Where Yesterday Meets Tomorrow
The dating of antiques and collectibles can be a very tricky business. One guideline to help you guess age can be the country of origin. Here are a few rules of thumb to apply.
Before 1890, items imported into the United States were not required to contain a mark showing the country of origin. Many items were marked, of course, 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, in addition to imposing heavy tarriffs on imports and provoking a major depression in the United States, also 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 customers 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 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. We recently found an item marked "Made in Allied Japan" which seems to 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. Many Christmas ornaments were imported from Poland in the 1950s because border changes left much of the German glass industry into Poland. 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.
In the 1950s and into the 1960s, Japanese imports were primarily "dime store" items tin toys, planters, ceramic figurines, plastic gee-gaws, etc. It was feasible to produce and import such items because of very low production costs - in materials, equipment, shipping, and quality control, as well as labor. But as the Japanese economy developed and grew more robust, their production focus changed from friction motor lady bug toys to the automotive and electronics industries.
That opened opportunities for other countries which had previously had virtually no trade relations with the United States. By the 1970s, most of the novelty gee-gaws were being produced in Taiwan or Korea. But increasing prosperity in both those countries also moved them into higher level production so by the late 1970s, the major source for such items moved to Hong Kong. The same trend occurred in Hong Kong and production moved on to Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, and South Carolina.
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, regional Warlords, Civil War, 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, however, became a major source for gee-gaws during the 1960s until it also 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."
Italy and France are both major sources of contemporary glass items. In particular, watch out for kitchen items made in shapes and colors resembling old glass and 1920s deco decorative motifs. Some of the items are made of very heavy glass resembling early bottles in color and manufacturing techniques. Other items have early style bail covers to seal them. Malaysia and Indonesia are also major glass producers. Indonesia came into existence in 1949 and Malaysia in 1963. Obviously any item marked with those names is recent.
Brazil has become a major source of quality ceramic items in the last decade. During the 70s, Hong Kong and Eastern European countries became major sources for books containing high quality color plates. Thailand and Malaysia are the sources for many of the popular 1990s toys.
Today, when we walk down the aisles at Walmart and see the types of items being "made with pride in the USA", we have a sense that production of some novelty trinkets is moving back home (to replace lost electronic and automotive industry jobs.)
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|
|Nippon||1891 to 1921|
|Occupied Jap.||1945 - 1952|
|U.S. Zone Germany||1945 - 50|
|Western Germany||1950 - 54|
|China||1891-1949 or after 1978|
|People's Rep. of China||mid 1970s|
|Republic of China||probably 1949 - 1980|
|Taiwan||1980s - 90s|
|Korea||1970s - 90s|
|British Hong Kong||1950s - 60s|
|Hong Kong||1970s - 90s|
|Malaysia||1980s - 90s|
|Indonesia||1980s - 90s|
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