The enormously varied products of the Noritake factory, made exclusively for export, represent Japan's main contribution to the manufacture of
20th-century porcelain and are sought out by collectors all over the world.
The great appeal of Noritake china lies in its extraordinary diversity of shapes and styles - the great majority based on European, rather than on oriental, models - and in the rich decorative effect of its bright enamel colours and lavish gilding. It was made mainly for export, and sold by mail order as well as in department stores and other shops around the world.
The first great flowering of the Japanese porcelain industry was in the 17th and 18th centuries around the town of Arita, where polychrome painted wares in the Kakiemon and Imari styles were made. After this, Japanese porcelain went into decline.
When Japan opened its doors to foreign trade in the 1850s, its people took to buying imports more readily than to making goods for export, and the balance of payments suffered. Among the exporting companies set up to stem the flow was Morimura-Kumi, founded in 1876 to export Japanese fancy goods to the USA. The company traded in New York as Morimura Brothers from 1879.
In 1883, Morimura commissioned the first ever Japanese porcelain coffee cups, made to a French design; after this they increasingly
concentrated on the manufacture of ceramics. In 1904, Morimura set up Nippon Toki Kaisha to make porcelain for the US market. The main office was in Noritake, on the outskirts of Nagoya, and this name was adopted by the company abroad.
At first, it produced useful wares in distinctly European shapes and decorative styles, although it also produced giftware, mainly porcelain figures. All Noritake porcelain was mass produced -
one off pieces of art china were made by an associated company, Okura - and sold at roughly the price of equivalent pieces in earthenware.
A method of transfer printing, employing wet paper, was used to keep prices down. It gave a finish much more like hand-painting than ordinary transfer-printing. The printed areas were touched up by hand, and whole areas were often hand-coloured. Even the smallest piece had some
hand painted area so it qualified for title of Noritake hand-painted china, the way it was invariably described in the USA.
The inter-war years were very much a golden period for Noritake, whose wares were sold throughout the world in retail stores and by mail-order catalogue.
World War 2 put a stop to this, but the company restarted in occupied Japan. At first, their products were marked Rose China, as the company's directors didn't think they could produce wares to Noritake's pre-war standard. From the late 1940s, however, Noritake went from strength to strength, and became the largest manufacture of chinaware in the world.
NORITAKE CHINA COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Noritake china has been seriously collected in Britain only in the last few years. The best source for the richly decorated, gilded wares is antiques fairs. Less showy, not particularly widely known styles such as the moriage and bisque wares may turn up in boot sales, charity and second-hand shops, flea markets and the like. Antiques dealers tend not to stock it because of its 20th-century origins.
Because the range is so wide, collectors tend to specialize. Art deco pieces always attract interest, while 'figural' pieces - ones where a figure is included as part of the design of a useful piece - have plenty of fans. Cabinet pieces in rich colours and gilding attract by far the
most interest, though.
Hand-painted pieces are more coveted than printed ones. The company's method of using decals partially over-painted before firing gives a good approximation of hand-painting. The only way to be certain what is painted and what is printed is to use a magnifying glass. Under high magnification, the colours of decal printing resolve into fields of dots.
All Noritake pieces are marked. More than 100 backstamps have appeared on Noritake pieces over the years, but the most familiar is the Komaru, which looks a little like a
daddy long-legs in a circle. The early Komaru was blue and printed alone. Later it was
printed in blue (to the 1920s), green (to the 1930s) then red (to the 1940s) with the words Made in Japan below the circle, though these dates may overlap. If a piece looks like Noritake but has no mark, check the underside for rubbed or scratched areas; some people erased the
mark when Japan entered World War 2.
The country name which had to be put on all export pieces gives a rough guide to date. Before 1921 it was Nippon; from 1921 to 1941 it was Japan. Pieces made from 1947 to
1952 bore the legend Made in Occupied Japan, and after that Japan. Note that any piece marked only Nippon is not Noritake.
Before you buy a moriage piece check it very carefully for any damage. There were usually hundreds of tiny dots of clay on the handles of a vase, for example, and these are easily knocked off.
Noritake always used 22ct gold for gilding; this is very soft and prone to wear. Avoid pieces which are worn or rubbed, unless the decoration is so overwhelming that you must have them. Check carefully for restoration; new gilding looks thicker than the original, with a cellulose finish.
The jewel-bright Noritake decorative style was applied to good effect to fashionable art deco designs in the 1920s and 1930s.
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).