Some Chinese Porcelain Marks

Chinese porcelain has been around a long time, much of it created by true artists who would put their mark on the bottom of the piece. Identifying these marks has for some been quite an endeavor. We present a few here and some general information to get you started. (Not being experts or even qualified appraisers we can’t help you identify a piece or assess its value on the market for personal or insurance purposes.)
A lot of this info comes from a blog post showing almost 600 marks on various Chinese porcelain pieces. The layout of the post isn’t all that easy to follow and is very long. So we wanted to present a more condensed version that hits the highlights.
The images above appear on the site linked to at the end of this article and are screen captures from that site for the purpose of showing a brief sampling of what is available there. We encourage you to go see the rest. Very educational, even if you’re not planning to start collecting these fine porcelain treasures.
Types of Marks
  • from the Republic Period (exclusive of reign marks)
  • reign marks
  • ‘CHINA’ marks
  • ‘circle’ marks
  • private kiln and company marks
  • hall marks that, if the piece is genuine, shows it was produced in the Imperial kilns
  • commendation or aspirational marks, referring to “the destination or ownership of an object, or (to) carry a message of commendation or good wishes”, the commendations moved location from the base of the porcelains to the written inscriptions on the sides of the porcelains in the Late Qing and Republic eras.
  • artist’s marks and seals (potters and painters)
  • date marks
The number of marks is in the thousands, with those covering the Shang (1600 BCE) Dynasty thru the Guangxu reign (ended in 1908) numbering over 3,000. Many of the non-imperial derived patterns from the Late Qing and Republic have inscriptions (often in black enamel) that include some or all of the following: a poem; the artist’s name and/or seal; the calligrapher’s name; the cyclical date; a commendation or other wishes; the place of manufacture; and the owner or patron. Republic Period pieces are almost always marked. If you have an unmarked piece, it is probably not from this period.
 
Some Common Terms Used in These Marks
Some samples of these terms used in various marks are shown at the top of this article.
  • Ming Ci = famous or name-brand porcelain
  • Pin = product – variations: Zhen Pin (precious product) and Chu Pin (product released to the world)
  • Gong Si or Gongsi = legal term for company, for example, Youxian Gongsi means Ltd. or Inc.
  • Cang = collection of
  • Hua or Hui = painted by
  • Shi = family, clan, surname
  • ie = to write, written by
  • Zhi = made by/in (has the connotation of “fabricated by”)
  • Zhai or Zhai Zhi = Studio of
  • Zao or Zuo = made by/in, manufactured by – variation: Zi zao (made on premises)
See the full post by collector Michaela, a retired geologist. Another great resource is The New and Revised Handbook of Marks on Chinese Ceramics by Gerald Davison, 2010, which Michaela cites in her post.

About Janice and Stephen Shelton

Purveyors of Premium Teas
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