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December 22, 2014


The dating of antiques and collectibles can be very tricky. One guideline to help you guess age can be the country of origin. Here are a few rules of thumb to consider.
Before 1890, items imported into the United States were not required to contain a mark showing the country of origin. Many items were marked, but they were "prestige" items - European china for example - where the manufacturer and importer thought the source was a favorable selling point. These "prestige" marks will name the manufacturer as well as the country and are normally very elaborate looking things with lions and crowns and coats of arms and so on - all intended to impress the brash Yankees. Items without a mark were either domestic American production, non-prestige imported production, or imported production that wasn't specifically produced for the American market. Lack of mark does NOT equate to lack of value or quality.

In 1890 Congress passed protectionist tariff legislation - the McKinley Tariff. This legislation required that imported items be labeled with their country of origin. If you see a mark that simply says a country name it was made after 1890 for export to the United States. Once the requirement for foreign origins was imposed, many American manufacturers also began marking their items with some indication of source to take advantage of "Buy American" sentiment.

In 1914, the law was revised and the phrase "Made in..." was required. This is NOT a reliable indicator of age, however. There are numerous recent items that say only a country name without "made in..." Don't rely on that rule in dating items.

When the labeling requirement was imposed the Japanese said "The name of our country is NI-PON so we will mark our wares NIPPON." That was accepted by the customs inspectors until 1921. In that year, however, the customs Bureau decided that "Nippon" was deceptive and required that items be marked Japan. In 1939, the United States imposed trade restrictions on Japan as a result of the Japanese aggressions in Asia. (You will find nothing imported from Japan between 1939 and 1945.) Trade resumed in 1945 with the same "made in Japan" mark required but Japanese manufacturers found that "made in occupied japan" was an easier mark to sell to the Americans. That label was widely (but not exclusively) used until 1952 when the occupation ended. Labeling then returned to the "made in Japan" form. Items marked "Made in Allied Japan" also date from this period.

The end of World War I created a host of new countries in Europe. Among them, the major importers to the United States were Poland, Hungary, and especially Czechoslovakia. Items with these marks dated between about 1920 and 1939 when WWII began. Variations in spelling help date these items. Czecho-slovakia (with a hyphen) dates an item as having been produced in the 1920s. After WWII, there were very few imports from these countries because of the Soviet occupation, although considered trade continued with Poland, especially for glass Christmas ornaments. Border changes and politics continued to offer clues to dating, however. From 1945 to 1950, German items may be marked "U.S. Zone" (or British or French Zone.) In the early 1950s, many items are marked Western rather than West Germany. After 1989, items are again marked Germany.
Also in the 1970s, trade with mainland China began to resume. There had been extensive trade with China from colonial times. Early Chinese imports are unmarked or marked with Chinese characters. From 1891 until 1949 their production was marked "made in China" but, because of domestic instability in China (the Boxer Rebellion, the Republican Revolution, Japanese aggression, etc.), there was relatively little trade with that country during that period. From 1949 to the mid-1970s there were no trade relations with mainland China. The island of Taiwan became a major source for gee-gaws during the 1960s until it moved on to pricier electronic items. Taiwanese production from this era is marked "made in Republic of China" or "made in China (R.O.C.)" to distinguish from "Red" China. In the mid-70s, trade gradually resumed with the mainland and their production is marked "Made in the People's Republic of China." In 1978, the United States fully normalized relations with mainland China and their production again became "made in China" while R.O.C. production came to be labeled "made in Taiwan."

Of course there will be occasional exceptions to most of these rules of thumb, and there are many other clues to look at also. Design elements, material, colors, etc., all of which go into the guesstimate of age, but if you find Malaysia stamped on a beautiful piece of pattern glass, you don't have to guess any further.


no name

maybe pre 1891

country name only

maybe 1891 -1914

made in...

maybe after 1914


1891 to 1921


after 1921

Occupied Jap.

1945 - 1952



U.S. Zone Germany

1945 - 50

Western Germany

1950 - 54


1891-1949 or after 1978

People's Rep. of China

mid 1970s

Republic of China

probably 1949 - 1980

British Hong Kong

1950s - 60s


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