When first looking to buy china most people will look to buy new. But when a pattern is discontinued, often the only pieces available have been pre-owned and used. Which shouldn’t discourage you from making a purchase and adding to your set. After all, if you want more Lenox Charleston or Wedgwood Florentine Blue, the only way to get these long discontinued patterns is by buying it from somebody who has owned it (or companies who have bought it from someone who has owned it) which means that more often than not they will have been used.
But not to worry. Most china for sale has been used very sparingly and is still in flawless condition, especially those being sold by professional replacement dealers. Having said that there are still a few things that you should take a look at when purchasing used china to make sure that they are in the condition you need them to be.
Chips and Cracks
First the obvious: Make sure your china has no chips. Besides for looking ugly, chips on china can mean that the rest of the piece is weaker and will continue to disintegrate. Stay away from chipped items at all costs. Also refrain from buying pieces with visible cracks for the above reasons. This does not mean you MUST throw away any piece of your set that has become cracked, just that it makes no sense to purchase one to begin with in this condition.
Crazing is when little lines appear on the glaze of china, often looking like little cracks. They are a result improper storage in shifting extreme temperatures, with the heat and the cold causing expansion and retraction, leading to crazing. They are ugly and make the piece fragile. Even minor crazing is worth avoiding because once it starts, it tends to get worse.
Here comes the subjective part. Since the item is used it will most likely have some usage marks. Small cuts and marks are all par for the course. The question is how much is too much and that depends on the person. Some will only buy items with minimal usage marks while others figure that since the marks will anyway appear soon due to their own use of them, what difference does it make. To each his own, but do make sure to get a better price if it is heavily marked or be prepared to pay more for lightly marked pieces.
Note: There are pieces sold as “Second Quality”. These are pieces that have failed to meet the manufacturers quality standards for first quality and are sold at a reduced price. This does not necessarily mean that there is something structurally wrong with the piece or that it is more liable to break. Different companies have different standards as to what qualifies as second quality, so use your judgement. If you find that the flaw is inconsequential, then you can by all means purchase them and take advantage of their lower prices.
All of the above applies to crystal as well with the emphasis on chips is even stronger here. A glass that has been chipped or cracked is guaranteed to get worse at a rapid pace. So by all means, stay away. Even if you love that Waterford Powerscourt or Edinburgh Thistle Cut, what use will you have getting that “great deal” on the tiny chip when you will most likely have to throw it out in the near future.