Porcelain marks are the "fingerprints of antique china," according to the Antique China, Porcelain & Collectibles website. And one of the most desirable types of antique china is Bavarian china, which has been made for more than 300 years by various companies in Bavaria, a southern province of Germany. It typically has identifying marks on the underside of the pieces, but figuring out what these marks mean can take a lot of research.
What is Bavarian China?
Bavarian china is made of high-grade porcelain and is very resilient, even though it may appear delicate and fragile. It was first produced in the 1700s, under the auspices of the royal family of Bavaria, which is why it is also known as "Royal Bavarian china" and often has a crown incorporated into its mark. Bavarian china is still produced today by a handful of companies, the best known of which is Royal Bayruth, the oldest privately owned Bavarian china firm, founded in 1794 and located in the Thuringian Hills. Because of the broad range of years in which Bavarian China was produced, and the various manufacturers, proper identification can be key to ascertaining value.
Research the Web
A number of websites, including My Granny's Attic (see Resources), have comprehensive listings of various porcelain, china and pottery marks, complete with descriptions and even photographs. My Granny's Attic has solid histories and pictures of markings used by such leading Bavarian china producers as Alboth and Kaiser, Royal Duchess, Bavaria Winterling and others.
Check eBay for Similar Pieces
One of the best ways to learn about Bavarian china markings is by scanning eBay. The online auction site typically has more than 100 listings for "Bavarian china" at any given time, most of them with photos, and if you spend a few hours every week scanning the listings, looking closely at the photos and reading the descriptions, you can learn a lot.
Hit the Books
A number of good books are available with photos and descriptions of porcelain, china and pottery marks from around the world. One of the best is "Pictorial Guide to Pottery & Porcelain Marks" by Chad Lage, published in 2003 by Collector Books. The heavy, 416-page guide has photographs of marks next to the actual pieces to aid in identification; listings are arranged alphabetically by company. All told, the guide has more than 7,500 photos of some 4,000 marks.
Kovel's also has two volumes of porcelain, china and pottery marks: "Dictionary of Marks, Pottery & Porcelain, 1650 to 1850" and "Dictionary of Marks, Pottery & Porcelain, 1850 to the Present," both written by Ralph and Terry Kovel and published by Crown Publishers.
Thomas K. Arnold is publisher and editorial director of "Home Media Magazine" and a regular contributor to "Variety." He is a former editorial writer for U-T San Diego. He also has written for "San Diego Magazine," "USA Today" and the Copley News Service. Arnold attended San Diego State University.