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Hips don’t lie and backstamps don’t lie either. These 2 things we can be sure of thanks to Shakira and English potters. But let us focus on the backstamps and the information they offer to teacup enthusiasts.

A Wealth of Information

There is a multitude of information that one can glean from the backstamp of a teacup (or other pieces of china) but if you are new to collecting, let’s define a backstamp. A backstamp is simply the manufacturer’s mark on the bottom of a piece. This mark is placed by the manufacturer under the glaze and includes important information.

Someone Has Been Lying to You

One thing I hear quite often as an Appraiser and Curator is, “These have to be over 100 years old, my husband’s grandmother had them and she died 10 years ago at the age of 88”. Here lies the issue with that statement: Teacups don’t automatically assume the age of their owner. Just because a family member was in possession of these items, doesn’t mean they received or bought them earlier in their life. In fact, a lot of teacups were given as wedding gifts, shower gifts, birthday gifts or anniversary gifts. Even taking into consideration the early age at which people were married, it would still significantly reduce the age of the items in question. The one and only way to ascertain the age of the item is by looking at the backstamp. You can be sure that backstamps never lie.

So what information can you find on a back stamp?

1. Year or period of production: Sometimes, special commemorative teacups were produced for only one year but most times, backstamps indicated a period of time that a manufacturer used that particular marking. Companies periodically updated and/or changed their markings. For example, Royal Albert used their Crown China back stamp between 1905-1935 and changed their backstamp about every 10 years.

The back of an Aynsley saucer shows a backstamp for a special issue item commemorating Princess Margaret's visit to Canada in 1958. Backstamps don't lie,
Commemorative Aynsley Saucer from Princess Margaret’s Visit to Canada in 1958

Sometimes the color of the backstamp can also give an indication of age as is the case with Belleek Pottery. They used green, brown, blue, gold and black stamps at different times and so collectors familiar with their pieces will automatically be able to place particular pieces into specific time frames.

A chart of different backstamps used by the Belleek company over the years starting at 1863 until the present day. Backstamps don't lie.
A Variety of Backstamps Were Used By The Belleek Company of the Years

2. Manufacturer: Company names are a central part of the information found on backstamps. It provides one detail to the reputation of the company along with design. Paragon was granted warrants by the Royal Family which bolstered their reputation as trusted manufacturers of fine wares and suppliers to the Royal Family.

3. Country of origin: You will find “Made in England” or simply England on most wares. William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, introduced the McKinley Tariff Act in 1890. This act imposed a tariff on imported goods in an effort to protect the livelihood of American Manufacturers. The Act required all imports to carry the name of the country of manufacture. In 1921, the Act was amended to include “Made in”

William McKinley, 25th President stands for a portrait behind a wood and leather chair clad in a 3 piece suit with bowtie. Backstamps don't lie.
William McKinley, 25th President of the United States

4. Quality: Each manufacturer had a set of quality standards. Pieces that were not perfect may have been classed as 2nds, 3rds or even 4ths. Different companies indicated quality in different ways. Sometimes by placing an X or scratch through the backstamp.

The bottom of a vintage Colclough teacup shows the backstamp. Backstamps don't lie
The Backstamp of a Colclough Teacup That Has Been Marked As 2nd Quality

5. Pattern name or pattern number: Name of the Series: Not all patterns produced were given a name. Sometimes, they only had a pattern number. Both pieces of information are found on the back stamp. Note that even though pattern numbers are often handwritten, this does not indicate that the pieces were limited edition or that they are signed pieces. This solely indicated the pattern number.

Unmarked Pieces Are Old And Valuable

So what if you find a piece that is unmarked? Many people are under the impression that if a piece is unmarked, that it is rare and valuable and that is certainly true, sometimes. But there are more clues to look for than just the absence of a backstamp. In these instances, it is important to look at the quality or type of porcelain and the style of decoration. Many pieces are not marked but the style is often messy and unprofessional. These clues will allow you to ascertain if it is an older piece. When in doubt, consult an expert appraiser to do research and confirm the age and/or origin of your piece. Afterall, backstamps don’t lie.

Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery and it might be if it is well done. In the world of antiques, reproductions are an ever-present issue. Decerning between an authentic piece and a reproduction can pose certain challenges. Below is an example of a fake Shelley backstamp versus a real Shelley backstamp. In the example below, you will see several subtleties. When in doubt, contact The Teacup Attic for an expert appraisal.

  1. The letter ‘F” leans
  2. Top loop of ‘B’ is too short
  3. Top of Shield should have points and not curves
  4. All letter in England should be even in size (N is too short, A is too short, N is askew)
  5. The script should have a steeper angle between ‘S’ and ‘H’
  6. The loop should be more open between ‘E’ and ‘Y’
  7. ‘Y’ should have an open loop at the bottom
Source: http://www.chintz.net
The backstamp of a Shelley teacup and saucer. Backstamps don't lie.
An authentic Shelley piece is always welcomed by Collectors

Over or Under?

Typically, an underglaze mark is that of the manufacturer and the overglaze mark is that of the decorator. Not all pieces were decorated on-site and some were decorated by other companies. In other instances, a retailer’s mark was placed when special runs were done for large stores like Birk’s.

A Hand Painted Birks Plate Shows an Overglaze Mark

Don’t forget to enter our February contest. It’s easy and in just a couple of clicks, you can be entered to win this month’s prize. In February, we are giving away a Royal Albert Old Country Roses trio. Just click on the link below to enter. There is no purchase necessary and the contest is open to everyone. Please see full contest rules here. The contest closes February 24th.

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