As a self-confessed china geek, one of the first things I do when I pick up a teacup is turn it over to look underneath. I do this mainly when out shopping, but I have been known to sneak a quick peek on the underside of a teacup when drinking tea at a cafe, hoping that no-one spots me and wonders what on earth I’m doing!
You might be wondering why I’m obsessed with looking at the underside of pieces of china. Well, this is where the ‘back stamp’ is most often placed. So what is a back stamp? It can either be a mark identifying the maker of the china or a signature of the maker.
For some potteries, this mark identifies not only the maker, brand and/or pattern name but also the year and sometimes the month of manufacture. Josiah Wedgwood was the first significant potter to mark his china with his own name. From 1860, Wedgwood introduced an impressed mark to the back of the china with the year of manufacture as part of a 3 character code. The format of the code changed over the years but there are some good guides available that explain what the codes mean.
Many Spode and Royal Doulton pieces also contain a mark indicating the month and year of manufacture. Some potteries were quite creative in their labelling, for example, Minton used a variety of symbols such as stars and swans to represent different years. One of the best online resources for identifying vintage china (and often the first site we consult) is http://www.thepotteries.org/
So how do you date pieces that don’t have a mark providing the year of manufacture? Many potteries changed the format and style of their back stamps several times during their period of operation. This is really helpful as it means that you can narrow down the date of manufacture to a period of a few years. The website, Royal Albert Patterns, is great for providing information about Royal Albert back stamps over the years.
The original back stamp of the Old Country Roses pattern, which was first introduced in 1962, didn’t indicate the year of manufacture. It was only in 1973 that they put a date on the back stamp but confusingly it shows 1962 to indicate when the pattern was first introduced not the year of manufacture!
We’ve been collecting china for a while and are getting to a stage where we can now sometimes identify the make and approximate age of a piece before checking out the back stamp. One day maybe we’ll be able to identify the majority of the china we buy without looking! Do you have any tips for identifying your vintage china purchases?