It’s All In the Marks: Identifying Ceramics and Glass

This plate is an example of a decorated blank, probably painted by a small studio or hobbyist after 1890.

To well-seasoned or novice collectors, determining a maker or origin of a piece can be very confusing if it is outside their normal area of interest. Any markings that can be found can often help unravel the mystery—if you know what the marks mean.

If you don’t, however, they can lead you well astray of the truth. In this series of Q&A articles, I’m going to answer the questions I hear most often regarding marks on antiques and provide a straight path off an often-twisted trail.

I have a plate I picked up at an estate sale. There was no information available about it other than it had been in the family for at least three generations. It is obviously hand-painted and is signed on the back “Anna 1912.” It also has a company stamp in green that reads “Limoges France.” I would like to know more about the artist who painted it and whatever else you can tell me about the plate.

A lot can be determined by markings. In the case of the green “Limoges France” mark, it’s what’s called a “White Ware mark.” What it means is that this plate was originally made as an undecorated “blank” and sold to other potteries or studios that would then decorate it for resale.

Limoges was a major center of production of such porcelain blanks during the last quarter of the 19th century, and these blanks were sold domestically and worldwide. This particular mark is a generic one.

The “Limoges France” mark identifies the location where the plate was decorated.

The country-of-origin mark, “France,” indicates this plate was made post-1890 to comply with trade tariff laws such as the McKinley Act of 1890. This act required any item made for export to the USA be marked with its country of origin. The American market being the largest one in the world at the time, European manufacturers very quickly moved on board.

Unfortunately there is not much I can tell you about the mark “Anna 1912.” What I can tell you is when marks like this are accompanied by “peint main” or “decor main” (French for “hand-painted” and “hand-decorated,” respectively), it can indicate the plate was decorated in France and the artist possibly employed by a decorating studio. When dated signature marks show up on their own, they often indicate the plate was decorated in a small studio by a hobbyist taking pottery-decorating courses. China decorating was a very popular hobby during the late 19th century. Unless there is some family history or documentation regarding the artist that came with the plate, the artist will forever remain unknown.

I don’t know if you can help me identify a maker for these dark-red candleholders or where they came from. They do not have any markings I can find. All I can tell you is my great grandfather brought them back from France after the First World War and they’ve been in the family ever since.

These candleholders, known as “lusters,” are an example of Victorian Bohemian glass.

Determining an individual maker is very difficult for glass of this type, as very little of it was marked, and if at all, such marks were in the form of etched markings or paper labels. I can provide a great deal of information as to their origins, though. Your candleholders are what’s called “lusters” and are examples of Victorian Bohemian glass. Bohemia was one of the most prolific glass-manufacturing centers for pieces like these and was once an independent nation, now part of the Czech Republic. Bohemian glassmakers were known for not only the quality of workmanship, but also the affordability of their products. Bohemian glass is typically hand-blown or molded and produced during the third quarter of the 19th century. Much of it has etched and cut designs with colorful enameling on the better pieces.

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

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