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Identifying RS Prussia

reia2003
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Some tips from Mar:

DEFINITIVE IDENTIFICATION OF GENUINE RS PRUSSIA

or, more simply,

HOW TO TELL IF AN OBJECT IS RS PRUSSIA OR SOMETHING ELSE

In this guide, I will use the following term, "porcelain mark",  to mean the manufacturer's stamp on the bottom of a porcelain object.  I will use the term "mold mark" to mean a raised pattern, such as a circle, on the bottom of a porcelain object. 

The identification of an RS Prussia object must pass three formal criteria in order to be considered genuine. I will explain each one below, listed as STEP 1, STEP 2, and STEP 3.  These are the ONLY criteria a person who is not a bona fide expert can use to authenticate RS Prussia.  Any other criteria, while it may enhance the VALUE of an object, can not be used to determine authenticity.  Once you understand this, you will find that learning how to use STEP 1, STEP 2, and STEP 3 is worthwhile, not too difficult, and saves you a from wasting a lot of time trying to master other ways of identifying RS Prussia porcelain.  For those of you who are especially interested, I refer you to Leland Marple's discussion of the matrix he created, which forms the basis of the three identification criteria.  This criteria has been widely recognized as the fundamental means for identifying RS Prussia porcelain, so it is worthwhile to explain how it works in this eBay guide. 

STEP 1:  The mold must be an RS Prussia mold.  Fortunately, most molds have been identified and published.  In my opinion, the books written by Leland Marple are the most thorough and provide very accurate dates.  The molds are presented in the order they were offered by the manufacturer as recorded in published American wholesaler import catalogs. 

Mary Gaston developed the nomenclature for RS Prussia molds, but this was largely based on conjecture and the numbers do not correspond to the actual dates of manufacturer.  Gaston begins with steeple molds and does not include the old molds. 

For simplicity, there are only four things you need to know about naming RS Prussia molds: 1) OM means "old mold" as defined by Leland Marple, 2) SM means "steeple mold" as defined by Gaston, 3) RSP means "RS Prussia mold" as defined by Gaston, 4) RS means "RS Prussia mold" as defined by Marple, which are molds Gaston never numbered either because she didn't have examples or was unable to conclude the object was RS Prussia.  Hence, Marple is credited with the discovery and positive identification of many important unmarked RS Prussia objects.

To identify a mold takes practice, but the more you practice, the more adept you become.  The mold is the shape of the porcelain object and does not include any painted artwork or gold. It is simply the shape of the porcelain itself. 

Now, for proper identification, what you need to look for is DETAIL.  Take the photograph of any mold, draw a line on the edge of the object in the phgotograph,  and call it 12 o'clock.  Now, take a porcelain object of the same mold and find the part along edge matching 12 o'clock in the photograph.  Moving clockwise, go all the way around the edge, matching each detail of the object to the photograph.  If everything matches up perfectly, you have identified a mold.  If things don't match up quite right, then you either didn't find 12 o'clock, so you have to try again - or - the molds are not the same. 

If there is any deviation between the mold of an object you have and the mold in a photograph of an identified RS Prussia mold, then the object you have has NOT been positively identified as RS Prussia.  If you believe the object is RS Prussia, then you have to continue searching for the matching mold or contact an RS Prussia expert.  This is a very simple rule, easy to understand, and very tempting to break when 90% of a mold matches.  This happened to me years ago with the RS Prussia "candycane" old mold.  It was oh soooo close.  But nope! Later on, I found an exact match to an old mold of French origin. 

Since then, I have seen many examples similar to RS Prusia "carnation" and "iris" molds, which are similar, but not quite identical.  In every case, the near-matching object was made by another manufacturer, such as Tielsch or PS Germany.  Differentiating RS Prussia molds from others becomes quite obvious once you get the hang of mold matching.  For me, the most difficult still remain the very old molds, which are almost identical - but not quite - to their 19th century Limoges cousins!

STEP 2:  The decor must be an RS Prussia decor.  Again, most decorations have been identified.  For old molds, Marple is the definitive reference.  For later objects, Gaston has listed most of them in her "Popular Lines" book.  For cobalt, Mary McCaslin's book is a good reference. 

Not all the RS Prussia molds and decorations have been identified or published.  So, if you have an object where you have completed either STEP 1 or STEP 2 above,  but not both, then you MUST do more research or have the object examined by a recognized RS Prussia expert before any conclusions can be made regarding its authenticity.  The International RS Prussia Association can advise you on persons to contact for the serious evaluation of an unidentified object.

STEP 3:  The porcelain must be translucent, fine and delicate, appearing to weigh LESS then you would expect for an object of its size.

This is very important in the identification of RS Prussia.  Compared to Meissen and Tielsch, RS Prussia is much lighter.  Like all translucent porcelain, if you hold the object up to the light and put your hand behind the object (between it and the light), you should be able to see the shadow outline of your hand.  If you don't see it, move your hand back and forth.  If the object is translucent porcelain, you will see the moving shadow.

The following are NOT ways to definitively identify an object as RS Prussia:

1.  The item "rings like a bell".  While certain types of porcelain have a characteristic sound when gently thumped, this is not an an indicator of who the manufacturer is.  Shelley collectors are fortunate in that most Shelley bone china has a very specific "ping" sound.  For RS Prussia, the typical ring is resembles a church bell.  But is this meaningful?  In other words, if an item does NOT ping or ring, is it a fake?  The answer is... 

YOU CAN NOT IDENTIFY A MANUFACTURER BASED ON THE RING OR ABSENCE OF A RING WHEN A PORCELAIN OBJECT IS GENTLY THUMPED.

Why thump porcelain?  It is widely believed that the purpose of a ring is to determine the QUALITY and CURRENT CONDITION of a porcelain object.  However, in my experience I have found that this is mostly nonsense.  It is simply not true that a cracked piece will not ring (I have an example in my collection).   Likewise, it is not true that if a piece rings, it does not have internal damage.  And get this... some objects which are quality porcelain simply do NOT ring (or at least, not when I thump them).  So, while thumping porcelain may provide some clues about its quality, it has no bearing on the proper identification of an object.  For the seller of antique porcelain, it is simply an added bonus if a object rings like it is "supposed to", making the buyer believe the object is morely likely to be genuine than if it makes no sound at all.  Go look at some Shelley porcelain listings, and you will find that most sellers mention the characteristic "ping".  You will also run across respected connoiseurs who tout the old adage that fake porcelain will not make the characteristic sound when thumped and a badly damaged piece will not ring clearly.  Clever fakes, however, may pass the ring test.  If you want to know whether a valuable object has internal damage which you can not see, the ONLY way to determine that is by x-ray (your friendly animal doctor may oblige your weird request on a day he/she is not too busy if there are homemade cookies as part of the bargain...) That said, I put no stock whatsoever in thumping porcelain other than that it makes a pleasant sound and gives a collector an odd sense of satisfaction that all the objects in his or her collection "sing in tune". 

2. The mold and decor are unknown, but it has a partial porcelain mark.  Wishful thinking in the absence of a good identifier does not make an object genuine if you can only read part of the mark.  An expert is required to make this determination.  (With enough experience, a black light, 10x magnification, you can become an expert!)  It is extremely rare to find a perfectly reproduced original porcelain mark on an object which is not genuine.  Most false marks are easily identified and there have been reams of material written regarding that topic.  Therefore, when you encounter a partial mark, you must decide whether the mark has been partially rubbed off over time or whether it is a clever fake, revealing only those aspects of the mark which are easily copied and making it APPEAR that the rest has worn away naturally.  With the advent of non-fluorescing inks and other tricks, the evaluation of partial marks becomes increasingly difficult for experts and should be avoided by the rest of us.  There are better ways to determine the authenticity of a porcelain object than by trying to decipher a partial mark (or even a full mark!).  Generally speaking, the value of a porcelain mark often lies in a fake mark determining what the object is NOT, rather than a genuine mark authenticating what an object actually may be. 

For more information on porcelain marks, there is a wealth of information available on the internet, including some of the eBay guides.  For RS Prussia, the definitive book is "The Marks of RS Prussia", written by Ron Capers. 

3.  The mold has a "Star Mark".  This is one of the most propagated myths in the RS Prussia community, and you will see it quite frequently on eBay by unscrupulous sellers who try to capitalize on buyer ignorance. 

What is a "star mark"?  It is a protruding shape on the bottom of a porcelain object which resembles a star or a snowflake.  A 4-pointed "star mark" is also referred to as a "diamond mark", but RS Prussia collectors rarely comment on the diamond mark..  The most common star marks RS Prussia collectors see are the 6-point and 8-point versions. 

FACT:  a) There were MANY star marks, b) NONE of the star marks have been attributed to ONE manufacturer, and c) it is known that SOME of the SAME star marks were used by MORE THAN ONE manufacturer.  I can show you examples from my personal collection where similar star marks appear in the mold on pieces made by manufacturers other than RS Prussia!  These examples are part of an ongoing research project, the results of which I hope to publish in a few years.

But why wait for my research?  Both Gaston and Marple state very clearly in their books that star marks appearing on RS Prussia objects are "ambiguous marks".  This means that any given star mark has NOT been conclusively attributed to a single manufacturer.  The star-marked objects in those books, which have been authenticated as RS Prussia, were identified using STEP 1, STEP 2, and STEP 3 -  not by the star mark alone!!!

4. The mold has a "Bar Mark". 

What is a "bar mark"?  It is a protruding thick line a few inches or less in length, which appears on the bottom of an oval, square, or rectangular bowl.  The bar mark rarely appears on round objects. You will find it most often on  oblong dishes, including bun bowls, celery bowls, and relish dishes. A bar mark adds stability and strength to a porcelain object during the firing process in the kiln at very high temperature because it allows the bottom of a piece to have a thicker portion, making it less likely to crack under the subsequent heating and cooling process.

FACT:  The bar mark for an object with no other porcelain mark does not guarantee that the object is RS Prussia.  Tielsch and a few other manufacturers also used a bar mark in the mold.  Tielsch's bar mark is nearly identical in thickness, length, and position as that used by RS Prussia.

5. "Nickel Circle Mark".  This mold mark usually appears on master berry bowls and similar objects if they are RS Prussia.  You do NOT find the nickel circle mark on most old mold RS Prussia cake plates.  Instead, you find two fine cocentric rings, a larger molded circle, and sometimes another fine ring about 1 inch from the edge or wherever the blown out decorations on the edge smooth out into the main surface of the plate.   While the nickel circle mark is useful and one indication that an object  MIGHT be RS Prussia, it should not be the ONLY indication.  (In other words, you still need STEP 1, STEP 2, and STEP 3.)

However, the opposite situation is usually true:  "If an unmarked bowl has a mold circle mark which is much larger than a nickel, then it is probably NOT RS Prussia, but another European manufacturer"  (and very likely Limoges if the porcelain is very fine and light.  Some Limoges porcelain closely resembles RS Prussia...)  The important thing to remember is "bowl"!  Many RS Prussia cake plates or very shallow bowls had concentric rings with a prominent circle mold mark larger than a nickel. 

6. "The appraiser (grandma, best friend, another eBayer...) told me it was RS Prussia."  This comment I see a lot here on eBay.  In some cases, a seller has been informed by another eBayer that the object is "this" or "that" and the eBayer may be correct.  There are some very serious and knowledgeable collectors on eBay who occassionally take time to help out a seller with a particularly nice unmarked object.  So, I put more stake in this claim than any other, providing the seller quotes the eBayer in their "added information" list or otherwise identifies the eBayer.  If the eBayer has asked not to be identified, then you must use your own best judgment.  But again, the chances are probably good that the eBayer knows something and has shared his/her expertise with the seller. 

However, BUYER BEWARE of "appraisers", "grandma", "estate sale manager", "best friend", etc. Unless the appraiser is a recognized connoisseur of RS Prussia, his or her expertise is absolutely worthless.  This is a harsh statement, but I stand behind it 100 percent.  Porcelain appraisal is a specialty, broken down into many catagories, and bona fide RS Prussia experts are few and far between.  Go back and review STEP 1, STEP 2, and STEP 3 at the beginning of this guide.  Those three steps together are the ONLY sure method of determining genuine RS Prussia, regardless of whatever hot air some appraiser blows.

If you really don't know how to to use STEP 1, STEP 2, and STEP 3, but you're pretty sure the seller has an appraised RS Prussia object you would like to buy, then ask the seller for the name and telephone number of the appraiser.  A reputable appraiser will not object to being contacted for more information (moreover, the appraiser will probably be glad to talk to someone who is interested in antique porcelain!).  On the other hand, if the seller is evasive and will not provide you the name and phone number of the appraiser, then you can be sure the appraisal is bogus.  In that case, DO NOT BID UNLESS YOU CAN CONFIDENTLY IDENTIFY THE OBJECT YOURSELF!!!

7.  The object was "part of an RS Prussia collection".  This comment is totally worthless insofar that I will even call it stupid or insipidly misleading.  Part of something else doesn't matter.  What the seller is doing is making a "suggestion" that because everything else in the lot is RS Prussia, any unidentified object is likewise.  This makes no sense once you think it through.  If the seller tossed the unidentified object up in the air like he/she tossed up the statement about the collection, then you would have an unidentified FLYING object, which it might as well be since there is nothing to at this point to prove it's RS Prussia.  So, when you see idiocy like this, remember "UFO" and steer clear of any temptation to bid. 

The real reason is this: Many connoisseurs of antique porcelain do not limit their collection to one manufacturer.  While a very small percentage may specialize in one type of porcelain only, who's to say that a look-alike might have slipped in there or a dish was put on display because it was a cherished gift from a loved one?  Also, consider that some people intentionally purchase quality fakes to use at dinner parties so the valuable antiques remain safely in the china cabinet.  Therefore, beware the auction description which states, "This bowl was part of an RS Prussia collection..."

8. "IRIS VARIATION MOLD, LILY VARIATION MOLD; POPPY VARIATION MOLD"  Wow!  That's a lot a of "variation molds"!  But the truth is that there are only a few variations which are genuine RS Prussia,  all of which have been identified by Mary Gaston and Leeland Marple. 

This means that just because an item is listed as a "variation" of the iris, lily, or poppy molds, does not guarantee that it is RS Prussia.  MANY of the Prussian and Bavarian manufacturers also made fancy art nouveau blown-out floral molds, including Tielsch, Meissen, PS Germany, IPF, ES Prussia, CS Prussia, OS Prussia, etc. etc.  Add to that old Limoges, some English bone china, and the host of fakes... you get the picture.  If you want to know if a "variation" is RS Prussia, then ask an RS Prussia collector or do some digging in RS Prussia books.  There are only a FEW genuine variations.  Therefore, BEWARE the seller who has an unmarked object and tries to pass it off as RS Prussia.  It could very well be another manufacturer.

Which brings me to my last paragraph:

Why is some porcelain unmarked??? 

The rule of thumb used my many collectors and offered by Leland Marple in his books is this: Prior to 1905, porcelain objects were not required to have a stamp on the back indentifying the manufacturer.  This means it was okay simply to pack a bunch of porcelain into a crate and ship it to America, providing the OUTSIDE OF THE CRATE was marked!  As to why some porcelain made after 1905 is unmarked provides ongoing fodder for debate among porcelain collectors.  In most cases, it is because the mark has worn off over the years. 

That's it for tonight... GOOD LUCK PORCELAIN HUNTING!!!

 
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