Identifying Marks on Antique China

Updated February 21, 2017

China is a term used in the pottery and ceramics world to identify high-quality porcelain originally made only in China. Antique china includes all porcelain ware 100 years of age or older. Maker's marks can reveal the country or origin, the name of the company, the region, town or event the exact factory the work was created in, a year and sometimes a potter's name. Prior to 1770, many potters did not place identifying marks on their work.

Locating the Mark

Maker's marks are usually found on the bottom of the china in the form of a stamped, glaze-written or impressed mark. These stamps are fired into the final glaze or decorative finish. Generally, the identifying mark is of a colour different from the glaze--that is, a green, blue, red or brown mark on a white finish. Some stamps may be a paper or sticker export mark attached to the bottom of the piece that may reveal the country of export or import and a date. Turn the china over to locate the mark. Some marks may be faint or may be found elsewhere on the piece. Check the edges of the base, especially rolled edges for markings. Use good lighting and a magnifying glass for best viewing.

Reading the Mark

Ceramics businesses and single potters used a variety of ways to mark their pots and reveal information about the pottery. Some included dates, location and actual names or initials of the potter; others chose symbols to represent them and many of them used more than one mark or changed their marks over time. The use of a maker's mark encyclopedia, book or website will help discern many of these stamps and inform the viewer of other information that may be missing from the stamp--time frame, artist's name, and city or town where the pot was made. The encyclopedias and books do not generally focus on all maker's marks but focus on the marks of a single country, a time frame and different styles of pottery. "Lehner's Encyclopedia of U.S. Marks on Pottery, Porcelain and Clay" and "The Dictionary of World Pottery and Porcelain" by Louise Boger are excellent places to search for further information.

No Mark Found

There are times when an identifying mark is not found on a piece of china. That does not mean the piece cannot be identified or at least placed into a time line. The manner and theme of decoration, the glazes or slips used, the way the clay has been formed--all these speak about the origins of the china. Seeking the response of an expert may be required to identify the piece. Antiques dealers, appraisers, collectors, and even modern pottery and clay artists may be able to assist. Take photos of the pieces, and carry them when visiting collectibles stores, shows or events. Someone there may be able to identify the antique china.

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About the Author

Alex Burke holds a degree in environmental design and a Master of Arts in information management. She's worked as a licensed interior designer, artist, database administrator and nightclub manager. A perpetual student, Burke writes Web content on a variety of topics, including art, interior design, database design, culture, health and business.