Treasures: Family Heirlooms from the Glory Days of Nippon China

This extensive set of Nippon dinnerware is a great heirloom.

This extensive set of Nippon dinnerware is a great heirloom.

Dear Helaine and Joe: This set of Nippon dinnerware has an “RC” mark. There are extensive serving pieces including coffee service for six, jam pot, ladle, handled serving bowl, large serving bowl, five luncheon-sized plates, six soup or salad bowls, large platter and six bread and butter plates.

I have attached a picture of the mark, and a close-up of the design, which has not been identified.

The set was purchased in 1914 in Beaumont, Texas, as a wedding gift for my grandparents. Do you have any idea of what these may be worth? — J. S.

In 1890, the U. S. Congress passed the McKinley Tariff Act, which among many other things required all goods exported to the United States to be marked with the name of the country of origin. The law went into effect in 1891, and at that time objects made in England were marked “England,” those made in France were marked “France” and so on.

The Japanese chose to use the word “Nippon” as the name of their country, and from 1891 to 1921 that name appears on many items made in Japan that were meant to be exported to the United States. But there were many exceptions.

Some items had been marked with the country of origin before 1891, and some items that were not meant for export were never marked in this manner and came to the U.S. via tourist trade. Still other objects were marked with paper labels that were easily removed. While the McKinley Tariff Act made some objects easier to date, it is not a hard and fast guideline that works every time.

However, there is no question in our mind that this Nippon set was manufactured close to the 1914 date in which they were purchased. It can be hard to identify the marks on Nippon china to determine which factory did the manufacturing. But in this case the maker is not all that hard to identify because the “RC” mark shown in J. S.’ photograph was used by the Noritake Co., Limited, or Nippon Taki Kabushiki Kaisha.

The “RC” in the mark is said to stand for “Royal Crockery” (or we have also found “Royal China,” but we have more faith in the first designation). It might also be noted that immediately after the end of World War II, the Noritake factory lay in ruins and the production was of a lesser quality. Because of this, it was marked “Rose China” and either “Made in Japan” or “Made in Occupied Japan.”

Noritake was founded in 1904 by the Morimura family, who early on marked their wares with an “M” inside a wreath. As we stated, the Morimura factory was severely damaged during the war and most of their records were lost, and it may never be possible to identify the pattern belonging to J. S., which has a simple beaded band around the rims of its pieces.

There was a time when Nippon wares were highly sought after by a large number of collectors, but this Nippon craze is currently in abeyance, and prices on Nippon wares are somewhat in a decline. Right now, extensive Noritake Nippon dinnerware sets can sell for as little as $100 at auction and at retail this set is probably worth in the $350 to $450 range.

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