Japan has a long and renowned history as a producer of fine pottery ranging from simple earthenware dishes to ornately-painted porcelain vases and urns. Antique Japanese pottery has attracted a large following of collectors who are drawn to the pieces' subtle combination of form and function. Although Japanese pottery represents a tradition spanning hundreds of miles and thousands of years, identifying Japanese pottery is not difficult, if you know how and where to look.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Check the piece of pottery for a "country of origin" mark. Japanese pottery imported to the United States is stamped "Japan," or "Nippon," if the piece was made between 1890 and 1921. The country of origin mark is usually stamped on the bottom of the piece, although it can be stamped on the insides of pots, or the undersides of lids. If the piece was made before 1890, or was not intended for the U.S. market, it may not bear a country of origin mark. The country of origin mark can therefore be used for inclusion, but not for exclusion.
Find the makers' mark. The maker's mark, which is usually also located on the bottom of the piece, will tell you the exact maker or manufacturing house that created the piece of pottery. There are several online directories with thorough listings of Japanese makers which you can reference. Two of the best are waiapo.com and gbouvier.com.
Consult a style guide if the piece bears no maker's mark, or if it has a mark you can't identify. Unfortunately, definitively identifying a piece of Japanese pottery based solely on its style characteristics is rarely possible, but you can still determine the period and region in which it was made. The book "The Japanese Pottery Handbook" is an excellent reference for stylistic comparisons.
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