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Home > News, Articles & Multimedia > Blog Entry > It’s All in the Marks: ‘Country of Origin’ Marks help Date Pottery & Porcelain

It’s All in the Marks: ‘Country of Origin’ Marks help Date Pottery & Porcelain

by Mike Wilcox (05/15/12).

A "Made in Germany" mark.

One of the easiest ways of determining the origins of pottery and porcelain is finding a country of origin marking, such as “Italy,” “Germany,” “France” or “England,” but what many don’t know is that such a marking can indicate a maximum age for such an item. The reasons these markings came into existence were market-share and trade tariff laws that came about with the increase in international trade.

One of the earlier marks was instituted by Great Britain in 1887 to protect British producers from cheaper goods imported from Germany. It was called the “Merchandise Act,” which required German imports to be marked “Made In Germany,” the idea being that British consumers would choose to buy domestic goods over German imports if given the choice. As German goods were considered to be high quality by the majority of the British public, the Merchandise Act had the exact opposite effect than politicians had expected.

[Click here for information about WorthPoint’s Marks and Digital Library website.]

The international trade law that had the biggest impact on world trade was the American Tariff Act of 1890, better known as the McKinley Tariff. The act was the brainchild of Congressman William McKinley, who proposed this tariff that went into effect Oct. 1, 1890. McKinley went on to become the 25th President of the United States in 1897. During this period, the United States was the largest-growing market in the world, which meant that it was a destination for the products of every other exporting nation on the globe. The rational for the McKinley Act was to block cheap imports into the American market and allow domestic producers an opportunity to grow and compete. This act raised the tariffs on imported goods by almost 50 percent, but even this did not deter foreign producers, who all realized the American market was expanding with no end in sight.

The part of the McKinley Act that concerns us as appraisers, collectors and dealers is the stipulation that items that were being imported into the U.S. had to bear a country of origin marking (e.g.; “Germany”). The U.S. being the huge market that it was, most foreign companies with trade ties to North American were very quick to comply. Most pottery and porcelain created after 1891 carried country of origin marks. But this also works the other way, as most pottery and porcelain without a country of origin mark are likely to predate 1891.

A "Made in England" mark.

This “Staffordshire” mark predates the McKinley Tariff, and was used to associate with quality products made in that area.

As with all things, there are no absolutes and there are some exceptions to this date of 1891, as some pottery and porcelain did have markings that gave some indication of their origin before this date, generally listing a city or district, e.g. “Staffordshire” as an association to quality known for products made in that area.

One such exception is in the case of Japan, which tried to comply with the McKinley act by marking items “Nippon,” a loose translation of the Japanese script characters for what we would translate as the “Land of the Rising Sun.” In 1921, changes to the American Tariff Act stipulated that Japan would have to use the westernized name for the country of origin mark, “Japan.” In this case, the Act helps us all again in regards to Japanese pottery and porcelain. A marking of “Nippon” gives us a loose date of production from 1891-1921, and “Japan” at 1921 or later.

A "Nippon" mark.

A "Made in Japan" mark.

Czechoslovakia was created in 1918. This has to be taken into consideration when applying the rule about when it might have been made.

Another exception would be countries that came into being after 1891. In such cases, one has to crack the history books, as Europe went through great changes after the First and Second World Wars as the Continent was divided up, forming new alliances and rebonding of old ones. Some that come to mind are Czechoslovakia (created in 1918), West Germany (1949), East Germany (1949) and the Soviet Union/СССР/USSR (1922). Anything made and marked as coming from these countries (and others) would not predate the countries founding dates.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.


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6 Responses to “It’s All in the Marks: ‘Country of Origin’ Marks help Date Pottery & Porcelain”

  1. Janet Marcus says:

    Thanks for a very informative article, one of the most comprehensive I have seen. As a large percentage of my inventory is ceramic, I find myself giving this lecture frequently. Not only am I going to share it with your permission I would like to print out multiple copies to hand out in the shop.

  2. Tom Carrier Tom Carrier says:


    As always, an important lesson in determining the age of certain pottery and porcelain.

    In my particular area of expertise, presidential memorabilia, the seal of the president wasn’t officially introduced until 1945. Earlier versions were never codified.

    In the 1945 design, an American eagle with a shield and starts an a rainbow of stars over its head (the crest) was surrounded by 48 stars in a circle. Harry Truman insisted that each of the states be represented instead of the original design that included 13 stars (one for each of the original colonies).

    However, by 1960, there were 50 states and the executive order creating the official presidential seal demanded that any additional states would be represented in the circle of stars.

    Therefore, presidential glassware, as well as the official flag, is another example where dating it depends on external clues, in this case the number of stars in a circle; 48 for the years 1945 through 1960 and 50 stars since then.

    Tom Carrier

  3. Arthur Puffett says:

    Wedgwood, since its inception in the 1760′s, marked their wares WEDGWOOD, and to conform they added ENGLAND from 1891, but changed his to MADE IN ENGLAND from 1908-10. Dating Wedgwood prior to 1891 becomes a little more complicated!

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Wedgwood used the “Made In England” marking as early as 1898, but it was not in general use until circa 1908. It was used on bone china as early as 1900.

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