Identifying the manufacturer and discovering the age of a piece of pottery is not always a simple matter, even for the expert.  Marks can help, but they can be faked, or you may find that they are totally absent.


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Decorative Arts > Ceramics > Identifying China

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Identifying China


 Sometimes the shape of a piece of pottery can give valuable clues to its age and its purpose

 Identifying the manufacturer and discovering the age of a piece of pottery is not always a simple matter, even for the expert.  Marks can help, but they can be faked, or you may find that they are totally absent.

 A professional examining a piece will take in its body, what it is made of, the glaze, the style and quality of decoration and the overall look and feel of it, as well as whatever information can be gleaned from the marks, before passing judgement.

 Shape is one among many factors. In some pieces it tells very little.  Plates, for example, have their shape dictated by their function, and have changed little over the centuries. 

 The same is not so true of hollow ware cups, jugs, teapots and so on - which offers far more scope for variation.


 The shape of a piece of hollow ware will tell you a great deal about what it was originally intended for, perhaps something about the factory, or at least the country, of origin, and a little about the date.

 The problem with dating pottery by its shape is that although new types and forms of pottery are continually being introduced, very few of them are completely discontinued.

 Copies and reproductions of older wares are the stock in trade of many firms. As a result, all that you can say about a teapot with a 'Regency' shape is that it could not have been made much before 1800, though it may well have been created at more or less any time since.

 When hot beverages such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate first became popular in the 17th century, they were usually drunk from silver cups. Only in the 18th century did genteel society gradually discover the particular affinity between tea and porcelain.

Wedgwood tea cup and saucer

Wedgwood tea cup
and saucer

 At first, they used cups and pots imported from China, then switched to the cheaper, hard-paste porcelain versions produced in European factories such as Meissen and to the Soft-paste wares made in Britain.

The Meissen Collectors' Catalogue by Laurence Mitchell, Antique Collectors' Club; Hardcover

 Fatly cups either had no handles, in the Chinese style, or they had two.  The single handle came into fashion only in the middle of the 18th century.  The shape of the handles themselves provides a guide to the factory where the cup was made as well as a clue to the date.

 In the 18th century, cups were usually sold as part of a trio, consisting of a coffee cup, a tea cup and a saucer for use with both.

 Coffee cups were generally taller and narrower than tea cups. Straight-sided coffee cups, or cans, were particularly popular in the first 20 years of the 19th century.

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 In the case of jugs, shape is not really a useful guide to their date, but may tell you something about the use to which they were originally put.

 Lidded jugs, for instance, were usually intended for hot milk, while those with short, sharply-pointed lips known as sparrow-beaks - for pouring were made to contain thicker liquids, such as cream.

 Earthenware or stoneware harvest jugs, with swelling bodies and narrow necks, were taken out to thirsty haymakers in the fields, usually filled to the brim with ale, cider or some other farm brewed beverage.

 In the 19th century, jugs were often sold in sets of three or more in different sizes.

 Pottery teapots were first made in Britain in the early 18th century, although Chinese stoneware examples were imported before then.

 The majority of tea and coffee was still brewed in silver pots, though, and silver designs, with fluted bodies and elaborately-wrought handles, were used for china and earthenware pots.

 The earliest teapots tended to be globular, with short, straight spouts, and came complete with a stand. They were small, as tea was such a luxury drink.

 Later on in the century, influenced by silver designs, melon shaped and octagonal pots came into vogue.

 In the 19th century, standard pots were round or oval with a raised base or feet. Large 18th-century pots, about 23cmI9in in diameter, that look like giant teapots, were in fact used for serving hot punch.

 Read articles and references: Good standards are Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (Susan and Al Bagdade), and Marks & Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).


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Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (3rd Ed)
by Al Bagdade


Marks & Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain
by Wm. Chaffers


The Arcanum: The Extraordinary True Story
by Janet Gleeson