One of the really cool things I get to see here at Aichien are the very old pots and the patina they’ve developed over time. Good patina on a pot is very desirable because they give the pot such an aged look. If you have two pots that are identical where one has patina and the other doesn’t, the one with patina will always be more valuable. We all want our bonsai to look old and ancient, so why wouldn’t we want the same for the pots. In this post, I will be talk about what patina is, the different patinas that I’ve seen on different types of pots (i.e. porcelain, glazes, clay), and about the differences between real patina and fake patina. Let’s get started!
What is patina?
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines patina as:
1. (a): a usually green film formed naturally on copper and bronze by long exposure or artificially (as by acids) and often valued aesthetically for it color, (b): a surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use
2. an appearance or aura that is derived from association, habit, or established character
3. a superficial covering or exterior
In Bonsai pottery terms, it’s pretty much dirt that starts to stick onto pots over long periods of use or exposure.
Patina on pots doesn’t happen over night or over the course of a year. Pots sometimes take decades of use before they develop good patina. The key word there is, “use.” If you store a pot in a box inside the house, it will never develop patina.
Some characteristics of good real patina
Here’s one of the pots in the yard that is being used at the moment. The patina is the black parts of the pot where as the lighter areas are more of the original color of the pot.
Here is a cheap terracota pot that is used for training. They especially have patina on them because they are used so often. Unfortunately patina on a terracota pot isn’t worth very much. I wonder why? ;o)
Here is an antique porcelain suiban that has some great patina on it. You can see that the original color is white but the exterior is so dark. Porcelain’s surface is very smooth so patina doesn’t develop on them quickly. It takes about 60 or more years of exposure to get this kind of patina on porcelain.
Here is a Chinese Antique drum pot with good patina on it.
Here’s a close up of the patina. Note that patina always develops on the high points of the pot and not the low points. Do you see how the raised dots on the pots are dark but the base is lighter in color? Think about how water would flow over the pot surface. The areas that have resistance to water flow will develop patina first.
Here is another example of the high points developing patina first. The crevasses next to ridges often are the last places to develop patina. This Chinese Antique rough style clay pot develops patina faster because the rough surface quickly catches all the debris and dirt.
Here is another Chinese Antique pot with an example of patina. Patina always seem to form at the lowest part of the pot first. It makes sense since that area is closes to the dirt and water tends to sit there the longest.
Here is a small Chinese Antique pot. The patina on it makes it look old and experienced. The smaller pots tend to be more difficult to find with good patina on them. When small pots are valued, they tend to be more protected so patina doesn’t develop on them. I’ve seen antique shohin pots that looked brand new because they were protected so well.
I fell in love with this Chinese pot when I first saw it. The refinement of the pot and the patina reminded me of an experienced scholar.
Here is another example of patina on porcelain.
Here is a side picture of the same pot.
Here is a Chinese Antique glazed pot. What color would you say that is?
Here’s a close up of the side of the pot. Another example of how patina starts on the lower parts of the pot first. Do you still know what color the pot is?
Here is a picture of the glaze that dripped onto the inside of the pot. The color of the pot brand new is actually white! There is so much patina on this pot that you almost can’t tell it was a white pot. Mr. Tanaka says that this is the ultimate example of patina on a glazed pot. It took at least 60 years of constant use to obtain this kind of patina. The pot is so dark, I think I can get away with putting a conifer in it.
Patina on darker glazes
On this Antique Chinese glazed pot, the glaze is dark so any kind of patina can be difficult to see. In this case, the dullness of the glaze is what tells people that the patina is there. When good patina develops on dark glazes, the luster of the glaze will disappear because the patina is covering it. This pot is still fairly shiny so it will still take many more years of usage to develop better patina.
Characteristics of fake patina
This Antique Chinese pot at one point was painted to make it look like it had patina. Most of the pain has been scrubbed off since but there is still residue of the paint. When Patina is faked, it always seem to have this painted on look. If you look very closely at some of them, you can see the paint brush strokes.
Note how the crevasses have a black color in them. This is a sign that is inconsistant with true patina. These areas tend to be the most protected and the last areas to develop patina. This is one of the main things I look for when examining the patina on a pot.
Here is the dead give away on this pot. When patina develops on the chop mark, the raised areas will develop patina first, then the low areas. The patina on this chop mark is reversed of what it should look like.
As I see more and more pots everyday, I am starting to develop a better eye for quality and type. Patina is just a small part of the overall pot picture. I thought this post would be a great start to sharing what I’ve learned about pots so far and that you too can appreciate some of the age and beauty that they posses. It goes without saying that the patina should never be scrubbed off the pot because the value will only go down and you loose all that feeling of age.
In the future I will be posting more topics about specific types of pots so stay tuned!
1. Get good information on pots – check!
2. Get your hands on them (it’s all up to me and you)
Thanks for reading.