Understanding Pottery Marks
Pottery marks are a rich and often-ignored source of information on a piece, providing savvy buyers and collectors with a surprising amount of information about the identity, age and manufacturer of a piece.
Of course, we've all had a quick glance at the bottom of a vase or pot, seen a pottery name and recognised it - but in many cases there is a lot more information available if you know how to recognise it.
Types of Mark
Some of the types of pottery mark that you will come across most often are:
Examples of printed, incised and handpainted pottery marks.
- Printed - ink-stamped onto the base, on top of any coloured glaze
- Impressed - stamped into the base and then glazed over. Sometimes hard to read.
- Handpainted - this technique is most common with pattern numbers and artists' markings - less commonly used for manufacturers' markings
- Incised - cut into the base by hand with a stylus or other sharp-pointed tool
- Moulded - for pieces made in a mould the marking is sometimes included in the mould, creating a mark similar in appearance to an impressed mark
What Do They Tell Me?
Here's how you should 'read' the base of a piece of pottery.
Example of incised shape number (203), stamped pottery mark (Poole England) and handpainted pattern code (CO) and artist mark.
- Look for the manufacturer's pottery mark. This will tell you who made the piece and provide an approximate date range to work with - marks were often changed over the years. Remember, while pottery marks are usually on the base, with studio pottery they can often be at the bottom edge of one side, instead.
- Consider any painted markings - these are most commonly pattern numbers or artists' markings.
- Look for impressed or incised numbers - these might well be shape numbers.
How Do I Find Out What It All Means?
Of course, no one goes around with a database of all of this information in their heads - there's no shame in looking things up occasionally. To get started, have a look in our online Pottery Marks Guide - genuine close-up photos of the pottery marks on hundreds of pieces we've sold over the years.
The definitive book on the subject is the Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks by Geoffrey A. Godden - but it's a weighty tome and you may be better off with one of the pocket-sized guides that are available from Millar's and the like.
Trying to identify pattern and shape numbers and artists' marks is harder - quite often, the only source of information will be a specialist book on the pottery concerned.
A thorough Google search can sometimes also turn up something useful, as can a search of completed results on eBay
Pottery marks are a complex subject but they can become your friend and ally once you learn to understand them. A little patient research often goes a long way, and you will soon become familiar with the ins and outs of the potteries you are interested in.
We hope this article has provided some useful pointers - as always don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions or comments you'd like to share with us.
P.S. You may also be interested in two of the 'How-To' guides we've recently published on our website:
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