Identifying porcelain is more than just “reading” a mark. It involves careful consideration of many elements to confirm correct age and authenticity.
There are thousands of Porcelain marks and even experienced collectors and antiques dealers can have difficulty in determining whether an item is new, and avoid costly mistakes.
There has been a huge influx of porcelain items recently – mostly figurines and other decorative porcelain objects. Many are high quality and may be better for decorative purposes, but they are not antique. The vast majority of these products come from China, or Asia generally. Some have stickers or labels and many are marked with what appear to be older European or American marks and do not carry a country of origin mark. However, many of the new marks are so similar to authentic antique marks that distinguishing them requires a more detailed look.
Luckily, there are some additional ways to recognize most forged or imitation porcelain marks. Here are some tips:
• Examine the mark around the edges using a magnifying lens. If the mark appears too perfect and applied using an industrial machine, then the mark probably is recent. Most items made prior to 1950 had their marks applied by hand, so these stamps would wear out over time, or the firmness with which they were applied varied from worker to worker. Older porcelain marks are not as clear or sharp at the edges.
• Recent porcelain marks are close imitations of older authentic marks used by Meissen, Sevres, Chantilly, English Staffordshire Potteries (usually Coats of Arms or Crests), Gardner, etc… They almost always differ in one or two minor details from the old marks, such as the endings do not curl the same or have symbols that are obscure or out of scale. Although some older authentic antique marks were applied in free-hand style using an artist’s thin brush, the difference is still apparent once you have seen several examples of the original mark.
• Modern imitation porcelain marks often intentionally misspell words, such as “SEVRE” instead of “SEVRES” or “STAFORDSHIRE” instead of “STAFFORDHIRE.” Compare the name you read with the authentic one by running a quick search on Google or eBay.
• Typically, newer porcelain marks are larger than the originals. Older porcelain marks rarely exceed 1 – 1.5 inches.
• Because “china” also refers to dinnerware (as in “chinaware”), many newer porcelain marks include the word CHINA in the mark. For example, “IRONSTONE CHINA” helps to comply with the country of origin laws but also confuses a collector in thinking that this is part of the original company name. Many marks of older potteries included the word CHINA as part of their trademark.
• The universal symbol for “copyright” usually is the letter C enclosed in a circle. This did not exist before the 20th century. If a mark looks similar to an older or antique porcelain mark and also has this copyright symbol, it is a new imitation mark.
• Although there were a handful of companies that used the words VICTORIA” or “VICTORIAN” within their logo or as a name of a pattern, the words often are used in newer, imitation porcelain marks.
• Items made for export to the U.S. after 1891 must declare the country of origin. Older items usually include the country of origin as part of their overall trademark, or the name of the country – “Germany” or “England”, “France” etc.. – appears near the actual maker’s porcelain mark. Many recent Asian imports bypass this legal requirement by using a sticker or label, which is often removed or lost.
• Most antique porcelain shows tiny cracks in the glaze called “crazing,” especially on Earthenware or old glazed Chinaware that has been used extensively. New pieces exhibit similar crazing, but the lines appear very bright and white, indicating artificial stress during firing to create this effect.
Other reliable signs of age include:
1. Older molds tend to be “tighter” with almost no seams,
2. The “blow hole,” or the tiny opening that allows air to escape from within a piece while in the kiln usually is rough and hand-pierced on antique pieces.
3. The base or foot rim of older pieces show wear and tear, feel somewhat rough to the touch or are slightly discolored.
4. Older pieces used softer, gentler colors and are not too bright. Newer pieces tend to be very “intense.”
5. The “whiteness” of older porcelain is even and bright. Recent pieces tend to appear slightly gray or bluish.
Alex and Elizabeth are WorthPoint Worthologists.