How to Identify Factory Marks on Antique Vases

By Rose Talbot
The key to valuing an antique vase is the maker's mark on its bottom.

The factory mark on an antique vase can give a clue the age and the value of a piece. The mark can tell you if a vase is a Wedgwood or a Weller or if it is Japanese, Italian, English or American. The factory mark may let you know when the vase was made.

Identify the material of the vase. Most pottery and porcelain will have a maker's mark, either stamped under the glaze or inscribed in the porcelain. Silver will have a hallmark, indicating the factory and date, and will be marked sterling (or simply "925") or some variation ending in "plate." Glass or crystal sometimes has a faint, etched signature, which can add about 25 percent to its value, according to antique experts Ralph and Terry Kovel.

Find the factory mark. For most pieces, it is usually on the bottom, although sometimes glass or crystal will have a faint, etched signature that could be found on the stem near the base or at the top. Other pieces may have no mark at all because their factory mark was a sticker or paper label. These tend to be more recent pieces. Some marks can be quite small; you may need a magnifying glass or small flashlight or penlight to clearly see the mark.

Look for factory names, hand-painted signatures, name of country or origin or other images. Sometimes a mark will clearly indicate the name of the maker; other times it will simply be a set of initials, numbers or picture of an object or animal. In addition to the factory mark, there may also be what seems to be a hand-written name. This may be the artist who hand-decorated a piece. Pottery painting was a popular hobby for ladies in the early 20th century, and many signed their pieces. This hobby has seen several resurgences, so a signature alone is not an accurate indicator of age.

Use a dictionary of marks as a tool to identify the maker of a piece. These guides will usually have a clear picture of the mark and list the factory name alphabetically. They also help identify the age of a piece by giving the dates a factory operated. Price guides are usually company-specific, but they may also be helpful in narrowing the age if the name of the company is clearly stated.

Tip

In 1891, the United States began requiring companies to mark the country of origin on their wares for importing into the US. If a vase says “England” it probably dates from that year or later, but it may date from as early as 1887, as some companies started the practice before it mandated. After 1914, companies were required to use the words “Made in [country of origin].”

Warning

Never remove a paper label or factory sticker from a vase; having the sticker in place helps to authenticate value.

About the Author

Based in Maryland, Rose Talbot began writing in 1991 for local newspapers. Her work has appeared “Asthma and Allergy Today,” the American Moving and Storage Association's “Direction,” “Antique Week,” “Chesapeake Family,” “Southern Maryland This is Living,” and “The Country Register.” She holds a degree in journalism from Radford University.