All About Antique Maker’s Marks
Whether you’re a collector of porcelain, antique jewelry, antique furniture, or American and European metalware, a maker’s mark is vital in understanding the history and value of your piece(s).
A maker’s mark is typically a mark on the underside of an antique that is either stamped, impressed, or painted. These marks help with the identification of the piece by giving a historical point of reference. It also helps the owner or appraiser pinpoint the manufacturer, date of manufacture, country of origin, and number of items produced. However, these marks may vary depending the type of antique, the material of which it’s made, the time period, and the country of origin.
Every collector and enthusiast, whether seasoned or novice, needs accurate resources that assist them in identifying their pieces of interest. Plus, with the vast number of maker’s marks, it could be mind boggling to differentiate between them.
The information below highlights the most popular maker’s marks on some common antiques as well as great reliable resources.
Most porcelain maker’s marks are underglaze – meaning they were applied to the piece prior to firing. For about the first hundred years of porcelain production, there were only two known pigments that could withstand the high firing temperature necessary: iron red and cobalt blue. The latter was the more popular, so most European porcelain marks are cobalt blue underneath the glaze.
One important exception is the work of the Dresden porcelain studios. Famous artists, such as Carl Thieme, Helena Wolfsohn, Franziska Hirsch, and others, procured blanks (undecorated pieces) from other factories and applied their own hand painting or sculpted embellishments on each. In most cases, these blanks had marks of the factories within which they were produced. The Dresden decorators covered these porcelain marks with a gold glaze and applied their own above-glaze mark: usually a blue crown.
Another common type of porcelain mark is the retailer or distributor’s mark. In certain cases, large importers would special order china to be marked with the name of domestic retailers. (Reference: Antique China Porcelain & Collectibles)
A great resource for uncovering the background on your maker’s mark is Kovels Pottery & Porcelain Marks Guide at www.kovels.com/marks/pottery-porcelain-marks.html.
In some countries, Italy for instance, maker’s marks are officially assigned to registered goldsmiths and their use is overseen by a body like the Chamber of Commerce. Many times a goldsmith’s mark evolved over time and knowing when mark was used will help jewelry historians or appraisers accurately date the item.
In France, historically, the Administration de la Garantie stored copper plates on which maker’s marks were stamped (by law) creating a record of the mark. However, these have been destroyed, leaving us without this valuable historical reference. (Reference: Antique Jewelry University)
A great reference for buyer purchasing an antique jewelry piece is Antique Jewelry University’s Maker’s Mark database. This website, which is updated weekly, provides the user with a variety of ways to search for the mark on your piece of antique jewelry.www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Category:Jewelry_Maker%27s_Marks
Antique furniture made by particular manufacturers or craftsmen may have a higher value simply because of who made it. However, in the 19th century, most craftsmen didn’t mark their products. By the 20th century, the tides had turned and many makers, like Gustav Strickley, had developed elaborate logos to mark their furniture pieces.
Labels found on 20th century furniture generally fall into three categories – manufacturers, retailers and associations. Manufacturers were considered the designers of the furniture and produced the piece from the design to the finished product. Many of these manufacturers left clues in the names they mark the furniture with that alluded to their identity. The retailers simply sold furniture pieces, but didn’t manufacturer it themselves. Many times retailers would self-label their products. If a manufacturer did not mark their work, a label from a trade association or guild might also be found on the piece. (Reference: Antique Trader, Manufacturer, Retailer or Association? How to decipher vintage furniture labels)
When examining antique furniture for purchase, you should look on the backside, the underside as well as the sides, inside, and bottom of each drawer. If a maker’s mark is present on the piece, it will often be placed in one of these hard-to-see areas. You should also look in the recesses of drawers or the springs of furniture for identification papers. These papers often give the date of manufacture, location of the factory in which the piece was manufactured, and the name of the maker.
An exceptional free resource is Antique-Marks.com for identifying a ton of antiques, including antique furniture.
Copper, Iron or Brass
Collectors looking for copper, iron and brass pieces typically would want them signed by the maker. Tarnished copper and brass pieces with American and English pedigrees are the most desirable and can be still be found at a variety of antique shows. The down side is much metalware easily available today is from India and the Orient and reproductions of early American pieces abound.
A buyer interested in copper, iron or brass wares should carefully check with a magnifying glass for country of origin marks. Look for evidence of hand-hammering and tool marks. About 15 years ago old copperware from Greece and Turkey, unmarked, flooded the market. Made in the 18th century way, by hand, it sometimes was sold as American.
The website, www.oldcopper.org/list.htm, is where collectors and buyers can find an A-Z directory on maker’s marks for copper and brass pieces.
While maker’s marks were created to help identify different craftsmen and to ensure the piece’s authenticity, there are cheap imitations that have copied these marks. It’s always important to refer to an expert, be that your dealer or appraiser, before making a large purchase.
Let’s hear from you: What types of maker’s mark have you seen on the antique pieces you collect? Leave a comment below, tweet us @USAntiqueShows, or post on our Facebook page: Facebook.com/OfficialPage.USAntiqueShows