How to Identify Marks on Vases

ancient Greek ornamented vessel image by Denis Topal from

On November 11th, 2010, a British auction house sold a Chinese vase for over £53 million. As the Daily Mail reports, the owners, with no idea of the item's worth, insured it for just over £780 and kept it in storage on a shaky bookshelf. Although a number of conditions affected the record sale of the vase, perhaps the most important condition was the vase's history. The "mark" on the bottom of a vase indicates the year (or period) and region it originated from, as well as the potter or sculptor who created it.

Identify the style of the vase. Often the style --- including any symbols, decorations and the overall shape --- help determine where the vase originated, which makes it easier to interpret its mark. Additionally, use the apparent age, the colours and the thickness of the clay to identify the vase.

Determine if the mark was handwritten or stamped. Handwritten marks often contain signatures. Stamped marks on Chinese and European vases did not appear until the 18th and 19th centuries, respectively.

Check the mark collections on My Granny's and Antique for European vases. Kite-shaped marks date between 1842 and 1883 and sequential number marks designate vases beyond 1883, according to Antique Marks. The McKinley Tariff Act of America required that all goods imported to the United States after 1891 must name the country of origin within the mark.

Research for Japanese or Chinese pieces. Check the mark against their extensive collection of Asian vase marks. Many Chinese and Japanese marks identify the ruler during the time of the vase's construction. However, some potters marked their vases with Japanese symbols meaning "Japan," "happiness" or "good luck" from the 19th century to the present, according to Gotheborg. Additionally, Chinese modern marks tend toward red, while older marks tend toward blue.

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