Whether you're trying to determine the origin of a tag-sale find or assess an inherited set of china for insurance coverage, knowing how to decode the makers' marks on the bottoms of china is invaluable. Bavaria in Germany was a prolific source of fine china for both the European and American markets from late in the 19th century on. Some companies resumed production after World War II, but the bulk of Bavarian china is now available as collectibles or antiques. Follow the steps below to identify a Bavarian china crest.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Pencil and paper
- Resources for identification marks (books, online collections, antique dealer, museum)
Look on the bottom of your china piece for identifying marks. Most large companies marked their work clearly, as a point of pride. Smaller companies were less careful. Often you will find the word "Bavaria" or "Bayerische" printed on your piece. From early in the 20th century, countries importing wares to the U.S. were required to print the name of the country of origin in English on all their wares. "Bavaria" is your first clue--your china piece was made in Bavaria for the American import market. "Bayerishe" is "Bavarian" in German. Your china piece was made in the 19th century or made for European use.
Use your pencil and paper to copy the other marks you see on the piece--all markings are part of the crest. Your copying does not have to be artistic, just accurate. You will use this record when you consult reference books or specialists--much safer than carrying a saucer in your pocketbook.
Look for the most common identifiers of Bavarian china as you examine your piece. These may include a manufacturer's name or initials. The most common identifier is a three-lobed crown with a small cross on the top. Companies used the crown while Bavaria was still a kingdom (before the first World War) and afterward, when Germany was still an imperial confederation of states. You may also see other marks, such as a laurel wreath or a flower. You may even see the stamps of more than one china company. Bavarian china makers were renowned for their hand-painting prowess--even the French company, Limoge, sent china to be painted in Bavaria.
Take your set of marks online or to the library. Look at dictionaries and catalogues of china markings (this search can take a while, and you may emerge with a definite "maybe" or a list of several possibilities). Look, if possible, at reference books that include sample pattern pieces along with marks--you may find a match.
Take your marks to a reputable antique dealer who specialises in china. (At this point, you may want to put a saucer in your pocketbook, but be sure you obtain a receipt for any item you leave for research.) If you want an assessment of value, be prepared to pay a fee for the service and obtain your assessment in writing.
Find a museum with a curator who specialises in china if you are fairly certain your piece is antique. Thanks to fax machines, you can send photographs of your piece along with the markings. Offer any clues you have assembled along the way--you know your grandmother received this as a wedding gift, for example--colours, gold on the rim, companion pieces.