• Deb Clark

Dating & Identifying Japanese Lustreware

You may have this stunning tea set we have in the shop this week.

It’s from a deceased estate, and has no markings of any kind on the base. How did we determine how much it was worth?

Well first, what type of pottery is it? The pagoda design and lustre of the glaze immediately said ‘Japan’ to me. And the feel and quality of the china also felt Japanese. But what is that lustre finish and why do I think it’s from Japan?

Lusterware or Lustreware (depending on if you speak American Or English) is a type of pottery with a metallic glaze that looks iridescent because of the metallic oxides used in the glaze. After painting and decorating, the pieces are glazed with a transparent metallic finish and fired again at a lower temperature in a kiln which excludes oxygen, producing the illusion of luminescence.

There are four classes of Lusterware. Each class depends upon the elements used to overlay the porcelain.

COPPER – Typically plain, with perhaps a band of white or other colour. The base was usually earthenware.

PLATINUM – Newer than copper, the base was porcelain, making it as lovely as the finest English china.

GOLD – Usually used only as an embellishment.

PINK OR PURPLE (Rose spotted or Sunderland) – An overlay of a gold solution that oxidized.

The metals were chemically dissolved into a thin solution and applied with a brush or by dipping and the fact that most lusterware has stood the test of time so well is a proof of the effectiveness of the process. It probably helped that many thought it too beautiful delicate to actually use so many vintage pieces still look new today.

Lusterware was developed in China and the Middle East in the first century AD, but it came to prominence in England in the 18th century. Many potteries, including Wedgwood embraced the style, and in the 1920s they released Fairyland lustre, designed by Daisy Makeig-Jones (1881–1945) and based on imagery from illustrated children's books.

Fairy Lustreware

Japan also began producing lusterware from the 19th century....sort of copying the English versions and doing it cheaper (much like Chinese knockoffs today). Lots of this Japanese-produced porcelain is lumped together as “Nippon” or “Noritake,” but neither of those terms identifies the maker. Nippon is the Japanese term for Japan, used after the McKinley tariff act of 1891 mandated imported items be marked with the country of origin. Noritake is the area (like Limoges in France or Staffordshire in England) where the bulk of this manufacturing happened.

After trade from Japan to the West was opened up from the 1870s, Japanese brothers Ichizaemon and Toyo Morimura developed products suited to the American market and imported and sold items in New York, including inexpensive porcelains made by other companies. After a visit to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, the brothers decided to open their own porcelain factory in the Noritake region of Japan, producing and decorating their own blanks as well as selling blanks to other decorators. They found that Lustreware was quite a profitable product line. The glazes were so popular that the company developed a variety of colors, decorative decals and hand-painted scenes; they added pieces to their services such as sugar bowls, milk jugs and cheese domes, items not normally seen in Japanese sets. Although popularized by the Morimuras, lines of tableware with a lustrous glaze were produced by porcelain factories all over Japan.

Morimura Lustreware

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 like our teaset was made before 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,’ at least those for the export market to the USA. Australia, however, may not have required these markings, and in 1930–31, Japan was Australia's third most important trading partner, according to Wikipedia.

From the late 1930s and During and after WWII, most Japanese nonmilitary production was stopped, and resumed again from about 1945. At this point Japan was occupied by US forces, helping to rebuild Japan, and many export pieces were marked “Made in Occupied Japan.”

There are know also modern copies of vintage Lustreware, mostly made in the 1980s when Lustreware was very collectable and demanding high prices. Marks favored by modern producers include 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 and there are probably more than a dozen copycat marks generally in use today. So having an unmarked set could be a good thing!

So basically, an unmarked set could be either pre 1921, or after 1952, when the US left Japan, however most pieces after this time do have the makers mark on them. I’ve also been unable to find another set anywhere that looks exactly like this one. I don’t feel that this set is old enough to have been made before 1921. My feeling is that it was made in the early 1930s for export to Australia.

If you have any ideas, please let me know!

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Made in occupied japan makers marks



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