It was in 1751 that Dr John Wall founded a porcelain factory in the town of Worcester. This eventually became known as the Royal Worcester Porcelain factory, but it did have a few name changes first.
However, the Worcester marks celebrate the inaugural year by having a 51 in the centre of a circle as part of the mark. Early Worcester marks are very rare, with typically a crescent mark, which dates the piece from the Wall era before 1783.
While many of the earlier pieces do have marks, the early years saw the marks as irregular and a bit haphazard. But after 1793, the pottery was more clearly marked with the factory name which helps to date the items.
But it wasn’t until 1862, when the company was restructured, that the Royal Worcester marks were first introduced, and they did not become usual until 1867. These early marks incorporated a circle with the 51 in the centre and a crown – either just above the circle or attached to the edge. From 1876, the crown slipped down onto the circle itself.
At first, the company used the letters of the alphabet to designate the year of manufacture.
After they had used up the letters, the Royal Worcester introduced a fairly simple code using dots for the years. (It reminded me slightly of the binary system). They started using this dot system in 1891. However, the number of dots became cumbersome when, by 1915, no less than 24 dots, six dots on either side of the crown and 14 dots beneath the words Royal Worcester England, were used. So, in 1916, they used a small star with more dots for each following year. This carried on until 1927 when there were 11 dots arranged around the small star.
When the number of dots was changed each year, the company found it was cheaper and easier to add the extra dot to existing copper plates – this saved the expense and time of creating completely new designs every year.
Royal Worcester introduced different shapes to the codes from 1928 until by 1941 they had three interlocking circles with nine dots arranged around them. The shapes included an open square, an open diamond, a division sign as well as circles and, of course, dots.
They used no date codes between 1943 and 1948 and then in 1949 they started on letters again – with, of course, a varying number of dots. The letter V designates 1949 (and also 1884 tho’ the rest of the mark is was different).
By the 1980s some of the pieces made had elaborate marks. They could include not only the issue numbers, series names but also the designers’ names. There is a wide variety of such marks, which do add some clarity. In 1990, the factory stamps reverted to a letter R beneath the mark. They also had a number representing the lithographer and a date! The more recent stamps are self-explanatory.
The Colours of the Marks
In the early years, the marks could be various colours but from 1942, most were black or gold. In 1989, new factory stamps were introduced with an N replacing the previous M in a diamond under the rest of the mark, and then black numbers to identify the artist. In 1990, the colour changed to grey with a new lithographer identification. Then in 1996, the marks were printed in white as being even less intrusive.
Marks for Earthenware (Crownware) and Royal Worcester Vitreous.
Although these sometimes followed the dot system, they didn’t often have a code at all. And you might find them harder to identify.
With all this care in the coding and identification of the years, you might be asking about the individual artists – did they have their own signature marks?
Despite the fact that the Worcester company, in all its manifestations, employed some of the most innovative and talented artists, they did not have their own marks until the turn of the century. In 1900, Royal Worcester permitted the artists to sign their work, since it was their work that the public noticed most. They were allowed to sign their work on the front of the piece rather than on the base.
Because the Royal Worcester Company encouraged their artists to specialise in a particular style, identification of the artists is a little easier. Subjects range from highland cattle to soft roses, from birds and butterflies to fish and castles, and each had their specialists.
Indeed, Worcester was renowned for the beautiful decorations, often with a rich background colour of blue, green, turquoise or claret. Usually, they were formed by white framed panels, which the artists decorated with their paintings.
People have been faking Worcester pottery for very many years, and since the marks, especially the inked marks are not too hard to fake, the marks should be seen as guides to authenticity and not proof. Always get an expert to advise you if you find it important to know whether you have the genuine article or not.
However, you can get a good idea if you hold the piece up to strong daylight. Because porcelain is translucent, you can tell Worcester soapstone by its greenish tinge. Daylight will also help you to see signs of restoration, overpainting or repairing.
And, of course, you will check for obvious tiny chips or cracks or blemishes which will reduce its value. When you feel the surface gently you might detect tiny imperfections more easily than by visual inspection alone – and the sound of the whole plate differs when there is a small crack. Pieces claiming to be old Worcester do not have a crackle glaze as the soapstone body simply does not craze – they are forgeries. Sometimes the pieces are glazed around the foot rim and this is a sign that the item is likely not the original Worcester.
Worcester ware was highly prized for the beautiful decoration – and some pieces were more highly prized than others. This encouraged forgers to skin or clobber the article. When skinned, the surface decoration is removed and repainted with a more expensive design. When the piece is clobbered, the new decoration is applied on top of the old one. Very often it is just the ground colour that is changed.
The early Worcester wares are becoming harder to find and to get a complete or even a partial set can be difficult. But individual pieces are available and make great collectors’ items or gifts. But if you really want to be certain if the article’s genuine, then you need to take great care and it might be as well to have a list of the marks and their respective years to have with you. You can find a list here.
But many of the pieces are refreshing and a delight to look at, irrespective of their value. From the first cups with handles to the large tureens, Worcester wares can offer you a great deal of pleasure. A visit to the Museum of Royal Worcester which can be found at the Royal Worcester porcelain factory’s former site in Worcester would be very interesting and it has had a major refurbishment recently.