Pottery marks are a dependable means by which the manufacturers, origins, production dates and so many details of the ceramics may be identified. Often, the marks include factory names or trademarks, the signatures of painters, potters or gilders and precise descriptive notes, generally set under the base of the piece. Although these pottery marks can be flagrant forgeries or misleading, manufacture marks remain valuable tool for ceramic identification. Interestingly, there is a trend of factories adopt each other’s marks or borrow signs used at some famous works at different time periods. Gradually, the characteristics of the pottery marks evolve over time. I personally found this fascinating so that I started web browsing various pottery stamps.
The ceramic marks are of three kinds – factory, workman, and pattern mark. The name or initial of the factory was usually located in a prominent place, sometimes accompanied by the mark of the workmen. There are heaps of noticeable pottery marks nationwide. British manufacture marks covered from the Middle Ages to 1850 can be roughly categorised by regions of Derby, Staffordshire, Newcastle, Coalport etc. as shown in Figure 1.
However, common symbols and arrows before 1850s would not be covered in here. I would simply outline the evolution of the British pottery marks. Here I particularly drew out the pottery marks from East Liverpool in this blog as it is the major ceramic centre. East Liverpool, Ohio known as the “Crockery City”, was the nation’s largest domestic producer of dinnerware, whitewares and toilet wares during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout mid to late 19th century, American potters had to confront a domestic market that had a long-standing preference for British wares. In response to this prejudice, plenty of ironstones were either marked with English-type marks or left unmarked in order to deceive the buyers. In fact, many British local potteries were then merged with the American companies in the early 20th centuries and produced uniform manufacture marks. To some extent, pottery marks embodied the history context in the ceramic industry.
How are marks applied?
The pottery marks, when incised, vary considerably; a different hand or a flaw into the still soft clay during manufacture, all tend to make them unrecognizable. This type of marks was usually made by small volume studio factories and would present a slight ploughed-up effect appearance as shown in Figure 2a.
This type of marks would impress into the soft clay during manufacture and have a neat mechanical appearance as shown in Figure 2b&c and 3. Heedful cautions are needed as a shrinkage of the wet clay will obliterate or change the marks.
Like the incised marks, the painted marks, as shown in Figure 1a, must be carefully brushed over the glaze for the time being ornamented.
Printed marks are transferred from engraved copper tablets for the time being decorated as shown in Figure 4. This also need carefully handled as the printed marks were often blurred by the action of the firing or running of the enamel.
Dating British pottery marks
There are various types of pottery marks and interesting meanings associated. Here, I was not aimed to provide a guide for pottery identification but briefly integrated and categorised the pottery marks across different periods.
1. Late 1870s -1880s:
There was a prevalent practice of using familiar British symbols such as eagle, and unicorn and lion in combination with a coat of arms, a shield or a heraldic escutcheon. Below showed the common types of marks during this period.
Notes to the inclusion of the word ‘Trade-Mark’:
The inclusions of the word ‘Trade-Mark’ denote a post-1875 date, when the British Merchandise Marks Act was applied to American wares which aimed to protect British trademarks from misuse or fraud.
Notes of British Royal Coat of Arms on Pottery Marks:
The Royal Arms may only be legitimately used by factories which are the holders of a Royal Warrant. Nonetheless, some potters and foreign firms, who were not the Warrant holders but sought to get some sense of value and importance, imitated the Arms or designed some similar motifs as part of their marks.
2. 1880s – 1910s:
During this period, the pottery marks tended to be either very simply using the name of the potters in shape in script or block letters, or very elaborate and decorative, employing sophisticated and delicate shapes of designs.
3. 1910s – present day
The manufacture marks dated during this period are, as a rule, either employed a highly stylized motif, or very plain and straightforward design of potters’ initials. The contemporary marks are tended to be less decorative and artistic than the antecedents and show no attempt at embellishment.
It is worth mentioning that an American pottery, the Homer Laughlin China Company, in East Liverpool has devised a coding system to date the month, year and plant of the manufacture as shown as below.
Other types of marks: Royal Pottery Marks
As identified before, the use of the British Royal Coat of Arms indicates a company as the legit holder of a Royal Warrant. Likewise, the inclusion of word ‘Royal’ in a company’s title or trade name suggests the same and mostly dated in the late 19th century, if not a 20th century dating.
Note of inclusion of the word ‘England’:
Contrary to popular belief, the inclusion of the word ‘England’ in the pottery marks does not certainly represent that the potteries were made after 1891, when enacted the U.S. McKinley Tariff Act that protects American firms by required the country of origin to be added to imported items and placing high tariffs. Some marks also included ‘England’ on the pottery produced before 1891. That being said, the absence of the word ‘England’ can denote the pre-1891 date. And the phrase of ‘Made in England’ came even later, in the 20th century.
Note of ‘By Appointment…’
After granted the warrant, it is usual that underneath the coat of arms or the heraldic escutcheon would appear the phrase ‘By Appointment to …’ followed by the tile and name of the royal customers and included by what products.
I hope everyone enjoyed the reading. Welcome to share any thoughts and I am always open to discuss the interesting content and stories behind pottery stamps!
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