CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

How to Identify Antique Vases and Their Makers

Vases are an incredibly popular option for antique pottery collectors, and offer a wide range of styles and scales. Exploring the history of the vase reveals its cross-cultural importance and relevance for centuries of artisans. From classic American Brilliant cut glass to Wedgwood jasperware, vases can fill any decorative gap in your home with ease. Although vase identification can be daunting at first, learning this skill can give you a glimpse into the fascinating world of antique vases.

How do you identify an antique vase?

If you’ve ever sought to identify a vase on your own, it’s normal to be stumped by the puzzling markings used by makers to identify their pieces. Full of unusual symbols and almost reading like a language of its own, learning about these markings can be a great challenge but also highly rewarding. If you have a knack for puzzles or love predicting the ending of thrillers on TV, hunting for antique vases could be the perfect hobby for you.
 
When learning how to identify antique vases, the first rule of thumb is to know your vase composition - is it porcelain, ceramic, glass or another material? This will help narrow the possible makers of your vase and help you determine which composition may have been used. Different types of vases may use some materials that are primarily associated with a single maker, while others are widely used, spanning across the globe.
 

Once you identify the material, flip over the vase and check for markings on the bottom. Markings show the artist’s name, workshop, date of creation and more. Some markings are relatively simple, while others will require background knowledge to decode. Depending on the material of your vase these marks could be painted, etched or stamped onto the vase edges or base. Vases may also have paper stickers identifying collections they once belonged to, which will be useful in tracing the provenance of your piece. Be careful not to remove any labels or scratch the marked section of the vase.

 
Markings from porcelain Royal KPM Porcelain Krater Vase. Circa 1851. M.S. Rau.
 
Markings from porcelain Royal KPM Porcelain Krater Vase. Circa 1851. M.S. Rau.
 

Antique vase markings

Now that you know where to look, you may need a bit of help to determine what the antique markings mean. Some markings will be prominent and easily read, while others might require magnification. Careful examination of these markings can help you determine the authenticity of the piece. It’s important to note that markings can be copied or forged, so it’s always helpful to get a second opinion if you’re unsure of the authenticity of a piece. Some possible signs of a faked mark could be an improper technique (painted mark on a glass vase for example), using initials only for certain artists, or improper spacing between letters. Many of these flaws may be impossible to recognize if you’re unfamiliar with antique vase markings, making identifying vases both exciting and challenging.
 
An almost hidden signature by Emile Gallé.
 
An almost hidden signature by Emile Gallé.
 


If you’re unable to find any markings, don’t give up yet! Check the entire surface of the vase, as some artists include their maker’s mark in difficult-to-find locations, even including the vase’s interior. It’s also possible that they may have worn off over years of use, or that the piece was unsigned from the start. If this is the case, it’s best to consult an expert or check out the catalog raisonné for the possible artist.

 

Antique vases by maker

The easiest way to learn antique markings is by maker, as every firm and some individual artists use unique marks to distinguish their works from any imitators or competitors. If you’re interested in a specific period of artistry for example, memorizing the most popular artisans from that time is a great starting point for your collection. The makers and marks included below are by no means a complete list, but represent some of the most popular and desirable artisans.

 

Wedgwood

 
Wedgwood Crimson Jasperware Portland Vase. Circa 1920. M.S. Rau.
 
Wedgwood Crimson Jasperware Portland Vase. Circa 1920. M.S. Rau.
 
Wedgwood Crimson Jasperware Portland Vase. Circa 1920. M.S. Rau.
 

Wedgwood is known for its jasperware and incredible quality production, and for the entrepreneurial spirit of its founder, Josiah Wedgwood. Although maker’s marks had been in use prior to Wedgwood’s production, Josiah Wedgwood was the first to mark his ceramic products with his own name, which was much more difficult to copy than the simplistic markings used by earlier artisans. As his company evolved, the marking changed from a simple “Wedgwood” to “Wedgwood & Bentley” or “W. & B.” with the addition of Thomas Bentley into the company. For Wedgwood and many other firms, the mark used can identify the date of the piece and alludes to its value - the Wedgwood & Bentley period was relatively short-lived, but is considered one of the firm’s best quality production eras. Following Bentley’s death, the firm returned to variations of “Wedgwood,” alternatively styled as “Wedgwood & Sons” for a brief period. The vase above dates to 1920 and represents one of Wedgwood’s most celebrated designs, a reproduction of the famed Portland Vase, while the below image shows the “Wedgwood & Bentley” mark.

 
 “Wedgwood & Bentley” mark.
 

Rene Lalique

 
René Lalique Spirales Vase. Circa 1930. M.S. Rau
 
René Lalique Spirales Vase . Circa 1930. M.S. Rau
 
René Lalique Spirales Vase. Circa 1930. M.S. Rau
 

Known for his Art Nouveau creations, Rene Lalique’s glass vases feature intricate designs inspired by the natural world. Lalique made great use of organic shapes, and signed his works as “R Lalique,” “R Lalique France,” or simply “Lalique." The variety of signatures can make identifying Lalique vases difficult, so in some cases consulting the artist’s catalog raisonné can provide clarity on whether a work is authentic. As seen on the above vase, the lightly etched markings can sometimes be difficult to discern without magnification.

 

Tiffany & Co.

 
Tiffany Studios Jack-in-the-Pulpit Vase. Circa 20th century. M.S. Rau
 
Tiffany Studios Jack-in-the-Pulpit Vase. Circa 20th century. M.S. Rau
 
Tiffany Studios Jack-in-the-Pulpit Vase. Circa 20th century. M.S. Rau
 

Tiffany & Co. is known for a wide range of beautifully crafted objects, from jewelry to glassware. One of the celebrated firm’s best-known makers was the son of founder Charles Lewis Tiffany, Louis Comfort Tiffany, recognized for his discovery of favrile glass. Louis Comfort Tiffany’s favrile glassworks exhibit an iridescent glow, and his innovation inspired other glassmakers to use his technique. While many favrile glass vases have been made, the most desirable are those from the original innovator, and knowing the markings of Tiffany & Co. can be the first step towards correctly identifying a favrile glass vase. In the above vase, the signature reads “L.C.T.” and includes a faintly shown model number, with other iterations including "L.C. Tiffany - Favrile" or "L.C.T. Favrile".

 

Émile Gallé

 
Cameo Glass Vase by Émile Gallé. Circa 1900. M.S. Rau
 
Cameo Glass Vase by Émile Gallé. Circa 1900. M.S. Rau
 
Cameo Glass Vase by Émile Gallé. Circa 1900. M.S. Rau
 

Known for his Art Nouveau designs, this French artist worked in many mediums, creating intricate works to memorialize his love of nature. In the above design, he incorporates his signature among the leaves. If you’re trying to figure out whether your vase is signed, remember to carefully inspect the entire vase, as some artists prefer to camouflage their mark in unique locations.

 

Camille Fauré

 
Camille Fauré Tulip Vase. Circa 1930. M.S. Rau
 
Camille Fauré Tulip Vase. Circa 1930. M.S. Rau
 
Camille Fauré Tulip Vase. Circa 1930. M.S. Rau
 

The bright, floral designs of Camille Fauré stand out in any collection for their unique luster and vibrant hues. His vases are three dimensional, with designs that lift off the surface with silver leaf and enamel paste applied onto a copper base. Fauré signed the above vase as "C. Fauré / Limoges," also using "C. Fauré / Limoges / France" or "C. Fauré / Limoges / Made in France" at times.

 

Knowing the marks for an authentic work can give you the confidence to identify a rare and genuine antique and acquire the perfect ceramic, glass, or  antique porcelain piece for your home. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or looking to make your first acquisition, M.S. Rau’s curated selection of antique vases is sure to keep you captivated.

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