Antique china marks
a comparison

  • Chinese china marks
  • European china marks
  • Japanese china marks

What marks are good for... or what they can NOT do for you

Chinese china marks
  • Antique china 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 maker's marks did exist in ancient China.
  • Antique marks on Chinese ceramics only rarely tell you WHEN an item was made.  An exception are marks bearing a date of the cyclic 60-year calendar, but these were few. 'Dated porcelain', also with the above 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 only 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 for export porcelain. Export porcelain with Kangxi and Qianlong reign marks were mainly made during the late Qing dynasty (Guangxu reign) and the early republic.

    Simply said, the large majority of Chinese marks do not allow dating ceramics based on the mark.

Before the late Qing dynasty and early republic period marks on antique china from the Middle Kingdom had basically no manufacturer's marks.
And, there was a multitude of different mark types used by private kilns, all with different purpose or content. Sometimes items from the same kilns and period have different marks.

Only towards the end of the empire and during the republic period appeared increasingly more manufacturers', studio and factory marks on Chinese porcelain.

Please be 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.

Chinese marks

More on Antiques' Marks

European china marks

  • Antique china marks on European porcelain may tell you WHO the manufacturer was.
  • In some instances they also may indicate the approximate year or period such an item was manufactured.

The antique china marks from Europe were 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 much easier to identify the origin of an item together – based on its mark alone.

An European mark 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).

European pottery marks

Japanese china marks

Basically, there are four types of marks in existence.

  • Antique china marks that copied Chinese marks.
  • Marks found on items made in China for export to Japan. Some items that were destined for export to Japan have specific marks for the Japanese market; these were later also used on items made in Japan.
  • Kiln marks, shop marks, artisan's marks
  • Company marks, introduced after industrialization, in the 19th century

Basically, 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 Chinese export porcelain destined for Japan. The names used in the marks remained the same over the centuries and were later also used on items made in Japan. 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 manufacturer or approximate time an item was actually produced.

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Selection of Chinese marks

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Introduction to Chinese Porcelain