Obviously, we all know the difference between Royal Doulton and Melamine but the characteristics of fine china markings go well beyond what we learnt in Bridal Registry 101. The trademark on the bottom of your dinnerware can tell you a lot. It reveals how old the piece is, where it hails from and who created it. This information can tell you the value of the fine china.
Trademarks Tell All
The marking on the bottom of your china tells you who made your china. That is an extremely useful piece of information because it distinguishes truly valuable sets from replicas. Fine china and porcelain markings are an advertisement for the firms that made them as well as a signature of their quality and reputation. Most people are familiar with firms like Wedgwood, Haviland, and Lenox. But there are a lot more such firms and some of their china is extremely valuable. For example, the right Limoges trademark can fetch five figures or more in auction. This component of a fine china trademark is often all that a collector needs to take interest in a piece.
Historically, china was marked to indicate the artist who created the design, the "edition" of the design and the material it was made of. In ancient times, the mark of a master was on an original piece of fine china. This trademark also appeared on all subsequent china of the same type that the artist supervised but did not create on his own. Sets that weren't supervised or created by the master potter's hand were called an edition. The edition has more to do the number of sets made, as well as the location and the time period in which they were produced. A limited edition is obviously worth more than one that was mass produced for general sale.
Fine china trademarks also allow the people to find replacement or additional pieces, making the reorder process easier. No matter how careful you are with your "good" dishes, someone will inevitably break a piece. However, the trademarks on your fine china will allow you to find replacements of even the patterns that have been discontinued. The more information your markings contain, the easier it is to identify and match the replacement. Like anything else that evolves into a collectable or antique, discontinued china can be much more expensive than the price of a set still in use.