I’ve fallen head over heels in love.
See, for most of my life, I took lusterware for granted. It was everywhere in our Janvier Road bungalow and in my childhood home. Then, most of it broke from usage or was simply lost to time.
I forgot all about it.
Until I pulled this lovely lotus-shaped Noritake condiment set out of the attic. I remember my family using it for special occasions – and as fragile as it is, somehow it never broke or chipped. Even the spoon is in excellent condition!
Now I crave lusterware.
I want more of it – and fortunately, it’s still within range of my budget (and yours, too).
Turns out people have been falling in love with lusterware for at least 1200 years.
From lead to gold: The alchemy of lusterware.
Back in AD 751 and 762, everyone was fighting over the trade route known as the Silk Road. At some point, Iraqi warriors captured some T’ang dynasty potters, who used their talents to create “alchemy” – turning a lead-based glaze and silver and copper paint into “gold.”
The four classes of Lusterware
Each class depends upon the elements used to overlay the porcelain.
- Copper – Typically plain, with perhaps a band of white or other color. The base was usually earthenware.
- Platinum – Newer than copper, the base was porcelain, making it as lovely as the finest English china.
- Gold – Usually used only as an embellishment
- Pink or purple (Rose spotted or Sunderland) – An overlay of a gold solution that oxidized.
Josiah Wedgwood popularized lusterware in England in the 19th Century, creating lovely dishes that simulated mother of pearl. Many of these pieces, often known as “English lustre” or “copper lustre,” have become highly collectible. Lusterware was also produced in Germany.
But it’s the cheap Japanese stuff that I love.
20th Century Japanese lusterware.
Japan began producing lusterware knockoffs (of the English knockoffs of the Iraqi knockoffs) from the early 1900s to the 1930s. These pieces have become very collectible in their own right. The colors, Art Nouveau designs, and, well, the luster, make it such an attractive addition to the dinner table. Many of the collectible pieces were made by Noritake, and are marked with the wreath and “M” backstamp.
In the 1980s there was a brief Lusterware craze, which drove up prices for about 10 years. But today, it has become more affordable again, and its bright colors and lovely shapes make it a worthwhile addition to any home.
Beware of fakes!
From 1891 – 1921 Japanese Lusterware was marked “Nippon.” In 1921, the “Japan” or “Made in Japan” marks began to appear. Many of the same warnings for lusterware fakes apply to Noritake and Nippon products in general.
But cheap imitations have flooded the market, and are obviously intended to trick buyers into paying more for a “vintage” item. In fact, expert Joan F. Van Patten says that 12 known fake marks are known to exist!
“Nippon” is often backstamped under the glaze, then the required “Made in China” is applied as a paper label over it. Once it’s here, the label comes off – and ta-daaa – a “genuine” Nippon antique! Recently, U.S. Customs have prohibited the fake Noritake “M” stamp. Once the paper label is removed, unscrupulous dealers can sell it as an unmarked original.
Learn what the real thing is like.
Hold it, feel it – examine it. You’ll notice that the real thing tends to be lighter than reproductions. The gold is richer. The craftsmanship is better. But the backstamps can be identical to those on the older pieces. As Ms. Van Patten warns, the Chinese version of the distinctive Noritake “M” is so good that even experts can’t tell the difference unless they can hold the item and examine it up-close. The Noritake Collectors Guild also has a PDF guide to authentic older marks.
Therefore, provenance is everything.
It’s probably genuine Lusterware if it’s been sitting in Granny’s attic for 60 years, or if the dealer is a recognized expert in Lusterware. If you’re serious about collecting lusterware, buy a good book on 20th Century Japanese porcelain. Of course, if you fall in love with a lusterware piece, who cares if it’s real or fake? If it looks terrific and doesn’t break your budget, that’s what counts in the end!
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And enjoy the hunt!