Antique Spotlight – Irish Beleek, Nippon, Noritake

Antique Spotlight – Irish Beleek, Nippon, Noritake
Our final article in this series explores the history of the finest china from Ireland and Japan. I hope you've enjoyed learning more about the world's china manufacturers!


Irish Belleek is a fine grade of porcelain that is thin and delicate. It is often coated in a nacreous or mother-of-pearl glaze, which gives it an iridescent quality. It was invented by Frenchman J.J.H. Brainchon, who filed a patent in England in 1857.

Many designs are based on the nearby Irish Sea. Shells, corals, sea horses, and marine plants are frequently found. Designs are also created around Irish folklore and mythology, and some ornamental ware is based on the Book of Kells.

Ivory or pearl glazed Belleek was made into breakfast, dessert, and tea services, as well as into odd pieces like figurines, epergnes, jardinieres, baskets, centerpieces, vases, and flower pots.

The first American Belleek appeared in 1884 in Trenton, New Jersey, which is often called the "Staffordshire of America." Eight companies included The Etruria Pottery, Cook Pottery, Delaware Pottery, The Willetts Pottery, The Ceramic Art Company, American Art China Works, Columbian Art Pottery Co., and the popular Lenox Incorporated. In 1889 Lenox produced the first translucent fine American china, and by the turn of the century they were second to none in the quality of its china.


Today's Noritake company grew out of a trading company established by the Morimura Brothers in New York in 1876. The company imported china, curios, paper lanterns, and other gift items. In 1904, a forerunner of the Noritake Company called Nippon Toki Kaisha Ltd. was established in the village of Noritake, Japan. The goal was to create a line of china that would be suitable to export to American markets.

Originally, all Noritake ware was hand painted, usually with liberal applications of gold, but today it is transfer printed in full color. The ware is usually marked "Noritake" with the words "Japan" or "Nippon." The original mark was supposedly inspired by the Morimura family crest, which is also what the "M" stands for.

The true definition of "Nippon" is china that was produced by Japanese potteries between 1891 and 1921, but collectors consider the best pieces those made by Noritake. Sometimes the names are used interchangeably.

Fine, realistic detail is typical of Nippon-era china. Some pieces are molded in relief, which often fetch higher prices among collectors. The "classic" Noritake style features gorgeous, detailed landscapes in rich earth tones with elaborate decoration at the top and bottom of the piece.

After World War I, Germany and France were unable to export fine quality dolls for the world market. Japanese companies filled that gap with high quality porcelain doll heads that are becoming quite rare to find.

Like all Japanese exports of the time, pieces of Noritake china from 1948 to 1953 are marked "Occupied Japan."

For more articles on china manufacturers, visit the Antique Spotlight subject on the Museums homepage!

You Should Also Read:
Antique Spotlight -- Limoges China
Antique Spotlight -- Bavarian China
Antique Spotlight -- Majolica

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