Introduction to Yixing Zisha Clay Teapots


Identitying Yixing Zisha teapots can be a tricky business, like all other kinds of antiques. Zisha teapots are unique in that they are enjoyed for both their art work and usage. What's more appealing is that "the more and longer it is being used, the better it looks". Let's call this property as "the Yixing Zisha appeal".

Over the years, I have collected over hundreds of Yixing Zisha teapots (majority of them are fine artwork and quite many are masterpieces with a few "Peerless treasures"). According to my experiences, Yixing Zisha teapots can be divided into the following 6 categories:

  1. Chemical teapots

  2. None-Zisha (most modern produced commodity) teapots

  3. Old (Commodity) Zisha teapots ($100-$200)

  4. Zisha teapots of Fine Artwork ($200-$2000)

  5. Masterpieces ($2000-$100,000)

  6. Peerless treasures (>$100,000)

We recommend collectors collect old Yixing Zisha teapots. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, compared to modern artwork, old pieces are not really that expensive. Secondly, old teapots usually have very good quality Yixing Zisha clay, which would have a good appeal property. Lastly, old teapots have high historical and cultural value.

Please be aware of Type 1 and Type 2 and fake TianQing clay teapots (they are all over the internet). You will know after reading this TianQing Clay article

Six Types of Teapots

Type 1 Chemical Teapots

Chemical teapots are made of clay added with modern chemicals, usually have very bright colors. These chemicals are added to cover the bad appearances of the original clays. These teapots are toxic and cannot be used. Most modern cheaply-made Yixing teapots of all different colors and great looking belong to this category. Unfortunately some of them look similar to some Zhu clay teapots.

Type 2 None-Zisha Teapots

(Most modern produced commodity after 1990s) teapots do not have modern chemicals added, but do not have Yixing Zisha clay either or of very poor quality. They are not toxic, but can not have the Zisha appeal either. The reason why I put modern commodity so called Yixing Zisha teapots into the None-Zisha category is the high cost of the Yixing Zisha clay. In the year 2014, my antique mentor went to a famous Yixing Zisha clay provider. The cheapest Zisha clay costs $300/pound. What kind of teapots can you buy below $100? In 2015, I went to a Yixing Zisha shop owned by a craftsman. $130-180 are cookie-cut made. $220 are semi-cookie-cut. Unfortunately some of these non-Zisha teapots look similar to some old teapots with patina.

Type 3 Old Commodity Zisha Teapots

Type 3 Old (Commodity) Zisha teapots are those made before 1980s. At that time and most of the time before, commodity grade Yixing Zisha teapots were cheap. There are no reason for counterfeiters to make Type 1 or Type 2 teapots. They may not look as beautiful as those of Fine Artwork or masterpiece. But they are made of real Yixing Zisha nonetheless, and therefore can have the Yixing Zisha appeal.

Enameled Teapot of the Late Qing Dynasty

Type 4 Fine Art Work

Type 4 are pieces of fine artwork made in the past or modern times. They are usually made of good quality Yixing Zisha clay, aesthetically appealing.

Type 5 Masterpieces that Transcends Times

by WANG Dongshi of Qing dynasty 清王东石周盘壶

Type 6 Peerless Treasures


How do we tell old from new ones?

  • By Yixing Zisha clay - old teapots usually have darker color, bigger and rougher sand particle, particle of different sizes and colors.

  • By craftsmanship - old teapots use fewer tools and therefore not perfectly made and have more clues of how it was made.

  • By marks

  • By "Zisha Appeal" (patina with semi-transparency) if it has been used

What kind of Yixing Zisha clay are good clay?

  • They are highly permeable and therefore easy to have the Yixing "Zisha appeal" (patina with semi-transparency). Some top clays can show you the difference within a couple of days usage.

  • They have a strong sandy appearance. They usually are sandy with particles of different sizes and colors.

  • They are beautiful

  • After a longer period of times, they can have some kind of semi-transparent appearance, like jade or precious stone. By that time, the clues and marks left by handcrafting are readily available to be spotted by your eyes. Be aware that new teapots have added chemicals to their clays to have this properties from the start.

This is a Qing dynasty teapot. Please see the radiant trace on the shoulder of the teapot. It tells you how the teapot was made by the artist.

What are top Yixing Zisha teapot?

Beautiful teapots: beauty of clay, craftsmanship, shape, artwork, spirit and soul.

What is beauty?

There are several kind of beauty. In the order of importance they are:

  1. Gu1Zhuo2 (古拙) -- ancient looking.

  2. Da4Du4 (大度)-- grandiose or magnificent

  3. Qing1Xiu4 (清秀)-- handsome or pretty

  4. Qv4Wei4 (趣味)-- interesting

Handmade vs Cookie-cutter

Handmade teapots are of art work. Everyone is different or unique. It takes times, craftsmanship, and creativity. They are made of top quality Yixing Zisha clay. It has soul. They are beautiful.

Cookie cutter are commodity. All are similar or even identical. They can be mass-produced. They are made of cheap or non Zisha clay. They do not have souls. They are boring

How to get started with Zisha teapot?

1) Read the above articles for free. Remember the important for the teapot is the clay. Most cheap teapot is Not of zisha clay.

2) Buy an old commodity teapot to learn what Zisha is such as this one

3) Read a book such as the one by GU Jingzhou. You can probably get a free pdf one from the internet somewhere as well.

What "Zisha Appeal" look like?

4 Signs of a Yixing Teapot of Real Zisha Clay

  1. The small white shiny spots are mica or 云母 yunmu in Chinese.

  2. Tiny holes or "jumping sand" 跳砂 on the surface of an Yixing teapot.

  3. Tiny bumps called 爆子 baozi on the surface of an Yixing teapot.

  4. Small black dot called "Melton Iron".