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Porcelain markings are distinctive symbols placed on a piece to indicate the country of origin, the manufacturer or artist, and a wealth of other information, depending on the mark. Some marks can also indicate who decorated a hand-painted piece, what the year was, or who imported and retailed the piece. Looking at marks will often indicate to an experienced eye whether the piece is really what it claims to be, a forgery, or a highly desirable imitation. Marks can be as simple as a name printed on the porcelain or as ornate as intricate pictures incorporating names, dates, or countries of origin.
Many manufacturers will use the same basic logo for all their work, then add different elements that will distinguish it from others. For example the Wade company, a porcelain manufacturer in Ireland, has a basic clover shape that can be found on the majority of its products. Early work features the clover and a letter in the center; this letter indicates the year in which the piece was made. Later porcelain markings keep the same clover, but embellish it with words or Celtic knotwork. Making changes to the markings such as these allow collectors to tell at a glance what era the piece is from while still retaining the decorative nature of the artwork.
The different elements of porcelain markings can contain a wealth of information. Certain markings may refer to a year, the place of origin, or the manufacturer, or mark the piece as a limited edition. In addition to manufacturers, some artists and designers would also have a personal mark to put on pieces he or she had designed.
The color of porcelain markings can also be a telltale sign of the age of the piece. Many markings were applied to the piece before it was fired and finished; this protected the artist by making it impossible to remove the mark without destroying the artwork. When the process of glazing and firing was first being developed, cobalt blue and iron red where the only colors that could be subjected to the rigors of firing while still keeping the distinctive color. Consequently, the earliest pieces will have markings that are only these colors.
In some cases, deceptive markings can indicate a highly prized piece. When porcelain manufacturers in Europe where developing their craft, some would use markings that included Oriental characters. Chinese and Japanese porcelain was considered top of the line, and some European manufacturers would try to take advantage of this by giving their marks a distinctly Oriental appearance. This practice has continued in other types of porcelain manufacturing, and it is not uncommon to see porcelain markings created with the intention of being similar to a higher quality type of product.
I've seen the appraisers on "Roadshow" look something over with a fine-toothed comb, hunting for marks.
I have a couple of little figurines and have looked them over for marks, but there are none. They’re just a shepherd boy and shepherd girl that face each other. They came as a set, I’m sure.
The figures belonged to my grandmother, so they're probably just decorative, but they are pretty and I like to have them on my mantel. I'm not really concerned about whether or not they've got marks. They belonged to Grandma and that makes them precious to me.
When the appraisers on the "Antiques Roadshow" appraise china, porcelain or anything like that, the first thing they do is turn it upside down and look for marks to see if they can find out anything about the maker or the year.
Sometimes the marks are clear and familiar and tell who made it and when. Sometimes, they just get the maker, but no year. Sometimes, the piece is completely unmarked and the appraiser has to make an educated guess about the piece's origin. Suffice it to say, the more genuine marks a piece has, the better. It's easier to appraise accurately.