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How to Identify Antique China

A piece by Johnson Brothers

Antique china, whether from America, Britain, the European continent or China itself, is highly collectible. There are a number of ways of identifying and finding out about the origins, maker or designer, date of manufacture and rarity of your china. Anyone can learn how to discern antique china, armed with a few facts and a sharp eye.

Collect any information you have or stories you know about the pieces in question. If your grandfather brought the china from Portugal in 1920, for example, having that information will help you locate the maker and year. Make a list of each piece and write down all of the information you have about it.

A selection of marks

Examine each piece of china individually. Look for a maker's mark. Marks come in several varieties: stamped marks, impressed marks, handwritten marks, and paper or sticker marks. Stamped marks look like a stamp on the bottom of the piece, while impressed marks are cut into the pottery. Handwritten marks can be in any language, and might be words or just a symbol or logo. Paper and sticker marks are usually printed and have been fixed to the piece with glue or shellac.

A blue and white piece from China

Look for the country of origin. According to Marks4Antiques, "The Country of Origin of an antique porcelain piece of china was required to be shown next to or near the porcelain maker's mark on all imports to the U.S. since 1891 by Act of Congress (Tariff Act)." Therefore, if your piece has the country of origin on it, it was probably made after 1891. However, some stickers do fall off, so look for other clues to the origins of the piece, such as a maker's mark or an obvious period design.

A single chop mark on a teacup

Look for export marks. These are marks made on ceramics and pottery that was made in one country and shipped to another. For example, British china that was made in England and shipped to France, then resold to Germany, might have export marks from both Britain and France. Amelia of My Granny's Antiques writes, "There are several general rules for dating ceramic marks, attention to which will avoid several common errors." She continues, "Printed marks incorporating the Royal Arms are a 19th or 20th century date. Printed marks incorporating the name of the pattern are after 1810. Marks incorporating the word 'Limited,' or the abbreviations 'Ltd,' 'Ld,' etc., denote a date after 1861, and most examples are much later. Incorporation of the words 'Trade Mark' in a mark denotes a date subsequent to the Act of 1862." In addition, "Items made in Japan between 1945 and 1953 were required by law to be marked 'Made in Occupied Japan.' Most European antique and vintage china and porcelain pieces are well marked as to manufacturer whereas U.S. makers were hit and miss on marking their pieces."

Make a note of any unusual markings and photograph the marks you find on the bottom of your china. You can use the photos later to match the markings there with the ones provided on some of the sites listed below (Resources) to definitively establish the maker and approximate year of make.

Use reference websites listed (see Resources below) to identify the marks on your china, or use reference books on antique china to help identify the marks you found.

Things You'll Need:

  • China
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Camera
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