Researching vintage china: a true detective story


Limoges china
William Guerin Limoges appetizer tray and plates

Once upon a time in a lifetime long, long ago, my friends introduced me to the concept of bidding for stuff online. 

I took a look, and before I knew it my bids started flying off my fingers for beautiful plates, cups, tea sets, and wow, I was “winning.” I was having a high old time. Do you know this feeling? The listing days fall away, then the hours, then the minutes, then seconds. Your fingertips tingle with excitement, ready to hit that bid key at the golden moment. Yay! I won! Well, I “won” more than my share, and my bank account was saying, “Stop!” I listened, my bidding booty got stored away, and life went on.  

Years later during a move, I found the lovelies I’d won and realized I wasn’t really sure what, exactly, my winnings brought me, because I had no knowledge of where they had been made, how old they were or their value, if any. This moment set my feet firmly on the research path.

I started with the antique William Guerin Limoges appetizer tray and plates pictured above. The hand painted seashell pattern is finely detailed in lovely pastels, with spots of brilliant color. I found this so unusual, and the bidding was quite light, so I “won” it. 

At the time, I had yet to develop my online research skills, so, as always, I turned to books. My local librarian was a porcelain enthusiast, as well, so she pointed me in the right direction. After thumbing through page after page of brilliant photos of Limoges vases, biscuit jars, platters, and more, I finally landed on Mary Frank Gaston’s The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Limoges Porcelain, 2nd edition.

Limoges backstamp
Backstamp on Limoges appetizer set.

Based on my research, my set dates between 1900 and 1932 and is quite rare. Several listings for variations on the pattern surfaced, but not this one. I still have not found one like it, but I do go back to search from time to time, even though it has since sold.

Antique double-handled Noritake
Antique double-handled Noritake cream soup cups.

Now, on to this set of eight Nippon double-handled cream soup cups. What does “Nippon” mean, you ask? In short, the term means, rising sun and/or Japan. The rising sun is Japan’s national symbol and was used from 1891 to 1921 on porcelain items made specifically for the American market. After 1921, the stamp changed to Japan or Made in Japan. Interestingly, the predominant manufacturer producing and shipping Nippon porcelain to the U.S. later became the Noritake Company

Actually, this set didn’t come from my bidding wars. Rather, I found the cups at an interesting estate sale. The previous owner was a woman who traveled the world her entire life, until she could no longer. She bought beautiful things everywhere she went, brought them back, and quickly wrapped and stored them. I can’t tell you the number of fabulous, antique, new/old stock pieces she had. All were wrapped carefully in tissue paper with remnants of paper shopping bags around them. They hadn’t seen the light of day from when she wrapped them until they were unwrapped for the sale. When I found these Nippon soup cups, I bought them because the pattern, colors, and delicacy of the porcelain were irresistible. 

Antique Noritake mark

Finding the back mark on this set took a good while. The mark shows a green “M,’ for Morimura Brothers, surrounded by a green wreath, with Noritake crowning it and Nippon at its base. 

While browsing online for something else, I found the mark right in front of me. Have you had that happen? Serendipity is such a lovely thing, isn’t it? Based on the backstamp, my cups were produced in 1912. Oh, how I would like to find the matching saucers…



Here’s a sweet little piece that still puzzles me. I really like the bright chartreuse and red on black. A fine line of gold edges the outside rim. The pattern name is Pekin, influenced by heightened Western interest in Asian countries, particularly China, in their beauty and mystery. 

Originally, I thought the 1951 date on the back mark indicated the production date. I now realize that isn’t the case. Instead, such dates are typically applied to show a change in a company’s name, a merger, or take over. After looking and looking, I do find a 1995 date on pieces, but the 1951 date eludes me. In fact, I’m thinking this pretty dish may be a reproduction. The original Royal Winton Pekin pattern was discontinued circa 1935. A comparison of my dish against one of those tells me mine is much too bright, with too much chartreuse. 



This is an example of a Pekin teacup and saucer from the ‘30s. Can you see the difference? What do you think? 

I am now an experienced china researcher and I know that everything starts with the mark. Sometimes all is straightforward and uncomplicated. But often we find challenges like getting a handle on how manufacturers changed names or shifted identities, which causes the identification journey to become coiled and even torturous. Adding to the challenge is the ever-increasing sophistication manufacturers use in replicating shapes, patterns, and marks. I’ve learned to slow down, take my time, and look behind all the corners before I’m convinced of authenticity.

I would love to hear your experiences and invite your input.

Our guest contributor Betty Powell hunts for vintage and antique treasures at estate sales in the North Carolina area. You can find these nice examples of her china offerings plus lots more at PlumsandHoney

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  1. Very interesting article, Betty. I have inherited odds & ends of pieces of china that I’ve been curious about but have never bothered to research. I use them for the holidays so it will be fun to regale our guests with their newly discovered background. Thanks for the inspiration to do some detective work.

  2. Thank you, Linda. Have fun with your spyglass. Isn’t it easy to get caught up in the search? I like to use odds and ends, as well. They make for a pretty setting, and people generally like admiring the patterns. Good luck with your detective leg work.

  3. Very good article, Betty. Those markings can be tricky with numbers appearing to mean one thing when they actually mean another. I keep my Kovels’ New Dictionary of Marks handy. It has become a good friend to me.

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