This is probably the number one question people ask, and of course they want an easy answer. As with life, there are no easy answers, but hopefully we can give you some of the right questions to ask so you can at least get an idea. So where do we start? We start by answering these questions:
- Who made it?
- When was it made?
- Is it hand painted?
- How is the condition?
- What pattern is it? Is it elegant and pretty?
Each of these questions is an article to itself, so let's start with the first question. Who made the china is usually found my the mark or back stamp on the bottom of the item. In large china set patterns not all items had marks so you may need to look at several pieces to find them. An example of a mark is shown here.
Fine china was made all over the world, but the best pieces were made in England, Germany and France, although there are some very desirable patterns from Lenox in the U.S. and Noritake of Japan. Noritake was a huge exporter of china to the US and large china sets are much more common. Other US manufactures produced china sets, but they were generally heavier and the quality and detail is generally perceived, rightly or wrongly, as inferior to those from England, France and Germany.
If you're buying china from France, it has to be Haviland. There is the old saying, ” You can never have too much Haviland”. Haviland actually split up into different factories for a while and then united under one name. They still produce fine porcelain today. Many of the china sets one sees are varieties of the famous pink rose designs. There are hundreds of varieties of this pattern and it is almost impossible to identify as the marks only identified the Haviland company as the maker. There is a very fine book published at replacements.com that lists all the patterns produced by Haviland, but even with that it can be a difficult task.
From Germany, Rosenthal was the largest and most famous fine china producer and many of their patterns are highly desirable. Their quality is very good indeed.
English Bone China is probably perceived as the most desirable. They were able to produce the whitest of glazes, but used animal bone as part of their soft past porcelain process. Wedgwood and Royal Doulton are probably the most widely known and recognized names, but others such as Minton, Royal Crown Derby and Spode were of equal quality.
In the USA, Homer Laughlin and Lenox are the longest surviving producers. Homer Laughlin produces many patterns, but the quality or production and designs has put them at the lower end of the scale (vintage pieces often have crazing, which definitely affects the value). Lenox's quality was superior to Homer Laughlin and their items have stood the test of time.
So what does the answer to the first question tell us? Most desirable china sets are from England, Germany and France. A few from Lenox. Less desirable are Noritake and on the low-end of the value range, Home Laughlin.
For all of the articles in this series, What is my china worth?, check out the links below.
Part 1 – What is my China worth – Introduction
Part 2 – What is my china worth – How old is it?
Part 3 – What is my china worth – Is it hand painted?
Part 4 – What is my china worth – Condition
Part 5 – What is my china worth – Pattern and decoration