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How to Identify Unmarked Pottery

Red clay can be indicative of the origin of the piece.
Zedcor Wholly Owned/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images

Things You'll Need:

  • Internet access
  • Local auction houses
  • Flea markets or art markets
  • Reference books

Identifying unmarked pottery can be a chore. There is no single book or website that will always provide you with definitive answers. Amateur pottery owners or collectors have to correlate information from multiple sources in order to identify an unmarked piece of pottery. To do so, start with a few basic elements of the piece itself, and then turn to references or local experts who may be able to fill in the gaps.

Pick up the piece and note the width of the clay in relation to the weight of the object. American pottery is often thicker than that of other countries and weighs more. Experts say that American pottery, for example, tends to have a “heavy bottom.” Native American pottery also often makes use of red and beige clays.

Note the color of the clay in places that are unglazed. Frankoma pottery, for example, is made of red or pink clay, while Ada pottery sports yellow or beige clay.

Narrow down the clay type and color, the weight of the piece and the color of the glaze. Come up with a couple of options for potential potters, and then use an online search engine to obtain more information and possible matches. Use phrases that are descriptive.

Observe any designs painted on the piece itself. Moriage china, for example, often features pastel colors and intricate floral designs laid in with small ribbons of clay. A willow piece from China will picture a blue-and-white willow, orange or apple tree with two birds. It was possibly include a river, boats and people on a bridge.

Use online commercial sites to look for sellers offering pieces similar to yours, since they may identify yours for you. Scout flea markets and art markets as well for other local people selling similar pieces who might be able to help you identify yours.


Look at the bottom of your piece of pottery for a design that may indicate the pieces origin, even without the potter's name or the factory name. Indentations in the bottom of the piece, allowing it to sit flat, may also be indicative of its origin. Discoloration or specific coloring on the bottom of the piece may as well.


  • Even with multiple sources, you may not end up finding a concrete origin for your piece of pottery.
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