Porcelain identification markings are manufacturers' ways of showcasing that particular vessels were made or decorated in their workshops. Mass-manufactured porcelain--such as it is sold today--usually simply designates a company logo and the country of origin. In the past, when most porcelain was still made and painted by hand, the markings indicated the artists in charge of the process and the special line of vessels to which a particular dish or cup belonged.
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Historic makers of porcelain saw identification markings as a personal signature, connecting their names and reputations to the finished wares. Such products included tea sets, dinnerware and also decorative porcelain figurines. This led to a great deal of pride in workmanship and also very high quality standards. Master porcelain makers in China, Germany, Sweden and England would not affix their seals, signatures or crests to any vessels they deemed substandard.
Markings also differentiate the manufacturer of a particular piece of porcelain and the company or artist who decorated it. Manufacturers usually placed their mark underneath the glaze to ensure that it would be clearly visible in the finished product. Decorating artists, by necessity, placed theirs on top of the glaze to credit their work. One such example is Haviland china, which carries a "Haviland France" notation underneath the glaze to indicate that its location of origin are the porcelain works in that part of France. When a "Limoges" notation is added to the top of the glaze, it denotes the identity of the decorator. The Antique China Porcelain Collectibles site (a link is provided in the Resources section) features a large number of porcelain identification markings that introduce the hobbyist to the fine points of the individual signs and symbols.
Porcelain identification markings help collectors differentiate original lines of collectable porcelain from imitations and mass-produced wares using similar techniques. Moreover, they denote the age of a particular piece of porcelain as well as the country and even city of its original manufacture. One example is Meissen porcelain, which was the rage in Europe between 1710 and 1756. The company used a number of different porcelain identification markings until 1731, and collectors keep a close eye out for those rare pre-1731 pieces.
Porcelain identification markings are frequently imitated in an attempt to pass off cheap forgeries as highly desirable and costly products. Virtually any famous porcelain maker has to contend with forgers, and private collectors as well as museums employ highly trained appraisers who authenticate the most expensive pieces. Novices may learn about some of the most obvious recorded imitators and also markings forgers from The Potteries site (a link is posted in the Resources section).
Collecting antique porcelain, becoming an appraiser and working with museums to discern authentic from forged identification markings, and turning this field into a personal passion are easily attainable with the right education and set of skills. The Smithsonian (a link is listed in the Resources section) maintains an updated bibliography of works it considers foremost in this field. Hobbyists, who are not sure if they want to turn their interest into a profession, will do well to read these works and then decide whether or not to pursue a formal training course to teach others about porcelain identification markings.
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