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Porcelain Conditions: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I would like to address the ugliest and most abused term to ever surface in the world of porcelain, the dreaded "flea bite".  Have you ever been bitten by a flea?  Flea bites are very irritating and distracting in much the same way as when discovered on porcelain.  This "new age" term is used to describe a piece of porcelain that has a chip.  I've reviewed lengthily descriptions of porcelains claiming to be in perfectly mint condition, only to read at the end, "it only has a flea bite".  How can a piece be perfect if it has a chip?  Remember the good ole days, when everyone called a chip, a chip.  Now it's called anything but a chip.

The term, "flea bite", was intended to describe a chip that is so small, it can barely be detected.  Considering the size of a flea or if a flea could bite a piece of porcelain (which it can't), you might need about a 100 strength magnifier to see it.  You could even call the chip, a "flea bite", if a 10 strength magnifier was needed to see it.  OK, lets give everyone the benefit of the doubt and say, you can call the chip, a "flea bite", if any kind of magnifier is required to see it.

Today the term is widely used, referring to almost any small chip, regardless of the size, as interpreted by the owner.  Often times the term is used to diminish or disguise the actual size of the chip in question.  Where I find the most abusive use of the term is on internet auctions.  Since the prospective bidder cannot inspect the flea bite, they are at the mercy of the sellers descriptive discretion, often times leading to disappointment and financial loss.  Ask questions, find out their return policy, don't get bitten by the "flea bite" term.  I personally run like a race horse when I hear it used. 

Ok, let's move on to the "pin point nick" or "pin point prick".  Another "new age" term almost as ugly as: the you know what "bite".  Look at the very tip or point of a pin.  It's quite obviously tiny, minute or barely discernible.  If your chip is that small, it qualifies, otherwise, it's a chip.


A "nick", "nip" or "nibble" is a small chip but it is usually measurable, so ask for the size: a 16th of an inch, an 8th and so on.  Nicks are often times accompanied with other forms of inconspicuous damage, like a hairline,  so examine it very closely.

Now that we've gotten chips defined, let's discuss cracks.  A "crack" is a break or fracture that goes all the way through from the exterior to the interior of the porcelain.  They are usually fairly easy to detect, cause weaknesses and depending on the severity, can in time lead to further breakage. 

A "hairline" is a crack and it decreases the value of the porcelain in the same way as a crack.  The difference is the hairline is a very fine crack that is much harder to discover, often times not noticed until after you get the Item home where there is usually better lighting than at the antique store or show.  Carry a magnifier with you and look those pieces over very well.  Some opinions are, a hairline is not "always" a crack..... wrong, it's a crack.  If you cannot detect if a hairline actually goes all the way through the porcelain, then assume it most certainly does and shop accordingly.

A "spider", "spider webbing" or "spidering" is a series of cracks shaped very much like a spider's web.  It is a well known and recognized term that is used to describe a specifically shaped group of cracks.

The so called "minor line" in the porcelain is a hairline, which in turn is a crack.  All cracks, hairlines or minor lines degrade the value of the piece to some degree no matter what ingenious term is used.

"Crazing" or "craze lines" are not cracks.  Crazing effects only the shiny glaze on the porcelain, leaving it with a crackled appearance or what looks like tiny lines running in random directions.  English chintz is very well known for having this attribute.  Age and temperature conditions can cause crazing to occur in various degrees.  It typically does not detract much from the value of a piece unless it has become stained beyond what the buyer considers appropriate or the crazing is so severe that it over shadows the beauty of the piece.  Normal crazing is usually an acceptable characteristic found on antique porcelain.

A "glaze skip" is caused during manufacturing and is not considered damage.  Occasionally a small area of the porcelain will not get glazed prior to firing, resulting in a glaze skip.  The piece continues to get decorated and nobody seems to mind them much, they are part of the qualities of vintage porcelain and in most cases, they do not detract from the value.  If someone describes their chip as a glaze skip, naughty, naughty on them.

A porcelain "dimple" occurs during manufacturing, it is not a hole nor does it cause further damage.  Dimples are relatively small and shallow and are reasonably common on antique porcelain.  They look much like a facial dimple.  They are smooth, glazed over and regularly go unnoticed.  They are considered harmless.  Please beware that a ding in the porcelain is not a dimple.

A "ding" in the porcelain is caused by something hitting the piece, anywhere on the piece, leaving behind a very small pit mark, almost a chip but not quite.  It might look like a small dimple but it's usually never smooth like a manufacturing dimple.  These should be examined closely, they often times cause hard to see hairlines.  A truly small ding is a damage but only detracts in a small way, a larger ding detracts in a larger way.

The term "roughness" is supposed to described what happens when a piece of porcelain did not pop out of it's mold smoothly or when a little extra piece of porcelain did not get properly smoothed down.  The result is a little bumpiness or roughness to a spot or to the edge of the porcelain piece.  Roughness that occurs during manufacturing is considered acceptable for the most part.  A series of chips that someone has tried to smooth down is not accepted as roughness but the term is commonly abused in this way.  Remember, true roughness happens is the production process.

I hope this article is informative and helpful.  If you know of a term that I have not addressed, please ask.

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