Treasure or Bric-a-brac?

It’s a question asked by every retiree looking to downsize and every child cleaning out the old homestead. Keeper or tosser? Garage sale “fill” or family heirloom — or fabulously rare treasure that will knock their socks off at an international auction and solve your problems forever? (We all watch those stories of a $30 yard sale item going for hundreds of thousands at auction, right?)

Back into my collectibles head this week (and seeing one of those stories), I examined this 15-inch long fish dish that I have treated like so much melmac ever since Jim brought it home twenty years ago — one of his many fish gifts to me while I was in my fishing phase back then. One novelty in a house full of novelties.

Fish plate

I turned it over to check the back (as one does). Ah, some writing.

Archaic Chinese characters

Pro tip: don’t bother trying to get Google translate to deal with this, although the results were hilariously random.

Long story short, I had to be reminded that good antique porcelain comes with “reign marks,” designating the dynasty (a tradition of dating their stuff). The Gotheborg website was very helpful, giving me the mark I needed:


The dish is from the Yongsheng era of the Qing dynasty, 1723-1735.

So… I’ve been piling chocolate kisses on a 300-year-old dish.

But slow down. This month’s auction sweetheart is 600 years old. Ming dynasty.

During the 18th century, China was churning out hundreds of thousands of porcelain pieces for the chinoiserie fad of European parlors and dining rooms. And the stuff is very sturdy.

My research only narrows the question slightly. The plate is neither bric-a-brac nor treasure. It is unchipped and in an unusual shape, so definitely worth the $35 Jim paid for it. My research raised it a notch in my esteem. Its 300-year-old soul is smiling. What more can I ask for?

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