Developing a Passion for Collecting Chinese Porcelain
Are you a collector or are you in an accumulating phase? I interviewed Arnoldus Wilhelmus Johannes Jacobs—who likes to be called Arno Jacobs (or just Arno). He is a technical laboratory manager at the Fontys University of Applied Science in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, who collects European, Japanese and Chinese porcelain.
The piece that holds the most emotional value, a Jiaqing M&P plate, a gift from a dear friend.
David Pike: Where do you live?
Arno Jacobs: I live in a place called Valkenswaard, a little city in the southeast of the Netherlands with a population of about 30,000 people. I was born and grew up in Valkenswaard.
David Pike: Why do you collect? What does “the passion of collecting” mean to you?
Arno Jacobs: In my first year of collecting I only had interest in European porcelain, and especially for the most important historical 18th century manufacturers. But a year later my attention went to the Asian porcelain market and I came in contact with the Gotheborg site for Asian porcelain collectors. From that moment on, I was more orientated toward the Oriental and got my first Japanese piece with the help of John Wocher in Japan.
With John’s help, I collected some of the finest pieces of Japanese Kakiemon and Nabeshima porcelain. From a dear friend in the United States, Sal Trabanino—who is also a member and board moderator for the Gotheborg—I got my first important piece of Chinese porcelain, a Jiaqing M&P plate. Since that day my most precious part of my Chinese porcelain collection is the M&P porcelain. M&P stands for “Mark and Period.” This Chinese porcelain is made in a specific Chinese period and bears the mark of the Emperor of that period. I hope to become the owner of a real Imperial piece. These kind of pieces are the summum bonum of Chinese porcelain, and Imperial porcelain is also M&P porcelain. The passion I have for collecting porcelain gives me the ultimate feeling of happiness. When I starting to talk about my passion, it is hard to get me to stop.
David Pike: When did you start collecting?
Arno Jacobs: I started my collecting of porcelain in October 2003 with a mortar of the German porcelain manufacture KPM (Royal Porcelain Manufacture).
David Pike: How did you become interested in collecting?
Arno’s first piece, a German mortar and pestle, KPM manufacturer, 20th century.
Arno Jacobs: It was because of my work. I was interested in a porcelain mortar and pestle for use in my laboratory, an object I was working with for years but never paid much attention to it before. From that day on I wanted to know all about porcelain.
David Pike: What is your philosophy for collecting?
Arno Jacobs: Find out what your tastes in the subject by reading, talking and looking at subjects from all angles. Then try to find out what gives you the warmest feeling and brings you the most satisfaction.
David Pike: Philosophy for buying?
Dutch taste cup and saucer, Amstel porcelain, early 19th century.
The least expensive piece, Hirado cup and saucer, circa 1900.
Arno Jacobs: Try to buy only those kinds of pieces that are worth placing in your living room so you can look at them all day long (and never get tired of looking).
David Pike: What are your main interests?
Arno Jacobs: Since I found out in 2005 the real origin of porcelain, I go for Chinese porcelain, especially the M&P porcelain, because in my opinion, only that kind of Chinese porcelain that has a true historical value. The main criterion for my collection is that a piece has to damage free.
David Pike: How many pieces do you have?
Arno Jacobs: I have divided my collection by countries of origin. My European collection is 30 pieces, my Japanese collection is 10 pieces. My Chinese collection consists of subparts. My main Chinese collection is the M&P collection, which has 10 pieces, one 18th-century Kangxi period M&P piece, and I have one or more M&P pieces of every Chinese period of the 19th century. In my Chinese porcelain collection, I also have some regular pieces of the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty, in blue/white and colored, but mostly these pieces are out of the 18th century, Kangxi and Yongzheng period.
David Pike: Do you try to have a complete, representative collection? That is to say do you think in terms of filling in areas that may be under represented if taking a survey type look at the field you are interested in and your collection?
Arno Jacobs: In collecting Chinese M&P porcelain, I never can have a complete collection. For now, I hope to be able to collect at least one piece of every period of the Qing Dynasty. At this point, I only need a piece of the Yongzheng period and the Qianlong period to fill my collection. If I complete that part of the collection, I hope to get M&P pieces out of the Ming Dynasty. Later on, I hope for at least one Imperial piece.
David Pike: What do you think were the biggest challenges you faced as a beginning collector? That is to say, after you decided to collect.
Arno Jacobs: To find out what kind of pieces I liked the most and where to find them, without buying a fake. It still is.
Best piece, Kakiemon bw plate, 17th century.
Another fine piece, Nabeshima shallow bowl, 20th century.
David Pike: As a collector who has considerable experience, what are your biggest challenges now?
Arno Jacobs: To find the most valuable pieces for a bargain price.
David Pike: Do you still make mistakes in purchases?
Arno Jacobs: Now and then I’ll make a mistake in my purchases. I destroy these mistakes at once or, if possible, I return it to the seller.
David Pike: Hindsight is 2020. What would you do different if you were to start over?
Arno Jacobs: Finding sponsors to finance my passion.
David Pike: How often, on average, do you purchase?
Arno Jacobs: My intent is to purchase one or two large or expensive pieces a year When I’m lucky, I’ll find a bargain and can buy more pieces. I call those years “lucky.” 2010 was such year.
David Pike: What was your first piece? Do you still own it?
Arno Jacobs: My first piece was a mortar from the German porcelain manufacturer KPM. I still have it in my collection of most important European manufacturers.
David Pike: What are some of your best pieces?
Arno Jacobs: My most valuable piece is a Jiaqing period (1796-1820) M&P Chinese porcelain plate. It was a gift from my U.S. porcelain friend Sal Trabanino. Another valuable—and very nice—piece is a blue and white Kakiemon plate with quails from the 17th century, a piece John Wocher bought at my request in Japan. I also have a late Ming bowl with galloping horses. There is an identical bowl in the Princessehof Museum in the Netherlands. My rarest pieces are two cups and saucers with cage decorations, made of Chinese porcelain and date to the Yongzheng period. But I also have a rare sugar pot from the German Frankenthal manufacture.
Finest pieces, Daoguang & Xianfeng M&P lidded cups and saucers.
The rarest and latest piece, asset of Yongzheng cups and saucers.
David Pike: What is the process after you buy a piece? I would like to know how you get to know and research a new piece.
Arno Jacobs: I keep a large record for each piece I add to my collection. I record all the information I can possibly find, from all over the world. For example, I’ll pour over the many books on porcelain I have, check out museums, the Internet, with other collectors and on the Gotheborg site. The records I make includes some photographs, all the provenance, links, comments, books and museum references.
David Pike: How often do you sell a piece from your collection?
Arno Jacobs: I have once or twice, but I rather not sell from my collection. I’m not the kind of collector who upgrades by selling part of his collection. I only buy those pieces that are important to me, and always will be.
David Pike: What do you hope to do with your collection?
Arno Jacobs: I do hope that my collection will be appreciated by my children, when they get older. And if they don’t like porcelain or want to collect it, I hope that the money I spent collecting will generate a bigger profit for them. Finally, I hope that the collection will end up in the hands of another collector or collectors who have as much passion for porcelain as I have.
David Pike: What does your wife think about your collecting activities?
Arno Jacobs: My wife is very glad that I have a hobby, but she don’t like the porcelain pieces at all. In reality, I can’t put my collection in my living room, and I respect her point of view.
David Pike: Have you ever thought about giving up?
A very attractive vase, Kangxi period.
Another rare piece, German sugar pot, Frankenthal manufacturer, 18th century.
Arno Jacobs: Only when I see that the prices are going up again do I have the feeling of giving up collecting, or maybe just that part of the collection. There’s always a way to find some interesting porcelain pieces, filling in my collection of historical pieces of porcelain.
David Pike: What is the longest you have gone with-out purchasing something?
Arno Jacobs: The longest period I have gone without buying a piece for my collection was last year for some six month. I was glad I found a bargain in the last half of 2010, because otherwise I wouldn’t have purchased anything for a whole year. I am saving money for a real great and expensive buy this year, if my dealer lets me. He has some real interesting klapmuts bowls.
David Pike: Do you have regrets about pieces you didn’t purchase?
Arno Jacobs: Yes, many regrets! For example, not buying two sets of Kangxi Famille Verte c&s, made of thin porcelain. At that time, I was just about a few months into collecting Chinese porcelain and was shocked by the price of these two sets. Now I understand my dealer was asking a fair price for only two sets. I would buy those sets right away, now that I have learned more about the pricing of Chinese porcelain.
David Pike: You seem to have a technically oriented outlook. Do you have any thoughts on the differences between the technical focus of Chinese porcelain and the more emotional Japanese porcelain?
Arno Jacobs: I have spent a lot of time with my friend John Wocher in Japan, and his enthusiasm for Japanese porcelain has infected me. He loves Kutani porcelain and I try to aim a little bit higher. I aim for the Kakiemon porcelain and the Nabeshima porcelain. I think Nabeshima is the Japanese porcelain with the most historical value, and I like it more.
The most expensive and the favorite piece of Arno’s collection: late Ming bowl.
The strangest piece in Arno’s collection: late Ming stem cups.
David Pike: Do you have any thoughts on the copying that has been going on between the Chinese and Japanese since about the early 1600s? Both sides have copied each other.
Arno Jacobs: Porcelain is being imitated by the Japanese, Europeans and Chinese. Chinese do copy the old Ming and Qing Chinese pieces nowadays, but in a modern kiln. I don’t like the copying at all; it makes it more difficult to find a genuine older piece.
David Pike: Do you think there is a big difference between what you might be interested in as a Dutch person compared to a French person or say British person?
Arno Jacobs: I think there are subtle differences between a pure French, British or Dutch collection. Also between a Chinese and Japanese or European collections. This is because the national tastes are a little bit different. The Chinese, in the 18th century, made pieces especially for each European country. For example, the Lowestoft decorated pieces for the British and the pieces with “Madame de Pompadour” decoration for the French people.
David Pike: Can you elaborate a little more on what counts as a mistake and how you would go about dealing with it.
Arno Jacobs: A mistake in purchase, I believe, is when the item itself is not what you expect it to be, or it has too much damage. I only like old, genuine pieces, not the old-looking modern pieces. Also, if a genuine piece has a hidden hair-line crack or a chip that was not disclosed when I bought it, I will return the piece. Also, there are genuine pieces which are very good and invisibly restored. I don’t want those pieces either.
David Pike: I would like to ask you to elaborate a little more on the best and worst places to buy if you will.
Arno Jacobs: Many sellers of Chinese porcelain on the Internet, like on eBay, are sellers living in China. They claim that they sell genuine old pieces but that is not possible by law. Other sellers on eBay do not have enough “know how” for the Chinese porcelain and sell modern pieces as old genuine pieces. Many fake Chinese porcelain pieces comes from China or other Asian countries. I have pictures from the porcelain city Jingdezhen with many fake Ming and Song vases and jars, made in the last decade of the 20th century. In the Asian countries, there are many potters who are producing fake pieces just for the money. These potters become so good that the big auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christies can’t tell the fake ones from genuine ones easily. Some good places to buy Chinese porcelain are those where the porcelain was sent to for centuries, such as the European countries. The only exception is France, because they have a Chinese porcelain copy manufacture called Samson. The Asian fakes have begun to be found here in the Netherlands, but there are so many genuine pieces left that it is still easy to find one.
David Pike: Do you have advice to someone who is new to collecting?
Arno Jacobs: Buy books! This way you learn about the wares and material. Talk with reliable dealers and ask to look at their collection. Pick up the expensive ones. This is easy on the Internet, with several expensive shops all over the world. Visit a large collection in a museum, the Princessehof in the Netherlands has a large collection of Chinese porcelain. Get connected to a collectors site; Gotheborg is one of them and has a lot of information about Asian porcelain for non-members.
David Pike: What do you say to someone who is trying to build a collection as a means to build wealth? Their goal is to have the pieces appreciate in value.
Arno Jacobs: This is a real difficult question. I can understand people who invest in all kinds of material, and that includes porcelain. But I think that these people are not real collectors; not like the people I talk with, although I’d like to see what they have in stock.
David Pike: Do you think it is possible to build a collection on a “pocket money” budget?
Arno Jacobs: If your interest is high enough and your passion is wide enough, you can buy a frustrating collection on a pocket money budget. You will have to get to every flea market and collect closet, even though they are full of subpar pieces. Once in a while you’ll discover a piece you really like somewhere in the corner of a closet. But on the other hand, you can collect shards or damaged pieces; then you can have a real nice-looking collection, too, and it only cost pocket money.
David Pike: What are the best places to buy?
Arno Jacobs: The Netherlands (Holland) is the best place to buy Chinese porcelain, together with some other European countries. This is because the Chinese sold porcelain here for hundreds via the VOC in the Netherlands. This porcelain came in hundreds of ships packed full with porcelain and was sold among the Dutch people in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
David Pike: What are the best places to avoid?
Arno Jacobs: In this case, it is good to know that it is forbidden by law to export old Chinese porcelain out of China.
There you have it. If you have any questions or comments for Arno and his collection, please leave a comment below and I will gladly pass it along.
David Pike is a Worthologist who specializes in items from Japan, including porcelain.
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