The Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644): This was the most popular period for ginger jar production. Common features include globule or sleeve-like shapes.
- The Yongzheng Dynasty (1723- 1735): Begonia and pomegranate-focused designs were popular.
- The Qianlong Dynasty (1736 – 1795): The signature Zhuanxinping shape became popular.
- The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911): The signature cobalt Willow pattern took form. Pottery was often vase-shaped.
Speaking of dynasties, it’s common with Chinese antiques to have what’s called a reign mark, which tells you who the Emperor was during production.
A reign mark can help authentic a jar, or immediately discredit it.
They are found at the base of the jar and usually have between 4 or 6 characters.
You can interpret them by using this guide:
- The first two characters describe the dynasty
- The following two characters include the reigning Emperor
- The last two characters translate as ‘made for’.
These marks are incredibly detailed because they respected the Emperor. They are very hard to reproduce, let alone blend in with the age of the ginger jar.
To make things confusing, however – it was common for Chinese potters to pay reverence and respect to former dynasties, and use older reign marks on their pieces. Often called ‘apocryphal’ marks, they don’t necessarily mean the jar is fake, but they may require a professional appraisal to uncover their true origins.
Most if not all Chinese pottery is glazed. But how the glaze and what style, can pinpoint how old your ginger jar is – and if it’s authentic.
Some common glazing examples include:
- Copper red
- Lime green
- Mirror black
- White monochrome
- Yellow monochrome
- Turquoise monochrome
Another important thing about glazing is that over time it will age, including slight fading, or an abrasive texture.
If the glaze looks brand new, this might indicate the jar is a modern reproduction or restoration.
How do I know if my antique ginger jar is valuable?
Ginger jars can be incredibly valuable, with some rare pieces easily fetching thousands of dollars in a public auction. One of the primary ways to ensure your ginger jar will sell well is properly authenticating it.
That said, some external factors can affect their value. They include:
As with any Chinese porcelain, the older the ginger jar is the more desirable it becomes to porcelain collectors.
The main period of ginger jars was set in the Ming dynasty, which began from the 1300s to the mid-1600s. The closer your jar dates to the initial dynasty, the more valuable it becomes.
Some examples that show older jars are worth more than modern ones include:
- A 17thCentury Kangxi Ginger Jar is worth $15,000
- An 18thCentury Kangxi Ginger Jar is worth $3,189
- A 19thCentury Qing Dynasty Ginger Jar is worth $196
- A 19thCentury Famille Rose White Ginger Jar is worth $65.
- This 20thCentury Vintage Giner Jar is worth $78
The better the condition, the more valuable your ginger jar will be. Because porcelain is often a delicate material, old jars in excellent condition are considered a rarity.
Cracks, chips, or marks can reduce a jar’s value. So too can discoloration or staining.
The jar’s glaze may also be damaged and begin to peel. There are some antique-acceptable techniques you can do to improve the glazing’s color and texture, but be careful this doesn’t take away from the jar’s antique appeal.
Some ginger jars have an undeniable elegance to them, with elaborate artwork that transforms them into literal works of art. If your ginger jar has interesting artwork, including people, characters from mythology, or intricate floral designs, it will increase in value. Some examples include:
- This 18thCentury hand-painted Warrior Ginger Jar is worth $3,189
- This pair of 19thCentury Ginger Jars depict a family scene and is worth $1,533
- This 19th Century Ginger Jar with Pixiu characters is worth $4,500
The most valuable ginger jars have one thing in common –they each have a reign mark. Examine the bottom of your jar and try to identify what dynasty it is from, or honors. with identifiable reign marks.
This Blue Ginger Jar has a verified Kangxi period mark which dates it before the 18th Century. It is worth up to $4,500.
Color patterns can play a huge part in value – the more attractive, intricate, and rare the color palette, the more money a jar is worth.
Some of the most popular colors include:
- Imari: Includes reds, blues, and golds.
- Famille Verte: Green family of colors is usually linked with nature or floral designs.
- Famille Rose: Another palette used to color in floral designs.
- Blue and white patterns: The most common – a cobalt-blue color contrasting against a white background.
Because of their important function in carrying goods, ginger jars were made with a matching lid to secure their content. As with any antiques, these kinds of ‘accessories’ can dramatically increase their overall value.
If your ginger jar comes with its original lid, this can increase your asking price tenfold. On the other hand, if it’s lost or broken, it can reduce it.