Buying teapots online

Since most of my readers are not located in places where there are shops that sell anything other than the worst of the worst yixing teapots out there, online is pretty much the only place where one can buy such things.

So online is pretty much the only option. The other is to find friends who’ll do it for you, or fly yourself over to China/Taiwan and buy them yourself. Not very good options, especially since I think teapot is a very personal thing. What works for one person rarely works for another, and there are so many shapes and sizes out there that individual preferences are bound to differ. Buying teapots for other people, as I’ve learned, is a dangerous business.

That leaves online stores and auctions. What I witnessed tonight on Ebay was a frenzy of bidding for a series of yixing pots that some seller in Florida put up. It must’ve come from somebody’s collection of yixing pots. There were some that I am sure were Republican period pots, and I considered joining in the fray — until the fray got too hot for me really quickly. It ended up that a few of them went for something like $500 per pot. Others were maybe more in the $100-200 category. While some of these are genuinely old pots, none of them were in the fine yixing category. Rather, they were commercial stuff, made very roughly, and generally sold for commercial purposes rather than as objects of art or even personal pleasure. It was a utilitarian thing. An equivalent would be if some of these awful $10 Chinatown pots these days are going on auction 100 years from now… not exactly stuff you really want for making tea in.

What I did learn though is that there is a substantial amount of interest out there for yixing ware. One of the bidders on some of the pots have bought dozens of them from Ebay already. Most of them, in my opinion anyway, are far, far overpriced. Others seem to only dabble in pot buying, while interspersing their purchases with LV bags, clothes… and whatever else suits their fancy. Of course, everything is fair on Ebay. Unless the seller deliberately mis-states information regarding the item, which they tend not to do by using qualifiers such as “I think this is…” or “probably 19th century…” and that kind of thing, they are not liable.

Auctions in Asia are not necessarily any better. Those in Taiwan, for example, are numerous in listing, but most of them are rather sub-par in quality, obviously fake, or both. I’ve bought a few pots through that route. If it’s not too expensive, and the pot looks/feels ok, it actually is not a bad place to get a few decently made pots, as long as one spends a lot of time trolling the sites and sifting through the garbage. Then there are the highly priced, “antique” pots. Whether those are real or not is hard to say, and without having seen them in person, risking large sums ($500+) of money on one single teapot is almost crazy.

Aside from the sometimes rather trecherous path of auction, trecherous both because of the possibility of inauthentic goods, and also of the risk of being carried away by the passion of the moment (“I must have this pot!!!”), the other option is online stores…. which offer much more peaceful means of obtaining pots.

Yet those are not without risk either. Increasingly, I’ve noticed that the prices of these things are generally quite high… higher than what I remember, a few years ago. I am personally still apprehensive about spending much money on pots that I can’t see in person, but I speak as somebody who generally has access to other avenues. I suppose buying pots from an online vendor, the first thing you want to know is if they have a return policy. Pots don’t always work out in person. I’ve received one or two that looked not nearly as good as the pictures shown, or the clay texture feels funny once you actually get a hold of it. I am also weary of claims of old age. Taiwan probably has the highest concentration of fake antique pots in the world, mostly because of the big boom in the 80s that created huge demands and made faking pots really worthwhile. I’ve seen heated arguments in Taiwanese forums that are quite fraught with claims of authenticity or otherwise. Honestly, they all look pretty good, but supposedly, those who are really in the know can tell.

Sometimes though, I wonder if it’s not just for bragging rights — “I can tell better than you”, or “mine’s real, yours is not”. I used to view all this with amused cynicism, preferring to stay with the non famous maker, pedestrian pots that served the purpose of making tea. At the end of the day though, some pot, somewhere, will call out to you, and you too, will take the plunge…. that’s what I discovered the expensive way.


Comments

Buying teapots online — 8 Comments

  1. Why restricting the above reasoning to online buying only? The problem remains pretty much the same as most of the people are not able to tell anything about a pot even when seeing it in person.

  2. I’m glad, Marshal, that you are addressing this question. As a novice, I’m quite confused about the myriad of pots out there identified as yixing ware. I’ve also been warned that some clay in new pots could be contaminated with such things as lead and I’m wondering if you’ve heard anything like that. Some of those Chinatown pots look intricately produced and I own two but have hesitated to use them because of the heavy metals rumor. As for the pots I use, I’ve purchased them from people I’m familiar with or from companies that I trust. It’s the same for tea for me. I have to purchase loose tea, pots, etc. over the internet. I live in the deep south, teabag land, and unless I visit Houston, land of Hou De Asian Art and Tea, good loose tea is just a dream. Fortunately, there are some mighty fine vendors out there on the Internet (thanks to Al Gore) and because of sites likes this wonderful one of Marshal’s, I’ve learned enough to be able to order intelligently when it comes to teas. I can’t claim that for pots but would defintely like to learn. Thanks again for your wonderful blog, Eileen

  3. If anyone are willing to pay 500 and up for a pot. Exchange/refund policy is most important. I had returned teapot that was used for over a yr, and found out its not what it had labeled.
    Usually, reliable vendor will exchange a new one within the some price range as previous purchased. A lot of times, vendor do not know or can’t trace down the origin of teapot and don’t have time to track everyone in the inventory.
    I guess people whom play within that price range, should have enough knowledge and or have a good standing relationship with a vendor/source.

    From my experience, i recently got some pots which are 10-20 yrs off the description. But hey, if i am getting a good clay, well made 80s pot for under 30 buds. I am very happy and content. But if I am paying 1000 for it… There will be blood : T

  4. I think telling pots apart online is a much, much more difficult skill than telling teas online. With tea, at least we can buy sample sized things and try them out. Pots… you can’t sample pots, unless there’s a good return policy.

    Toki, how on Earth did you have a guy who will take your one year old pot back? What was it labeled as?

  5. I guess the trick is to recommend a “good” vendor/s to lots of friends and relatives over the years. And they became steady clients. If the vendor do not play it fare or have a good purchase policy. Most of the clients will disappear…. So do you need a vendor/s : )

    朱何心 was the label.

  6. Hi, my name is Lee from Malaysia. I m new in this hobby. After reading all this helpful comments. It really help to be more careful to buy online. Anyone one care to give some tips on which reliable site I can go visit on this Chinese Tea pot. Highly appreciated. Thk you

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