This is the second guide I have written on Nippon porcelain in an attempt to share my life long admiration for this beautiful Japanese ware. For help in determining fake Nippon porcelain from authentic antique Nippon, check out my eBay guide on that subject (HOW TO TELL FAKE NIPPON PORCELAIN FROM AUTHENTIC NIPPON). While it is simply an introduction to the topic of modern reproduction Nippon, it may save you from making a costly error. Additionally, you may also wish to read my other guide on moriage Nippon porcelain: NIPPON PORCELAIN: A GUIDE TO MORIAGE & BEADED WARE
There is a good amount of authentic unmarked Nippon porcelain available today. Unmarked Nippon pieces almost always command a lower price than marked, back stamped pieces, so be sure to compare prices prior to making a purchase. However, there are many marked pieces that are of poor quality and many unmarked pieces that are truly gorgeous. If you are new to collecting Nippon porcelain, you may want to focus on marked pieces, as it is with time and experience that you will develop an ‘eye’ for genuine Nippon.
WHAT IS UNMARKED NIPPON?
Prior to 1891, items imported into the USA were not required to be marked with their country of origin. Effective March 1, 1891, however, the McKinley Tariff Act mandated that all goods entering the USA had to be marked with their country of origin. In general, then, unmarked Nippon is prior to March 1891; however, this is not a hard and fast rule. Until import laws were clarified, some USA ports allowed goods to enter the country as long as the crate or box was marked with the originating country. In 1921 the federal government did an about face and decided that Japanese goods could not be marked Nippon any longer. Instead, Japanese goods had to be marked as ‘Japan’ or ‘Made in Japan.’
Consequently the Nippon era is generally considered to be between 1891-1921.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN UNMARKED PIECE
First, turn the piece over and examine the bottom / back. Generally, the pottery base should have a slightly blue tinge (refer to the photo below). It should not be a bright clear white. The bottom should exhibit some signs of wear where the base would rest on a table. Remember, unmarked Nippon is 100+ years old; it should not look new on the bottom.
Second, unmarked Nippon should be of the same high quality as marked Nippon. Painting and the application of details (depending on the type ware) should be done carefully and uniformly. Examine the flowers and leaves, for example, on an unmarked floral design piece to see if motives are 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 add to the sense of depth. Examine also the manner of painting of scrolls, curliques, etc. These, too, should be uniformly and carefully applied, not appearing hurridly done and 'blobbed' on. Applied gold should have a slightly tarnished look of age; it will not be a bright modern luster gold.
Be aware that items advertised as ‘pre-Nippon’ may not be Nippon at all and may be of quite inferior quality. Also be aware that there are numerous pieces coming into the country that mimic antique Nippon. These wares have a paper label (Made in China, Made in Japan) that can easily be removed and the piece advertised as unmarked Nippon. A careful examination will reveal differences: the weight is a bit off, the workmanship is not the high quality artistry found in most real Nippon, the gold isn't quite the correct color, and the piece just doesn't 'look' or 'feel' right. There is no substitute for experience when purchasing unmarked ware.
SOME EXAMPLES OF UNMARKED NIPPON
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Regards, Flo Dove
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