Glass and china have many secrets to share with us, if you know where to look. Deciphering the words and symbols on a piece will yield all kinds of information! Here’s what you need to know to get started.
You are more likely to find a makers' mark on china than on glass. Historically speaking, it seems that more potteries were concerned about marking their ware than glass makers. Without a mark, your only alternative is to research the pattern.
Sometimes a makers' mark gives you the name of the company as well as the country or city of origin. Other times it is a series of symbols and abbreviations that need to be decoded.
There are several collector's books available that have cataloged known makers' marks. If your mark has words in it, it will be much easier to identify than if it is just a symbol, since those can be hard to define.
Makers' marks will also help you to date your piece, because some marks were used only during certain time periods. It is usually possible to identify at least a span of time when your piece was produced using a mark.
After the McKinley Tariff of 1891, all goods imported into the United States had to be identified with their country of origin. If your piece does not have a country listed, it is possible it dates before the early 1890s. Of course, there are exceptions, so be careful making assumptions!
Once you identify the company who made your piece, it is best to learn all you can about the pottery or glass maker. That way, if there are any strange markings or special limited production patterns unique to that manufacturer, you will know how your pieces fit into the company's repertoire.
These are some useful books I have used to help identify marks in my museum’s glass and china collections: