What marks are good for... or what they can NOT do for you
Chinese china marks
marks on Chinese objects can NOT tell you who the manufacturer of an
item is. Exceptions: the occasional shop
or hall mark may indirectly indicate who made or ordered an item, but
generally said, almost no factory and few other maker's marks did exist in ancient China before the 20th century.
on Chinese ceramics only rarely tell you WHEN an item was made. An
exception are marks bearing a date of the cyclical 60-year calendar, but
these were very few. 'Dated porcelain' with the above mentioned cyclical calendar year became only
popular in the second half of the 19th century.
'Reign' and 'dynasty' marks do theoretically indicate the period during which an item was made, but in reality,
ceramics frequently were made with reign marks of earlier reigns, for various
reasons. Thus, reign marks also cannot be relied on for dating. More
often than not they are not of the period.
The above is
especially true with export porcelain. Export porcelain showing Kangxi and
Qianlong reign marks (four character marks) were mainly made during the late Qing dynasty, namely the Guangxu reign, and the early republic.
Simply said, the large majority of Chinese marks do not
allow the dating of ceramics based on the mark.
Before the late Qing dynasty and early republic period porcelain from the Middle Kingdom
had basically no factory and few manufacturer's marks. (These are not kiln marks.)
However, there was a multitude of
different mark types in use by private kilns, different either in style
or content. Sometimes even items from the same kiln and period may have
Only towards the end of the empire (1911) and during the
republic period appeared increasingly more manufacturers', studio and
factory marks on Chinese ceramics.
aware that even today Chinese porcelain is often made with old marks,
sometimes even handwritten. Many items do not have any marks at all. And... the original maker cannot be identified by antique china marks, marked or not. In this view Chinese porcelain is different from European and later Japanese porcelain.
Antique china marks on European porcelain may
tell you WHO the manufacturer is.
instances they also may indicate the approximate
year or period such an item was manufactured.
Antique china marks from Europe are basically all of a similar type,
that is, they are a kind of logo, showing which factory made a specific item. This, and the fact that in
the whole of Europe there were much fewer china manufacturers at any
one time than in China, makes it generally much easier to identify the origin of
an item together – based on its mark alone.
European marks may be used to identify the actual manufacturer, and
possibly also the year or period it was made in; this is often indicated
by mark features that were modified over time. As the changes that the
marks of individual manufacturers went through over time is known, they
can be used for dating. There do exist records of such changes, allowing
collectors to decide
the period or span of years during which an item was produced (except
if it is a fake).
Basically, four types of marks are found on Japanese porcelain.
Japanese porcelain may have marks that copied Chinese marks.
appearing on Japanese porcelain are the same as those used on Chinese porcelain, that was made In China and marked specifically for the Japanese market, in the distant past.
shop marks, artisan's marks
introduced after industrialization, in the 19th century
many Japanese marks appear either similar to the Chinese or
European marks. Usually, the earlier ones would rather resemble Chinese
marks, but logo style marks as those used in Europe came into common use early
in the 20th century, or a bit earlier. All the
while handwritten shop and artisan's marks continued to exist in
parallel to these modern marks (and some are still used to the present).
Many early antique china marks on Japanese porcelain were
actually copies of Chinese marks; especially some Ming dynasty marks
are frequently found. Japan
imported porcelain from China already more than 400 years ago, in the
Ming dynasty. Some Japanese porcelain items thus imported had specific
marks with names unrelated to the manufacturer or, which identify the
type of this porcelain. The marks do only appear on later Japanese porcelain, and on Chinese export
porcelain destined for Japan. The content of those marks
remained the same over the centuries. An item with such a name mark usually means that it
either is an old Chinese item made for the Japanese market, or that it
was made in Japan itself, most likely in the 19th century or later.
The number of kilns in
existence, in Japan, was always small compared to China. Many of their
products have the kiln name as a mark. In some cases the products have
a shop name (which usually was associated with a specific kiln), or an
artisan's name. This may make it easier to identify the specific manufacturer or
approximate time an item was actually produced.