Nippon China: A Collector’s Guide to Identification, Hallmarks, and Values

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 about the world of Nippon china or are looking to start a collection, 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 China?

Nippon is the Japanese word for Japan, and in the context of antiques, 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.

Learn More

For collectors looking to expand their knowledge of Nippon Porcelain, the Collector’s Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain, 3rd Series is a valuable resource.

History of Nippon China

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 not only beautiful but also 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

Origin

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.

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: Continued use of “Nippon” on some items, especially for domestic use

How to Identify Nippon

Identifying genuine Nippon china can be a rewarding but challenging task (given the amount of reproductions). 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.

Learn More

For an in-depth exploration of Nippon Porcelain, including identification and values, consider reading Collectors Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain: Identification & Values by Joan Van Patten.

Hallmarks

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

  • Cherry Blossom, Hand Painted: Depicts a delicate cherry blossom in blue, green, or magenta next to the words “Hand Painted.” Manufacturer not specifically known. Date(s) of manufacture not known.
  • Imperial Nippon: Features the word “Imperial” above “Nippon” in elegant blue or green script. Manufacturer not specifically known. Date(s) of manufacture not known.
  • The Maple Leaf: A stylized maple leaf in green, blue, or magenta, often accompanied by the word “Nippon” and “Hand Painted.” Manufacturer not specifically known. Used since 1891.
  • Morimura Bros’ “M in Wreath”: An “M” enclosed in a wreath, found in various colors like green, blue, magenta, and gold. Manufactured by Morimura Brothers. Used since 1911.
  • Noritake’s Signature: The word “Noritake” in a flowing script above “Nippon,” used on blank pieces for export. Manufactured by Noritake. Dating from 1911.
  • The Rising Sun: A representation of the sun with rays extending outward, often in blue. Manufacturer not specifically known. In use since 1911.
  • Royal Crockery’s “RC”: The letters “R” and “C” are intertwined, often in a combination of red and green. Manufactured by Noritake as “Royal Crockery.” Used since 1911.
  • Royal Kinran Crown: Features a crown symbol above the words “Royal Kinran,” found in blue, gold, and green. Manufacturer not specifically known. Made for the Japanese market since 1906.
  • Spoke Hand Painted: A spoked wheel design with the words “Hand Painted” and “Nippon,” seen only in blue. Manufacturer not specifically known. In existence as early as 1911.

REPRO 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.

Values

The value of Nippon china depends on various factors. Here’s a general overview of the current market, which may be better if reproductions weren’t such an issue. Please note that these values are illustrative and can vary widely.

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

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.

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.

IMPORTANT: Quick Tip

Always consult with an expert or reputable dealer to accurately assess the value of a specific piece of Nippon. Also, Nippon china, like many other types of antique porcelain and ceramic ware, may contain lead in the glazes or decorative elements.

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