Numbers on the bottoms of teapots may mean a variety of different things and be combined with letters, pictures or symbols. Drinking tea dates back thousands of years, and some teapots have survived for centuries, maybe more. Over the past few hundred years they have become increasing more popular as a collectible and most have identifying marks on the bottom.
Marks on Teapot Bases : Proudly Made
Essentially marks on the base of the teapot are a type of manufacturing mark or code. It may contain numbers only, letters, words, or a mix of these things. Others contain pictures, symbols, animals or company logos. It is a way for businesses to proudly mark their wares. Take for instance the Hall China Company, (still in business today) whose art pottery teapot ads said "Look for this Hall Symbol" to ensure you had an official Hall teapot. The mark on a teapot was synonymous with quality.
Hallmark and Numbers
Hallmarks are most commonly associated with silversmiths but also can refer to the marks on teapots. A company's hallmark or maker's mark usually includes its name and country of origin and often the date it was established, the pottery or porcelain manufacturer may also have applied a series of numbers which may signify the run, color code, production plant number, or year produced. If a certain pottery company had changed glazes or was using a new type of clay, this may also have been marked.
In some vintage pottery marked "USA", a three-digit number followed by a hyphen and a one-digit number indicates a mold number and a size. Teapots marked "Made in England" may be marked "Rd." followed by a series of numbers that indicate the year a particular pattern was registered.
Serial Numbers in Limited Editions
Some of the numbers on the bottom of pottery teapots can be referenced as serial numbers if they were produced in limited-edition quantities. In more collectible runs, a series limited to 1,000 fired pieces, may contain a number and/or letter code. This will clue you into the year, number or production run.
Symbols and Other Marks
Along with numbers pottery manufacturers used all sorts of marks, from symbols to animals, to embossed squiggles or hand-painted initials. Hand-painted numbers and initials are often codes for a specific decorator.
New marks are constantly being found among collectors and the cause of some confusion. Sadly, if your code on the bottom was a special in-house code and the pottery company is no longer in business, it may be more difficult to determine just what those numbers meant. Some numbers will remain a mystery to you even after ample research.
Do Your Research and You Can Identify
Some pottery companies were in business for more than 100 years. This could produce hundreds of different codes on their teapots over time. Once you have identified your teapot manufacturer, read up on them. Collector's clubs are a great place to start, talk to other collectors to find out just what your numbers mean. If you are lucky, serious collectors may have interviewed someone who worked at the factory and have some inside information. There are many books referencing different pottery manufacturers and may contain information on their teapots. There are also books solely focused on marks and makers, that can be reviewed for free in your local library. Online there are sources for identifying manufacturing marks as well. Antique malls may also be another way to get answers, if you find a dealer in teapots they may be willing to help you--leave a note at the front desk for them.
Ira Mency, nom de plume of Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer, has been writing for more than 25 years and is a published fiction novelist. Her work encompasses ghostwriting, e-book publishing, press releases and Web design. She is also editor of the blogs Retro Chalet, Vintage Chalet and Etsy Recyclers Guild. Mency received a Certificate of Study in Marketing from Mid-State University in Augusta, Maine.