Antique China Marks
a comparison

China marks from different origins


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

Chinese porcelain marks

  • Marks on antique porcelain of Chinese origin usually do 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.

  • Antique marks on Chinese ceramic items will only seldom tell you WHEN an item was actually made. Thus, exact dating within a few years or a decade is usually impossible. An exception are marks bearing a date of the cyclical 60-year calendar (sexagenary calendar), but these are very few, and are not found on export porcelain at all. 'Dated porcelain' using the above mentioned cyclical calendar year became only more frequent in the second half of the 19th century, although on occasion it is found on earlier porcelain.

  • 'Reign' and 'dynasty' marks do theoretically indicate the period by using an emperor's reign name, during which an item purportedly was made, but in reality, ceramics frequently were made with reign marks using the name of an earlier reign, for various reasons. Thus, reign marks also cannot be relied on for dating. More often than not such marks are not of the period.

  • The above mentioned is also true for export porcelain. Export porcelain showing Kangxi and Qianlong reign marks (mostly four character marks) were mainly used during the late Qing dynasty. The four character marks mentioning the Kangxi reign were frequently used in the Guangxu reign, while those with the Qianlong four character marks are usually found in the late Guangxu and the early republic (early 20th century), respectively.

  • Two other mark types found on items from the late Ming to the Qing dynasty are auspicious and pictorial marks. The former contain often four characters which express an auspicious meaning in Chinese culture. The pictorial marks are pictures or designs of various abstract or real items, like censers, etc., but also those of animals, plants, etc. (e.g. hares, fish, leaves, egrets).

Simply said, the large majority of Chinese marks do not allow the dating of ceramics based on the mark alone. One often needs to know in what period these have been used or popular. 

Before the late Qing dynasty and early republic period the porcelain marks from the Middle Kingdom did include virtually no factory marks or names, and manufacturer's marks were limited on workshop names, etc. (There are virtually no marks naming the kiln.)

However, at times multiple mark types were used simultaneously by private kilns, which could differed either in the type of the mark or its content. Sometimes even marks on items from the same kiln and period were different.
Only towards the end of the empire (1911) and during the republic period appeared increasingly more manufacturers', studio and factory marks on Chinese ceramics.

Please be aware that even today Chinese porcelain is often made with old period marks, sometimes even handwritten.
Especially Qianlong reign marks are found frequently on items that were made during the 20th century. 
Again, many items do not have marks at all. And... the original maker cannot be identified via marks, in general. In this regard Chinese porcelain is differs from European and later Japanese porcelain marks.

Antique Chinese Marks

More on Chinese Pottery Marks

European porcelain marks

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

Antique porcelain 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 porcelain  manufacturers at any one time than in China, makes it generally much easier to identify the origin of an item, even based on its mark alone.

European porcelain marks can be used to identify the actual manufacturer and often also the year an item was made; this is often indicated by certain mark features that were modified over time. As the changes that the marks of individual manufacturers went through 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 porcelain marks

Basically, four types of marks are found on Japanese porcelain.

  • Japanese porcelain may have marks that copied Chinese marks.
  • Some marks appearing on Japanese porcelain are the same as those used on Chinese porcelain made In China, that was then marked specifically for the Japanese market, in the not so distant past.
  • Kiln marks, shop marks, artisan's marks
  • Company and workshop marks, introduced after industrialization, in the 19th century

Basically, many Japanese porcelain marks resemble either 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 even  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 as early as 400 years ago, in the Ming dynasty. Some Japanese porcelain items thus imported had marks with names specifically made for the domestic market in Japan, respectively for export from China to Japan.
    Such marks do only appear on later Japanese porcelain, however, and also 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 is either an old Chinese item made for the Japanese market, or that it was at a later time made in Japan itself, likely in the 19th century and afterwards.

  • The number of kilns in existence in Japan, was always much smaller than those in China. Many of the Japanese products have the kiln name in the  mark while Chinese ones never do.
    In some cases 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.

» » Antique marks comparison » Pottery marks (an overview)

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