Leland La Ganke, a New York dealer in fine antique porcelain, bought his first piece of Chelsea porcelain when he was five years old and paid $5 for it. He claims he could recognize a bargain when he saw one even at that tender age.
Today, 38 years later, he owns a shop at 1093 Second Avenue, where he specializes in 18th- and early 19th-century English and continental porcelain and Chinese export porcelain. So he is still buying and selling, as well as adding to his own collection.
Mr. La Ganke contends that porcelain, one piece or several, is fundamental in the decoration of any room; it literally "finishes" or completes the setting. "My contention is that nothing can give the life and light and grace and the variety of shapes and colors that porcelain can," he says. "It serves a very special decorative purpose."
During a seminar at the recent Winter Antiques Show here, where Mr. La Ganke exhibited, he gave porcelain collectors a few hints.
* Know as much as you can about the area in which you are collecting. Get a basic knowledge of forms and decorative styles and techniques in the porcelain trade. Good books help give historical perspective and technical background. Learn the special language of your field of collecting.
* Find out what is going on in the world auction houses, since most price levels are now being set outside the United States, not in this country. Subscribe to auction catalogs and to magazines like Apollo and Connoisseur (English publications that summarize the London auction sales) and magazines like Antiques World in the US for their reviews of top auctions.
* If you are a beginner collector, don't look for cheap beginner prices. Save your money until you have several hundred dollars to invest in a really good piece. Otherwise you will end up with a lot of inexpensive, mediocre pieces that will remain just that, and will never increase in value.
* Stay away from faddish or trendy things. Try to figure out what is undervalued today but will be moving in the future. Good collections in fine Italian and French porcelains could, with careful buying, be put together today, Mr. La Ganke believes. German porcelain made in Meissen and Nymphenberg, Ludwigsburg, and Furstenberg have already undergone price rises over the last five years. Much good Oriental export porcelain, particularly that made for the European market, is still underpriced, in this dealer's opinion.
* When you buy a piece, get a written guarantee from the dealer. Have him write on your invoice the full description of the piece, including its date, age , and condition. Beware of fancy provenances. Ask that the provenance be stated clearly in writing. Never accept a verbal statement that the Grand Duchess of so-and-so owned the piece. Who knows?
* Be wary of dealers who are extremely dogmatic. They can be, and sometimes are, wrong.
* Don't get upset with minimal damage of really rare and important pieces.
* Don't haggle over prices. If you feel you would like to see a price adjusted, simply ask the dealer if he can make it a little better.Never state aggressively, "I'll give you $450 and not a cent more," or the dealer might show you the door. Don't be a price buyer, because you usually get what you pay for.
* Develop confidence in yourself by handling as many good things as you can and learning how they feel as well as how they look. Develop confidence in the dealers with whom you do business, for it is essential to be able to trust a dealer's knowledge and advice, and the fact that he is being fair. Always expect graciousness from a dealer. If he is haughty, avoid him.
* A red flag of warning from Mr. La Ganke: Don't buy anything made after 1850 , unless it is of the highest qu ality and of incredible importance.