On a recent thrift store adventure, I spied a unique-looking set of eight dessert plates. I don’t know what it was about the coral, black and gold pattern on these plates, but they spoke to me. Never one to ignore the pleas of interesting china, I bee-lined it over to inspect a potential cool find. What I found was a lot more than just tableware.
What’s so special?
There are several features that can tip you off about fine china, even before you know the maker: the delicate shape, the lighter weight, the slight translucence, and the quality of the designs. These plates fit the bill in all but the last feature, yet, the intricate–if a little wild–pattern and the bold colouring were still out of the ordinary. Striking in a sea of blandness. Upon close inspection, the design was even more unexpected. It was…scribbly. Loose. Very obviously hand-painted; not by a professional, but also not by a complete novice. Odd enough to have me rethinking my ‘fine china’ assessment. I needed to investigate.
I flipped over the first plate. There, I discovered the beginnings of a strange mystery.
The first thing I saw was the Wedgwood mark. Second, was the handwritten inscription: “To AMS Xmas 1892″…1892? No, that couldn’t be real. Could it?
I wasn’t surprised to see the name Wedgwood, based on my initial instincts about the quality of the plates. However, my knowledge of Wedgwood is limited to the fact that I really wish I could afford to buy some. I’m not an expert in the markings and the world of Wedgwood is fraught with fakery. For that reason, the handwritten date had me thinking someone was trying to pull one over on me.
First, I thought it was a mistake and should have read 1982. In the 1980s we called coral “peach” and what a popular colour that was in 1982! But all eight plates clearly said 1892, four of them with the initials A.M.S. and four with K.G.M. One side of my brain insisted the date was a lie. The other side was imagining a Victorian lady in a fancy dress lovingly hand lettering gifts for Christmas 123 years ago. Did Victorian ladies give funnily painted china as gifts? And then did they sign them in gold paint? A part of me even wondered if Xmas was really that old of a shorthand for Christmas. I don’t know why, but I always thought “Xmas” was a result of modern laziness.
And what about that crazy pattern? Each plate is just a little bit different; a slight difference in placement here, an extra flourish there. It was striking, and mostly repeating, but by no means perfect. You can even see some of the coloured glaze was smudged on the fronts and backs of the plates from unpracticed, messy fingers. And the glaze was applied more thickly on some than on others resulting in tonal differences on each band. Not what I would expect from the famous Wedgwood.
I was fascinated.
I needed to know who had written that date and had they actually written it over 100 years ago. Standing there under glaring lights amongst the messy shelves of cheap thrift shop junk made that possibility seem unlikely. And, if the date was a fake, was the Wedgwood also fake? A quick search on my phone suggested that the mark might be legit, but still, I stood there for a good 10 minutes, turning the plates over in my hands, while the question gnawed at me.
Finally throwing caution to the wind, I plunked down the $12.99 and carted home what might be an incredible treasure. Or might not. I love researching old housewares and, at the very least, this set of dessert plates was a perfect project.
What I did to it.
Well, I googled the heck out of Wedgwood china: its markings, its history and its patterns. Here is what I learned.
How to spot a fake:
Josiah Wedgwood started his pottery in 1759 and people have been imitating it almost since the beginning. Presumably, he was supposed to be flattered, but he wasn’t. He wasn’t afraid to litigate when he thought he was being had. You go, Josiah!
Several exhaustive websites exist to explain the markings and the imitators. I’ll list some of them at the end of this post. In the meantime here are the most noticeable ways to spot the fakes.
- It’s Wedgwood, not Wedgewood. If you see the extra ‘e’ it’s not real Wedgwood.
- The real stuff never had “& Co” or “& Co Ltd” after the Wedgwood.
- Enoch Wedgwood is not it either.
Determining the authenticity of my plates.
Here are two close-ups of what I had to work with on my plates:
The facts thus far:
- Wedgwood without the ‘e’? Check!
- Etruria. It was the name of a Wedgwood factory, in use from 1769-1950. That would certainly encompass 1892. Check!
- Serial number: Rd No 140489. The only listing I found with this number was an old eBay listing for an egg cup. Though the painting is very different from my plates, the fluted pattern could be seen as the same found on my plates. The listing says the egg cup is from 1889. That’s only 3 years earlier. Could the china mold be the same, but with a different pattern painted on it? Check, sort of…
- Regarding the stamped “WEDGWOOD ENGLAND”, ENGLAND was added to the original WEDGWOOD stamp after 1891 to comply with American customs rules and was used until 1908 when the words MADE IN ENGLAND replace it. My 1892 date just squeezes in there. Check!
- Lastly, and most obviously, the urn. Josiah Wedgwood and his ancestors have been very diligent about adding marks to their china, but also very prolific in their designs. These two use the urn and most closely resemble what I’ve got:
The only issue I find here is that my marks are not impressed (stamped), they’re printed. However, the dates (1891-1900 vs. my plates hand-dated 1892) are so surprisingly close I’m getting a bit of a tingle in the back of my neck.
I’m going to have to call this half of the mystery solved. The base china must be real Wedgwood and all signs suggest that the date of 1892 is, if not the exact year the china was produced, then it was added within a year of its manufacture.
That just leaves the painting and the inscriptions. Who the heck painted these plates and to whom were they given?
Alas, this post has become so long that I think I’ll just leave you hanging and pick this story up again in Part 2.