We receive questions from time to time about teapot pricing, the scarcity of certain kinds of clay, and their value in the zisha (Yixing clay) market. It can be difficult to get an accurate sense of the zisha market online. Information about the industry is difficult to find in English, and rumour and myth often substitute for fact.
What about X Clay?
There are many different kinds of zisha that fall under the familiar categories of zini, duanni, and hongni. We touch on a number of these categories and subtypes in our blog. There are a few very good reference books for the industry that discuss the numerous kinds of clay, the history of their use, and where they can be found. These books are great for cross-checking information about different clays.
For those who can read Chinese, we recommend:
Value and Scarcity
“If clay x is so rare, it should cost $1000s for a teapot made of this clay.” No, usually not. While you will not be able to buy an authentic zhuni teapot for $25, you also do not need to pay $1000 for one either (or even over $200). The price difference between more common and less common clays can vary between $10-100 or so between teapots (all other things being equal). The rarity of clay is not the biggest influence on price in the zisha market, labour and the skill/reputation of the potter usually are. Fully handmade teapots are more expensive than half handmade teapots, and a fully handmade teapot by a master, even more so.
Reselling vs retailing
This brings us to an important distinction that has a big impact on the price you pay when buying from a vendor: whether the vendor is a reseller or a retailer. Vendors that stock only one or two teapots at a time from an Yixing studio are often unable to purchase these teapots at a wholesale price. They purchase at the retail price (more or less) and resell the teapots. The price is usually at least twice the retail rate found in the Chinese market.
We decided to partner with a studio focusing on function and practicality over other concerns. Using original ore zisha, but making primarily half-handmade teapots, they are able to produce excellent teapots at a reasonable price. Sourcing directly from the studio in large enough numbers means we get a wholesale price and are able to price our teapots at the Chinese retail rate for their teapots. This is why our Yixing Teapots are priced lower than many of our competitors. We follow this model for all of our handmade ceramics and teas - partnering with a limited number of trusted suppliers producing a high quality and reliable product.
Our aim from the beginning in establishing MudandLeaves has been to bring the best of China’s ceramics studios to the world at prices that match those in China. We believe our commitment to this goal, and to being as transparent about our sourcing and pricing as we can be, will help us to continue building our business into the future.