Most antique ceramics bear a makers mark or backstamp. This is usually located on the underside of the piece, whether it is an antique Figurine or antique Chinaware. Porcelain makers marks usually denote the Studio or manufacturer and at times include an Artist’s initials or signature or logo. In contrast, most Pottery makers marks, such as on antique Studio Pottery Vases or Pottery Art, are frequently signatures or initials of the Artist that designed the piece. Most Studio Pottery or Pottery Art are unique and are rarely reproduced in large quantities, unless they were made by a Pottery that made several items in the same design and as developed by a particular Artist, called a Series, such as in the case of Arts & Crafts antiques.
On Porcelain and Chinaware, most makers marks can be classified by the manner they were applied. For example, the vast majority of Porcelain marks are stamped in ink, whereas some are Impressed (blind stamped) or Incised. Some, as in the case of antique hand-decorated Figurines, are marked with hand-written initials or a simple logo of the Artist or Designer. Additionally, most porcelain makers marks and backstamps are underglaze and some are overglaze. Overglaze porcelain marks tend to be those of Retailer Chains or Distributors and Antiques Exporters that had items made to order by one or more porcelain factories or Potteries or had their wares selected from a wholesaler’s catalogue. In very few instances, some overglaze makers marks are large indeterminate smudges that at times barely resemble a certain shape, for example a flower, and are usually in gold or black paint. These porcelain makers marks are called “overmarks” and were usually placed after an antique was actually manufactured and decorated. For example, overmarks on antique porcelain were meant to conceal the original manufacturer’s mark and were very popular ca 1880s – 1930s, mostly on European porcelain antiques that were imported to the US.
The Country of Origin of an antique porcelain piece of china, was required to be shown next to or near the porcelain makers mark on all imports to the US since 1891 by Act of Congress (Tariff Act). Therefore, most antiques, including porcelain and chinaware that include the country of origin next to or near or within their makers mark or backstamp, were made after 1891. However, please be aware that many recent Imports to the US and Europe, particularly those from emerging economies in Asia, usually place a sticker or label to satisfy this legal requirement and often these labels are removed or are lost after they reach their destination. Yet, these same pieces, particularly on porcelain and chinaware, bear other stamped makers marks that resemble older porcelain marks that can easily mislead a Collector to think they are proper antiques.
The case of Nippon or Japanese Porcelain marks is a bit more peculiar. The word “NIPPON” is the official name of the country of Japan and Japanese makers and trading companies initially marked their porcelain with the name Nippon. However, in 1921, the US Congress requested that Japanese Customs Authorities change the name to JAPAN. Therefore, Porcelain and China antiques that are marked “NIPPON” were made prior to 1921 and items that are marked “JAPAN” were made after 1921. Furthermore, most Porcelain and Chinaware imports from Japan were rarely marked with the actual manufacturer’s mark. Instead, they used the Exporter or Trading Company’s logo. Noritake is one of the most famous examples of this practice since they used nearly 400 independent porcelain factories to make items for them, either to order or selected from a catalogue. The same is true of all other major companies from Japan, each using different porcelain marks to distinguish their products or different periods of operation. In essence, when a porcelain mark reads “Japan” or “Nippon”, and other than the period distinction mentioned above, the item was made by one of several hundreds of porcelain factories and was imported to the US and Europe by the trading company whose logo or backstamp is shown. Most Japanese porcelain marks are stamped or on a label.
Several porcelain and chinaware exporters and trading companies, whether American or European, also used this practice throughout the late 19th and well into the 20th centuries. As a result, many porcelain items imported from Europe show the trading company’s porcelain mark either alone or near the actual makers mark. This is especially true for items from Germany, France (mostly Limoges), Austria, Czechoslovakia etc. However, most British Ceramics have the actual Pottery's makers marks or backstamps clearly printed or impressed. Some only have the country of origin stamp, like GERMANY, FRANCE, AUSTRIA etc and most such specimens date ca 1890s - 1930s.
In the case of Pottery, especially Art or Studio Pottery, and since most items are unique (i.e. made in very small numbers or just once), the country of origin is rarely shown. Most such antique pottery pieces were originally purchased from the actual Artist or at an Arts Gallery representing the Artist, and did not have to comply with Import & Export laws. These antique pottery pieces are the most difficult to identify, especially in the case of relatively occasional potters and artists, whose items were made over a short period of time and for a very eclectic clientele. Exceptions include Pottery Artists that worked in major Studios or Factories such as Weller, Roseville, and other mostly Ohio Valley or California Potteries in the US.
For a huge visual display of makers' marks on Ceramics (Porcelain, Pottery, Chinaware) or Jewelry & Silver or Metal Ware, please see our corresponding services at Marks4Antiques.com.