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Antique Nippon Porcelain- Beautiful & So Collectible!

Updated on April 10, 2007

All About Antique Nippon Porcelain

I've been collecting Nippon porcelain for more than thirty years. I have an extensive collection numbering hundreds of pieces that date from across the entire spectrum of the Nippon porcelain era (1890-1921). In this lens I'd like to share with you my love for this beautiful porcelain as well as offer some helpful advice to anyone considering collecting this increasingly rare porcelain. 

I am also an eBay store seller offering, under my store name Dove Originals, a complete assortment of new smoke-free sewing trims and craft trim items to meet the needs of both novice and advanced sewers and crafters.

If you're interested in home decorating, garment sewing, quilting, or crafting, I hope you'll stop by Dove Originals.

Dove Originals grew out of my love for beautiful embellishments of all types. I am a quilter specializing in detailed Victorian style machine embroidered and decorated quilts. My Nippon collection is a natural outgrowth of my love for Victorian Design. The often lush colors and designs of the porcelain harmonize beautifully with Victorian era objects and furnishings.

If you enjoy decorating and sewing projects, check out my lens Victorian Design for projects and instructions for dozens of items that will give your home a glorious Victorian look. I sell many of the trims featured in the projects that I've posted. About twice a month I send out an eBay email to update my customers on new items that I have added to my store inventory.

Click below to visit my eBay store:

Nippon Porcelain: Is it a genuine antique or a modern reproduction?

Some helpful advice on evaluating Nippon

This article will focus primarily on identifying 'real' versus 'fake' (modern reproduction) Nippon. The photo on the right is a reproduction piece. Some modern Nippon is attractive and nicely done; however, you don't want to pay antique porcelain prices for modern Nippon.

Nippon reproductions from China and Japan are legal, and owing to the popularity of antique Nippon, reproductions have flooded the market in great numbers especially in the last 10-20 years. Fakes began to enter the country in the late 1970s / early 1980s.

BACKSTAMPS

One way to spot reproduction Nippon is to carefully examine the back stamp on the piece. A back stamp is the mark found on the bottom of the piece.

Marks favored by modern producers are the hourglass in wreath, the M in wreath, the rising sun mark, RC, and the maple leaf mark. Each fake mark is a slightly altered copy of the original mark. Although some fake marks are used more than others, there are probably more than a dozen copycat marks generally in use today.

The photographs below are from antique Nippon. Notice the M in wreath design (more about this mark below), the rising sun mark with the rays fanning out in a straight line from the sun, and the maple leaf mark, especially the size of the leaf (which should be about 1/4 inch in length) and the letter 'H' in the word 'Hand painted'. Also note that early Noritake is hand painted and is becoming more collectible. Hand painted Noritake Nippon (Nippon here designating the country of origin) dates from 1918. I have included an authentic Noritake Nippon mark below as well (last photo). Note that like Nippon, it is an M in wreath design.

FAKE NIPPON MARKS

There are about 12 fake backstamps known to exist today, possibly more as of this writing. Examples are: an hourglass in the wreath instead of the letter M (see photo below), the rising sun mark with jagged rays rather than straight lines emanating from the sun, and the maple leaf design where the leaf is twice the size of the original mark, approximately 1/2 inch in length rather than 1/4 inch, and the letter 'H' in 'Hand painted' is written differently from the original, with a loop. (continued below)

Is it Antique Nippon or a Reproduction? Continued from above.

Fake / Reproduction Nippon Marks:

Most troublesome, however, is the M in wreath design, since modern producers in China have copied this mark so exactly it is now impossible to tell if a piece is genuine by virtue of this backstamp alone. The original mark and the fake mark are identical. Since almost 50% of all antique Nippon that entered the USA had the M in wreath mark (circa 1911), you must be VERY careful. Like the original, the fake mark is under glaze. These pieces originally had a Made in China paper label that could be removed easily and the piece passed off as Nippon. In all likelihood, since the mark is underglaze and obscured by a paper label, the wholesaler had an intent to deceive. Other fakes have no backstamp at all but come into the country with a paper label that can easily be removed and the piece passed off as unmarked Nippon. These fakes are worth only a few dollars each.

According to Joan F. Van Patten, the author of "The Collector's Encyclopedia of Nippon, First through Fifth Series, "U.S. Customs has ruled that the fake M-in-wreath mark is counterfeit and not allowed for importation into the United States. Because of this ruling, wholesalers, for the time being, have stopped marking their fake Nippon with the Noritake Company backstamps (including the Maple Leaf, Rising Sun, and RC marks)." However, be aware that there are pieces with all of these backstamps that entered the USA prior to this ruling.

There are probably 50 or more repro patterns of Nippon currently on the market. One found in great abundance is Wildflower, which has a bisque finish on pale green with a wildflower design. There are dozens of various pieces made in this pattern. See the photos below of a round footed box (about 5 inches across) and a rectangular box (about 5 X 7 inches), both with covers. The wildflower pattern is marked with the hourglass in wreath design.

(Continued below)

Is it Antique Nippon or a Reproduction? Continued from above.

Other fake Nippon patterns include the Orchid pattern (maple leaf mark), the Antique Roses pattern (maple leaf mark), Green Mist pattern (rising sun mark), and the Texas Rose pattern (rising sun mark). A variety of other pieces with no pattern name can also be found. One that comes close to real Nippon is the Antique Rose pattern. It is easy to be fooled, as the only difference in the mark between the fake and the antique pieces in this pattern is the size of the maple leaf.

According to Nippon expert Joan F. Van Patten, modern producers are offering items never found in antique Nippon: oil lamps, wine coolers, oyster plates, wall pockets, and more, as well as items that fall under the category of black ethnic collectibles such as a black boy sitting on an alligator and a black 'mammy' toothpick holder.

When assessing a piece, examine the painting and the application of details which should be carefully and uniformly done. Flowers and leaves on a floral design piece should be realistically shaded and exhibit quality workmanship: leaves in 2 or more complimentary colors of green, and flowers in 2-3 (sometimes more) colors with brush strokes used directionally to enhance the sense of depth. Examine also the manner of painting of scrolls, curlicues, etc. These, too, should be uniformly and carefully applied, not appearing sloppily done or 'blobbed' on. Check for artistic touches such as small complimentary designs added to the outer sides of a piece or painting on vases / urns that wraps entirely around the piece so that it is beautiful viewed from all sides.

Applied gold may have a very slightly tarnished look of age but it should still be bright and of high quality application. It should not look like modern luster gold nor should the gold have a burnished, 'muddy' appearance which is often what you will see on fakes. Check for areas of wear from normal handling over a long period of time. Also, note that many reproduction pieces have a bright white (but often rough in places) glossy background not found in antique pieces and feel a bit too heavy for their size, almost 'clunky'.

Is it Antique Nippon or a Reproduction? Conclusion of article.

Check the glazing on the inside of the piece as it is often not well done or sometimes not done at all on fakes. Finally, look at the signs of wear on the bottom. Modern pieces often look brand new and unused or exhibit very poor quality finishing on the bottom; antique Nippon usually will have slight signs of wear normal to pieces 100+ years old but still be nicely finished. This isn't a foolproof method of authentication but it is another indicator. And never forget, it's all about condition, condition, condition if you want your acquisitions to appreciate in value. A chipped or cracked piece, no matter how pretty, will not increase in value. That said, if you love a particular piece and get it for a good price, then use it everyday and enjoy it. I have collected several gorgeous vases where a handle on one side was broken off (I got them very cheaply) so I use them as everyday ware with fresh flowers.

Finally, a serious collector should be knowledgeable about genuine Nippon marks of which there many and the designs and patterns of authentic ware. There are some excellent books on the market most of which contain authentic back stamp guides and photos.

Comments? Thoughts? If you're an eBay seller, feel free to mention that also. I'm always happy to help with advertising. And please don't forget to vote.

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    • profile image

      Mike 16 months ago

      I have an old Nippon bedside light - looks like an old candle holder with the handle on the side, it has a socket in the part where the candle would fit for a small 20 watt night light, the plug and old cable are still connectedn to a switch - on the underside is the round red ring with "hand painted in japan" BUT on the base it has stamped into it nippon registration granted, 2 holes in the side to switch the light on & off,Light green in color with some flowers painted inside the base, anyone know about this type of nippon ? mcaz4@yahoo.com

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have a lovely, old "hand painted Nippon tea set that my mum gave me.It has a crown on the bottom and has gold handles, white background with cranes(black, white and a touch of red on the head of the bird).I can't find anything about it and haven't seen a crown insignia.Have you got any information?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have a 91 piece set of (RC) Nippon Toki Kaisha china in new condition. The pattern is a pink rose/gray leaves garland around the edge and the rim is edged in gold. It was purchased in Japan in the early 1950s. I need to sell it but cannot find it on the internet to get some idea of it's value. I did see a set like it on Ebay for $200.00 beginning bid but do not know if that is a good price. I really would so appreciate any help anyone can give me. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi I have a nippon set that has a dragon on all the pieces. It has a M on the bottom that says hand painted NIPPON WITH A WREATH DESIGN. PLEASE HELP ME!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi there! My name is Kellie and I have recently been given some Nippon pieces that belonged to my Great Grandmother. I have done some research and I know they are authentic. They are over a hundred years old, I know this due to the age of my Grandmother. I was wondering if you would be able to tell me how much they are worth? I'm just curious I would never sell in a million years. I have a sugar bowl with 24K gold and 2 other pieces. If I were to send you a picture would you be able to help me? I look forward to your reply. Thank you Kellie

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I believe i have an original Nippon chocolate/cocoa set brought into our family from WWI how can i find out it's value? It has 6 cups and saucers and the pot. It's blue and gold. On the bottom says: Handpainted Nippon, Noritake, RC.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      My mother in law just passed away and we have several pieces of Nippon that belonged to her mother. How do I find out their value?

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I believe i have an original Nippon chocolate set brought into our family from WWI how can i find out it's value

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Hello, I too have a Nippon teaset that is over 200 years old (my great-grandmothers) that I can not find info on. Would it be possible for me to send you some pictures for your input?

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      pdover 8 years ago

      Hi,

      I'm trying to identify a piece of Nippon that I have. The mark on the back looks genuine to me but I cannot find the pattern. It is a shallow bowl with gold trim around the edge with a pattern of black circles and small pink flowers with green leaves every quarter. Any help would be appreciated.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hello,

      I just found your helpful notes on Nippon fakes. Unfortunately my question is still unanswered. The H in Hand is correct, the M looks good, so what dose a red backstamp mean and what is the teeny tiny gold X for? Thanks for your time.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hi Marlene.... I'd be happy to try to help. Can you please email me some photos of your plate including the mark on the back? You can send them to me at doveoriginals@cox.net

      Regards, Flo

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hi: I am a Nippon Collector and also sell on ebay. I came across something in a recent auction box that really amazed me. It is a plate with the Nippon Rising Sun Mark in Blue, the design on the plate is a boy on the front of it big eyes, green suit, sort of a cupie look, shoes shoes in sitting position, arms and hands and face. Parts done in relief. I have collected many vases and other pieces in floral and was unaware of this type of plate. Can you tell me anything about it. I hope so. Very unusual, almost looks like something they were in a hurry to get out into production, but still done nicely.

      Marlene Salls in La Crosse, WI

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      A great site. It is so nice to see people like you who have devoted so much time to putting these websites together. It is an immense help to everyone, and I hope that you do receive a lot of recognition, and thanks from everyone. Thanx, Ken Texmo, Kincardine, Ontario, Canada.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I have an old Nippon bedside light - looks like an old candle holder with the handle on the side, it has a socket in the part where the candle would fit for a small 20 watt night light, the plug and old cable are still connectedn to a switch - on the underside is the round red ring with "hand painted in japan" BUT on the base it has stamped into it nippon registration granted, 2 holes in the side to switch the light on & off,Light green in color with some flowers painted inside the base, anyone know about this type of nippon ?drthat9579@aol.com

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hello I have an old nippon plate that was my grandmothers, I'm not sure how old it is but it's very unique. The stamp in the back has the hand painted nippon with the M in the middle. I think you said that it's call an hour glass with a wreath. Any way I would like to send pictures of it and could someone tell me it's worth. Thanks, Kevin. I really like your site it's very educational.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Hello I have an old nippon plate that was my grandmothers, I'm not sure how old it is but it's very unique. The stamp in the back has the hand painted nippon with the M in the middle. I think you said that it's call an hour glass with a wreath. Any way I would like to send pictures of it and could someone tell me it's worth. Thanks, Kevin. I really like your site it's very educational.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Found your website while attempting to get information on a Nippon hand painted vase that my mother purchased at a moving sale around 1957. It was a dull gray color, but the shape was attractive. She only paid about 50 cents for it. When she washed it the gray paint came off and revealed a lovely dark blue vase with a hand painted scene that wraps around the vase. There is also an extensive gold design. The back mark is the green Hand Painted Nippon Wreath circled M. We often wondered why the vase was obviously disquised with the drab dull gray paint. The vase is in perfect condition. All input welcome. lrainc@frontiernet.net

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      anonymous 9 years ago

      I have a nippon saucer that is done with dark blue, gold and also has pastel colored seashells (blue, pink, yellow). It has the maple leaf and hand painted. Can anyone tell me anything about this pattern? Please e-mail me at lindaned@ctc.net if you can help. Thanks

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      anonymous 9 years ago

      Hello all,

      My Mother has a porcelain tea set(teapot, creamer, suggar, 6 cups, 6 saucers and 6 cookie plates). It says Hand painted Nippon" on the bottom and has a raised (what looks like a) star on the bottoms. The set is in immaculate shape.

      The details around each piece are raised. Can anyone tell me what this is? I don't have a picture of them so am blind in giving the full description. Please reply B/C at: mgd@teleport.com

      Thanks in advance,

      Greg

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      anonymous 9 years ago

      Thank you for the back mark information. I have a tea and cheese set that has one chipped saucer that I would like to replace but am having trouble finding the pattern name. I've ordered the Van Patten book.

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      anonymous 9 years ago

      Hello, I found you website very helpful. I have been trying to research a tankard set that was given to me by my grandmother. Any advice about it you could give me would be greatly appreciated. I have been looking for some time now, and so far come up empty handed. Please email my at deweyandbreezy@hotmail.com. Again thank you so very much. Wendy Sytek

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Hi i have been on your website looking for a vase i have by nippon gold trim the four handles in gold, its got a scene of a lake on it with rocks,trees,beautiful lavender mountains its also has gold leaves on it going down and around it. email me at ladybuglady2899@aol.com if you can help me thanks

    • profile image

      anonymous 10 years ago

      Thanks for your help. We have the genuine article! We were cleaning out some things of my grandmother's and found a 2 handled handpainted bowl (Handpainted Nippon with M in middle). It is a beautiful river scene with gold trim.

    • profile image

      Lesley_Feeney 10 years ago

      Hi! I saw you on the eBay Stores Board. Very nice lens! A definite 5 Star rating! Check out my Lens when you can find the time. Cheers!

      Lesley

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      anonymous 10 years ago

      Your website has been VERY helpful.I have a complete Nippon chocolate set with a pot,six plates,saucers,and cups.They are in excellent condition,black background,white floral pattern,gold trim.I have a few questions you may be able to help me with.Please e-mail me at jessica.greenlee@yahoo.com

    • profile image

      anonymous 10 years ago

      Your website has been VERY helpful.I have a complete Nippon chocolate set with a pot,six plates,saucers,and cups.They are in excellent condition,black background,white floral pattern,gold trim.I have a few questions you may be able to help me with.Please e-mail me at jessica.greenlee@yahoo.com