How to Date Old Cups From the 1800s

By Keely Brown
Collecting china cups is a popular hobby that can fit into any budget.

During the 1800s, much of the world's finest porcelain came from England, France and Germany. Companies such as Meissen and Rosenthal in Germany and Havilland and Sevres in France became famous for beautiful, ornate designs, while the Staffordshire region of England gave birth to legendary companies such as Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Spode and Minton. According to the Lenox China Company, its entrance into the market in 1889 helped the U.S. porcelain industry to rival these European companies. The great porcelain manufacturers of the era usually marked their products with the company's name, initials or trademark symbols.

Identifying Marks

Delicate gold rims on antique cups can fade with frequent washings.

Gently turn the cup over to find the maker’s mark, stamped in ink on the bottom. Stamps are often worn and faded from age and many washings, so the mark may be difficult to read. Reference books such as “Antique Porcelain” by John Sandon will help in identifying company symbols, trademarks, names and abbreviations, and will also help identify china patterns and assist in dating the cup.

Floral patterns are always immensely popular with china collectors.

Look for a country of origin. Sometimes, but not always, pieces stamped with a country of origin will be made after 1891, the year that U.S. trade laws required imports to be marked with the country of manufacture. Likewise, check the wording. According to Mike Wilcox of Wilcox & Hall Appraisals, the word “trademark” indicates a post-1862 manufacture date, while the words “limited” or “LTD” indicate a manufacture date after 1860.

British china manufacturers have created many popular, rose-themed patterns.

Look at the color of the mark. Wilcox states that manufacturers stamped their pieces prior to firing, and the only pigments that could withstand these high temperatures were iron red and cobalt blue. Prior to 1850, blue stamping was more popular with manufacturers than red. However, be aware this is only a very general rule of thumb, and works best when used in conjunction with other dating methods for the piece.

As the 1800s progressed, cup handles became more ornate.

Look at the shape of the handle. Expert and dealer Paul Mould writes on his "Antique Porcelain Collector" website that cup handles became more ornate as the 1800s progressed, so simpler handles may indicate an earlier date. Additionally, Mould says, if the cup has a matching saucer, a deeper, bowl-like design without a center “recess” for the cup indicates a pre-1830s piece.

Warning

Never attempt to repair a piece of antique porcelain; instead, take it to an experienced restorer, as an inexpert repair can devalue a piece considerably. Likewise, use only mild soap and warm (not hot) water to gently clean antique porcelain, and never put it in a dishwasher, as it can easily crack and chip, and delicate gold rims can fade and even wash away.

About the Author

Keely Brown has been a feature writer, arts critic, columnist and business writer since 1998. She has written for publications such as the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Creative Loafing" and "Boulder County Business Report." Brown won a Colorado Press Association Award for journalism and a Best of Atlanta award for her radio program. She has been profiled on CNN and National Public Radio.