Chinaware is practically always signed with manufacturers' marks that reveal the country of origin and when they were made. Because most marks on chinaware are stamped, many collectors refer to these as "backstamps". Identifying these marks is a sure way to learn about their history and the most important step is appraising their value.
Prior to and for the most part of the 19thC, dinnerware & tableware was made of thick porcelain or stoneware, often referred to as "earthenware". When enhanced for strength using special manufacturing techniques such as those developed by many companies in the Staffordshire region of the UK, they're called "ironstone", which however do NOT contain any iron, but their thinner body can classify them at best as "fine stoneware". However, most Fine China is made of porcelain, particularly Bone China. For an explanation of these variations of ceramic materials and proper use of related terms, please see our article on types of porcelain.
In addition to makers marks, most china services are also identified by a Pattern name or number. However, these are not necessarily unique because many companies may have used the same name or number for a different design, but can help in narrowing down the list of potential makers. Knowing both the maker and the pattern can be instrumental in matching tableware in order to complete a set or replace a damaged piece. For an extensive list, see our china patterns descriptions to help you in cross-referencing company names with patterns.
Serious collectors should always consult reference guides to identify a china service or a set of tableware, particularly if they could be potentially old and their worth is significant. You can use our extensive research tools to help you recognize marks on chinaware produced worldwide and from all periods or styles.
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In addition to some examples shown below on this page, you can also search our price guide for your own treasures.