Nippon China Value Guide With Identification Tips and Hallmarks

No, antique Nippon china is not from China—it's from Japan.

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Nippon china collage

Nippon china is more than just beautiful porcelain; it’s a piece of history from Japan’s rich artistic tradition. If you’ve ever wondered if that hand-painted vase your grandfather brought back from WWII is Nippon, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll explore what Nippon china is, how to identify it, its common hallmarks, its values, and some classic examples. Let’s dive in!

What Is Nippon?

Nippon is the Japanese word for Japan, and it refers to fine porcelain and china produced in Japan and exported to the United States primarily during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The term Nippon was used to comply with the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, which required that goods imported into the United States be marked with their country of origin.

Early Period (1891-1921)

The early period of Nippon china marked a golden era of creativity and craftsmanship in Japanese porcelain. During this time, Japanese artists and manufacturers were inspired by European styles but infused their works with traditional Japanese themes and techniques. The resulting pieces were beautiful and innovative, blending East and West in a way that was unique to this period.

  • Export Market: Primarily the United States
  • Styles: Influenced by European porcelain, with traditional Japanese motifs
  • Marking: “Nippon” stamped or hand-painted on the bottom
Design for plate bordered with gold circular medallions with pendant flowers; in turn those have hanging flowers with 2 prongs against a light green ground; at center is a floral medallion with quatrefoil motif inside. Inscribed in graphite, upper margin: numbers and several tableware designs
Plate Design for Noritake, c. 1880 – 1910. Credit: Smithsonian Design Museum

Post-1921 and WWII Era

After 1921, the U.S. Customs Service ruled that items should be marked with the English name of the country of origin, leading to a decline in the use of the “Nippon” mark. However, some pieces continued to be marked with “Nippon,” especially those intended for domestic use or markets other than the United States.

During WWII, the production of fine porcelain in Japan shifted towards more utilitarian wares due to the war effort. Some Nippon-marked items from this period might exist, but they would likely be less common and different in style from the earlier, more ornate pieces. More often than not, these newer pieces would be marked with “Made in Japan” instead.

  • WWII Impact: Shift towards utilitarian wares like Corningware, reduced production of ornate pieces
  • Marking: Most pieces say “Made in Japan;” Continued use of “Nippon” on some items, especially for domestic use
Salad plate (from Imperial Hotel table setting), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and made by Noritake Company
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright between 1916-1922; Made in 1968 by Noritake Company

Is Nippon Worth Anything?

Nippon prices vary depending on several factors. For example, a common Nippon vase is usually worth between $50-$100, but a rare Nippon vase can be worth $1,000 or more. Here’s a general overview of the current market.

Nippon ItemEstimated Value Range (USD)
Hand-Painted Vase with Gold Gilding$100 – $300
Moriage Decorated Tea Set$200 – $500
Royal Crockery (RC) Serving Platter$150 – $400
Imperial Nippon Porcelain Figurine$120 – $350
Cherry Blossom Design Tea Cup & Saucer$50 – $150
Noritake Art Deco Bowl$75 – $200
Rising Sun Motif Wall Clock$200 – $600
Please note that these values are illustrative and can vary widely.

Factors Affecting Value

  • Common Pieces: $50 – $200
  • Rare Designs: Up to $1,000 or more
  • Age: Older pieces, especially those from significant historical periods or representing early examples of a style or maker, may have higher value. Age alone doesn’t determine value, but it can contribute when combined with other factors like condition and rarity.
  • Condition: The physical state of an item plays a crucial role in its value. Pieces in excellent or mint condition, without chips, cracks, or restoration, are generally more valuable. Any damage or wear can significantly reduce the value.
  • Maker’s Mark: Recognizable and reputable maker’s marks can increase an item’s value. A well-known manufacturer or artist’s signature often signifies quality and authenticity, leading to higher demand and price.
  • Historical Significance: Items with a connection to significant historical events, figures, or cultural movements may have increased value. The historical context can add a layer of interest and desirability, making such pieces more valuable to collectors and historians.

How to Identify Nippon Pieces

Identifying genuine Nippon can be challenging (given the amount of reproductions). Always consult with an expert or reputable dealer to accurately assess the value of a specific piece of Nippon. Here are some key characteristics to look for:

  • Markings: Look for the word “Nippon” on the bottom of the piece along with the words “Hand Painted.”
  • Quality: Evaluate if the piece has high-quality painting and gilding with rich and vibrant colors.
  • Design: Seek out traditional Japanese themes, such as landscapes, florals, and geishas.
  • Texture: Identify gold gilding and texture, often a beaded or moriage (raised) decoration.

common hallmarks

Nippon hallmarks are specific markings found on Nippon china that can provide clues to its authenticity and manufacturer. Some common hallmarks include:

  • The Maple Leaf (1891-1911): A stylized maple leaf in green, blue, or magenta, often accompanied by the word “Nippon” and “Hand Painted” and used by Morimura Gumi.
  • M in Wreath (1911-1921): An “M” enclosed in a wreath, found in various colors like green, blue, magenta, and gold. Manufactured by Morimura Brothers.
  • Noritake’s Signature (1911-1921): The word “Noritake” in a flowing script above “Nippon,” used on blank pieces for export. Manufactured by Noritake.
  • The Rising Sun (1911-1921): A representation of the sun with rays extending outward, often in blue and used on more utilitarian pieces.
  • RC (1911-1921): The letters “R” and “C” are intertwined, often in a combination of red and green. Manufactured by Noritake as “Royal Crockery.”
  • Spoke Hand Painted (1911-1921): A spoked wheel design with the words “Hand Painted” and “Nippon,” seen only in blue.

REPRODUCTION Warning

Beware of fake Nippon marks that are identical to the original. Reproductions and forgeries are common in the market and have been since the 1970s. Also, note that the list above is not comprehensive.

Nippon Hallmark Examples

Appraising Nippon china requires a deep understanding of the various manufacturers, hallmarks, and characteristics that define each piece. Recognizing these elements not only helps in identifying genuine pieces but also in determining their historical context, rarity, and desirability in the market. Here are some examples of Nippon china to familiarize yourself with some common features and values.

Morimura Bros’ Nippon Vase with Floral Motif

  • Value: $50 – $125
  • Features: Intricate hand painted floral design and moriage texture
  • Hallmark: Morimura Bros’ “M in Wreath”

Noritake Nippon Plate with Florals

  • Value: $150 – $225
  • Features: Detailed rose painting, vibrant colors, and moriage texture with gold gilt
  • Hallmark: Royal Crockery’s “RC”

Hand Painted Nippon Tea Set with Rose Design

  • Value: $300 – $500
  • Features: Hand-painted roses
  • Hallmark: The Maple Leaf
  • Editor’s Note: It’s hard to tell without seeing the item in person, but this could be a reproduction from the 1970s.

Read More

For an in-depth exploration of Nippon Porcelain, including identification and values, consider reading Collector’s Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain, 3rd Series or Collectors Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain: Identification & Values, 7th Series by Joan Van Patten.

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