Chinaware is practically always signed with manufacturers' marks that reveal the country of origin and when they were made. Because most marks on china are stamped, many collectors refer to these as "backstamps". Identifying these marks are a sure way to learn on their history and the most important step is appraising their value.
Prior to and for the most part of the 19thC, dinnerware & tableware were 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.
To learn more about our porcelain & chinaware research services, please check out our marks reference guide - marks4ceramics - to gain unlimited access to the most comprehensive and updated list of worldwide identifying symbols and porcelain companies' trademarks. Our experienced specialists can also answer your questions directly and for free when you need some extra guidance or have doubts (members only).
In addition to pages for marks & hallmarks, our research tools also include a price guide to help you evaluate your collection and be certain that you are not paying high when buying or asking too low when selling. Below are a few examples.