Despite their susceptibility to accidental breakage, ceramics are the most naturally durable of antiques, with some of the earliest surviving examples, of Chinese origin, dated to c.6500 bc. They have also proved the most collectable, a status that can be partly attribed to the immense volume of decorative and useful wares that has been produced around the globe, especially since the 16th century.
However, the sheer quantity of Oriental, Islamic, European and, more recently, American pottery and porcelain available to collectors has been matched by tremendous variations in the shape, style, and decoration of pieces. Such characteristics are largely determined by the country or region of origin, by individual factories and designers, by advances in technology, and by the aesthetic and cultural preoccupations of different historical periods.
These diverse forms and styles of ornamentation have tremendous appeal for collectors, accentuated in many pre-20th-century pieces by intriguingly uncertain provenance, the resolution of which requires the acquisition of considerable knowledge and the skills of a detective. Of equal fascination is the colourful history of ceramics, with its jealously guarded manufacturing secrets, industrial espionage, shipwrecked cargoes, and archeological discoveries.
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