3 Things You Should Know About Rose Medallion

Curio IQ Series: Let’s take a short and sweet lesson in antiques! The 3 things you should know before buying and collecting Rose Medallion porcelains.

A stunning collection of antique Rose Medallion porcelains displayed on a sideboard

I have a collector's passion for Rose Medallion. I am always hunting interesting antique forms and hoping to land that sought after piece for a steal! Sharing my knowledge about this Chinese porcelain pattern always makes me happy, so let's delve into the 3 things you should know to start collecting.

First off just a little background in case you are unfamiliar with this antique. Rose Medallion is a style of porcelain or a pattern that developed about 1820. It was produced for the Chinese export market largely for European and American consumers. As part of the Famille Rose style, it uses overglaze low-fired enamel paints in pink, green, blue, aubergine, and yellow.

The pattern features a central medallion usually depicting a bird, tree peony, and/or rocks surrounded by four or more alternating panels showing people in one and then florals with fruits and birds in the next. The panels are called reserves and outlined by intricate borders of c-scrolls set agains green tendrils and pink florals. Bats, butterflies, and birds often decorate the outer edges of a form or fill in the spaces between the reserves.

Antique Rose Medallion charger from late 19th century

Note the 4 reserves on this late 19th century charger

Most experts agree that the pattern reached its artistic and technical peak by the mid-19th century although production continues today. The quality and delicacy of the pattern has devolved over the years, and with some careful study you can detect this decline and clearly see the loss of intricacy and detail. This change is very helpful when dating a piece of Rose Medallion.

But don't expect to establish an exact date for a particular porcelain unless it has an established provenance. Ranges of dates, for example mid to late 19th century, are acceptable, and be wary of dealers who claim that a piece was from 1834 unless they can provide a well traced provenance back to a particular export order.

No. 1 The Decline of Detail

As I mentioned above, the quality and delicacy of Rose Medallion has changed and evolved over the years. Most collectors and scholars agree that the pattern actually declined in terms of intricacy and detailed depictions of the figures and fauna from 1860 onward.

The most valuable Rose Medallion porcelains are early productions from about 1820 to 1870. These pieces have the most refined, artistically rendered designs, intricacy, and detail. The colors are also more vivid with a luminous quality that shows depth and gradation. They are clearly hand painted unlike many 21st century productions, which use stencils.

What to look for in an antique early to mid-19th century piece:

  • Defined facial details with discernible expressions
  • Painted gilt details in figures' hair and on the clothing
  • Finely rendered birds with long tails and individual feathers
  • Detailed backgrounds with defined architecture or landscapes
  • Tight and more intense designs between the reserves
  • Gradation in color to suggest shading and form

Examine the two photo details below! The first shows a reserve from a large meat platter probably made between 1830 - 1860. Note the gilt detailing as well as the carefully depicted clothing, birds, and butterflies. Now look at the next detail from 1950-1980. See how cartoonish the figures and birds appear? It is a much looser style with minimal details, and in between the reserves the designs are not densely packed.

Detail of antique (1830-1860) Rose Medallion platter - note intricate details and artistry of painting
Detail of 1830-1860 Rose Medallion platter
Detail of mid to late 20th century Rose Medallion plate
Detail of mid to late 20th century (1950-1980) Rose Medallion plate

You can see more side by side comparisons of how the pattern changed over time in my post Rose Medallion 101: Building a Collection

No. 2 Previously Loved

Antique Rose Medallion services for the table were used! Flatware scraped over the plates leaving behind scratches and wear to the enamels. Some of these pieces could be 200 years old. It is normal to see some wear and tear: hairline cracks, old repairs, and flake like losses to the enameling.

Because these porcelains were decorated with overglaze enamels, they do not have a top glaze to protect them. You will see loss to these designs like in the above platter. As you clean and display your porcelains be careful to avoid scraping these delicate details off. Use soft cloths for cleaning and NO abrasive chemical cleaners. Stick with gentle soap or white cleaning vinegar and warm water.

It is important to bear in mind that these porcelains are not food safe to our modern standards. Most of the enamels were made with lead. Additionally, many of the vintage and modern productions are marked “Not for Food.” I do not use Rose Medallion dishes for serving and eating, but I do use teacups, teapots, and bowls with undecorated wells.

So how do I display it? Read this!

No. 3 What's in a Mark?

For the most part, Rose Medallion porcelains were not marked until 1891 when the U.S. required a "CHINA" mark be applied to import pieces. After 1919, that required mark was changed to "Made in China." This was usually done in red.

Made in China mark on a Rose Medallion plate

Made in China mark

It is important to understand that marks or lack there of are not in and of themselves the determining factor to a piece’s age or quality. Marks were sometimes sanded off of later pieces or altered. An early 20th century piece not intended for the American market might not have the “CHINA” or “Made in China” designation.

Dynasty or Imperial marks were often applied to later porcelains to dedicate the ceramic as homage to an earlier emperor. Many mid 20th century and 21st century vintage pieces have these apocryphal seal marks.

Marks alone cannot be used to date a porcelain with accuracy, and these are just a few of the examples of dilemmas with marks and dating!

Vintage Rose Medallion Fish Bowl Planter

Apocryphal seal mark on a vintage late 20th century fishbowl


Learn more about collecting and authenticating Rose Medallion porcelain in my book: The Grandmillennial's Pocket Guide to Chic Antiques

You can shop my latest collection of antique Rose Medallion porcelains here!

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