How to Identify Stamping on European Antiques

Markings on the bottom of antiques allow you to determine the age and origin of European antiques.
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Many European antiques, including china and silver, have stamping on the bottom that identifies the maker and other information about the piece. Exported items often were marked in ways to identify not only the country of origin but the material used in the piece. When identifying a European antique, turn it over and study the back to find a wealth of information.

What Stamps Show

Stamped marks on the back of European antiques nearly always list the manufacturer. Other markings help you identify the age of the piece. Manufacturers often changed their mark from time to time, so knowing when manufacturers used which mark helps you date a piece. This helps determine if a piece is old, since many manufacturers have been in business well over 200 years. If a manufacturer used several manufacturing sites, stamps also can help identify the manufacturing plant. Some manufacturers also included the name of the pattern.

Types of Stamps

A manufacturer's stamp can be rather cryptic. Manufacturers may have identified the year of manufacture with a letter of the alphabet or other designation rather than an actual date. Symbols portraying animals, plants or designs also were used to differentiate dates and countries of origin.

China Markings

European china markings that include the pattern generally date from after 1810, according to My Granny's Attic Antiques website. Pieces marked with the words "Trade Mark" date from 1862, when manufacturers were required to add the words. After 1891, manufacturers had to include the country of origin on all imports to the United States, so a piece marked with the name of a European country was made after that date. English pieces made after 1921 generally say "Made in England." Pieces identified as "English bone china" or simply "bone china" usually were made in the 20th century. Stamps in colors other than blue generally were produced after 1850; stamps containing the word "Limited" or abbreviations such as "Ltd" were made after 1861. Kitemarks, which contain different designations within a kite-like design, were used between 1842 to 1883.

Silver Markings

Silver makers stamp their pieces not only with marks denoting the maker and year the piece was made but also with a stamp ensuring the purity of the silver. Sterling silver is stamped with the image of a lion, which indicates that the piece contains 925 parts silver to 75 parts copper for every 1,000 parts sterling silver. Between the 16th and 19th century, Germany and nearby countries used a different weight and measurement, the Lothige or Loth, so numbers representing sterling may differ on these pieces. Silver also contained duty marks to show that the duty tax for export was paid. Great Britain designated the year of manufacture by letters from A to Z that also differed by font and size.