At the risk of upsetting purists, my professional auctioneer friend, who specialises in ‘Ceramics’, jokes that ‘Ceramics’ is the grand name for what most people call ‘pottery’, or in even more derogatory fashion ‘china’.
In reality the word ‘ceramic’ has several definitions, covering both physical items and the material from which those items are made.
The word derives from the Greek word ‘Keramikos’, meaning ‘potter’s earth’ or ‘pottery’ and originally applied to the clay made to create tiles, plates, ornaments and other works of art. Latterly, the plural of the word, ‘ceramics’, has applied to the art of making items out of ceramic materials and also to the actual items so created.
Confusing maybe, but not important because all we need to know is how to use the word to profit on eBay.
The subject really is vast and covers many different product types, techniques, popular manufacturers. Here I can but suggest this as a subject about which you should have a basic understanding (hopefully covered in this article), from which to grow more knowledge.
Ceramics is one of the most popular and high profit products on eBay and, currently, on eBay.co.uk, a search for ‘Ceramic’ will yield 6407 returns, covering everything from curling tongs made from ceramic materials costing less than a tenner, to delicate works of art from top designers like Beswick and Belleek and many others, sometimes priced in thousands of pounds.
Thankfully, and to shorten your learning curve, the majority of people collect ceramics by makers’ names and this is the criterion on which most sellers choose items to buy to resell on eBay.
It’s a huge area, way too big for most people ever to develop specialist knowledge and hence the reason even long-time, highly experienced dealers focus on one or a handful of tight niche markets within the ceramics business. So you’ll find people selling almost exclusively Moorcroft items, or others made by Clarice Cliff, Susie Cooper, Carltonware, or only items coloured blue and white.
I’m going to recommend you begin by studying popular makers whose products feature often on eBay and regularly fetch high finishing prices. This is a great place to use a technique mentioned later which involves obtaining offline auction house catalogues before an important sales, specialist ceramics or general, and attempting to predict how much an item might fetch on eBay and in turn determine how much to bid for the item on auction day.
POPULAR MAKES AND MAKERS
Belleek (stunning, intricate self-patterned pieces)
Beswick (makers of hugely collectable animal figures, especially Beatrix Potter rabbits)
Carltonware (often very bright, intricate designs)
Chintzware (‘busy’ floral designs)
Clarice Cliff (brightly coloured floral and geometrical shapes, hugely popular today and generating really good profits on eBay).
Susie Cooper (reminds me a little of Clarice Cliff but less brightly coloured)
Doulton (one of THE top designers, stunning works of art, highly collectable, highly priced)
Moorcroft (often hand decorated, always beautiful, and invariably a great seller at local auction, where I know people who buy all the Moorcroft they can because they know someone somewhere in the world will pay much more than the three or four people who bid for it locally)
Staffordshire (famous for flatbacks – ornaments that sit flat against the wall), and fabulous dog and other animal creations that interest collectors of specific animal species as opposed to merely ceramics collectors – great way to start a bidding war!
Sylvac (famous for dogs, bunnies and other animals and another area where collectors with widely different interests regularly meet to fight and send prices sky rocketing).
Wade (famous for small animals and tiny cottages and another area where collectors of Wade in particular and animals or cottages in general create bidding frenzies that can result in record high finishing prices.
Wedgewood (one of the longest-existing ceramics designers and makers of more ‘Antiques Roadshow’ miracle finds than perhaps any of their counterparts)
WHAT TO DO NEXT
* Study eBay, visit a few local auctions, compare offline auction prices against eBay prices, take your time developing a working knowledge of one or two popular designs. Learn to guess finishing prices at offline auction and on eBay, see how close you get to actual prices. The closer you get the more likely you’ll be able to genuinely bid and buy and sell for almost guaranteed high profits.
* Choose a double interest area, likely to lead to multiple bidding across several eBay categories, such as ‘dogs’ and ‘ornaments’ as available aplenty from Staffordshire and Sylvac. Or hone into even tighter niche markets, such as ‘Salt and Pepper Ceramic Sets’ from popular makers Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper.
* Look for trends within your tight niche market, such as a growing interest in particular products from specific designers, such as Wade Liliput Lane Cottages, Sylvac Squirrel jugs, Chintz Candle Sticks. Make notes, stay up-to-date with prices, look for items selling locally which are current hot sellers on eBay.
* Study books mentioned later, grow your knowledge, and when you are ready, get bidding and buying and selling with confidence.
* Pick up items by the body or base not by their handle or spout which may be unable to bear the body weight and will snap clean away.
* Store ceramics away from high ledges and don’t stand delicate pieces very close together. A fall or clash with another item can render two items worthless. Preferably store items in boxes or drawers packed with lightweight materials like foam chips or bubble wrap. Do not use woven fabric which might become entangled and break off delicate pieces.
PREPARING CERAMICS TO SELL
* All but the most intricate of ceramics can be cleaned using an artist’s brush and warm water with a squirt of washing up liquid Do not clean using heavy or thickly woven materials and never use abrasive cloths or substances such as used to clean ceramic hobs and oven doors! Leave items on a soft towel, preferably protected from falling by being placed inside a bucket or washing up bowl positioned well away from children, pets or high ledges.
* Do not use water or heavy or thickly woven cloth on objects that are hand coloured or have metal parts or other features applied on top of the ceramic.
* Some tiny stains can be removed by careful rubbing with cotton wool buds soaked in a mix of hydrogen peroxide and ammonia added one part each to twenty parts warm water.
* You should not attempt cleaning potentially very valuable items yourself, these are best left to the experts or you risk ruining the item and reducing the value.
TIPS FOR SELLING CERAMICS
* Ceramics and other delicate items do not travel easily by post. Careful packing is vital but items can still get damaged on route from heavy handling by the postal authorities. It’s wise to send by carrier than by normal postal service where better care is likely to be taken but costs may be prohibitive for some buyers. Very high value ceramics should always travel by courier at the buyer’s expense and you should be covered for breakage in transit.
* Condition is paramount to collectors, even the tiniest fault or one that is virtually invisible to the naked eye or hidden from view such as beneath a lid or inside the item and not showing outside. Most auctioneers will point out faults which you must check before bidding. Take a tiny magnifying glass with you to auction and study anything that interests you from all angles, inside and out.
* Learn the art of ‘Pinging’ ceramics with forefinger and thumb which makes a different sound on a perfect piece from an item that is damaged. Do not ping too heavily or that perfect piece may get broken. An expert friend describes the pinging on a perfect piece as a ‘ring’, compared to a ‘ding’ on an imperfect item.
* You should mention faults in your eBay listing, however small. Some faults can be invisibly repaired but it’s generally only worthwhile on potentially very valuable items. Get expert help, do not do it yourself unless you know how. It’s a good idea to take a course on restoration which you’ll find at some local colleges or from specialist trainers which you’ll find by searching for ‘class + restore + ceramics’ into your favourite search engine.
* In your listing, emphasise that you pack very carefully to help increase bidder confidence. Offer a money back refund on all items returned in the same condition as they were posted. You may on occasion get people claiming an item was already broken when it arrived at their end, which might be true, but more likely they have broken it themselves and now want a refund. It has happened to me, several times, and my best advice is to refund without question. Really valuable items should be sent by specialist courier and I always take photographs of these items, from all angles, showing those items were intact when they left me.