Noritake is a china collector's dream, with thousands of colorful, hand painted patterns and ceramic designs appearing on everything from pin trays to dinner plates, vases to teapots. This may be the perfect choice for anyone seeking an affordable, elegant, and sometimes whimsical, collectible.
History of Noritake China
In 1876, Japanese businessman Ichizaemon Morimura and his brother Toyo opened the Morimura Brothers shop in New York City to sell Asian antiques and decorative arts in the U.S. and bring American money into Japan through export trade. The shop was successful, but the brothers continued to look for new products for American customers. They knew that china and porcelain were used in every home for dining, washing up, or displaying the family's good taste with decorative pieces, but European factories had production locked up. (Although not technically the same, "china" and "porcelain" are often used interchangeably, and refer to a white, translucent ceramic.)
In 1889, Ichizaemon visited the Paris World Exposition and seeing fine French porcelain, was inspired to create porcelain for the U.S. market by opening a factory in Japan, his home country. The Morimura brothers hired experts to learn porcelain manufacture, and by 1904, they had built a ceramics factory in Noritake, Takaba-village, Aichi, Japan. This allowed the company to control the quality of their goods and designs and ensured that the patterns appealed to U.S. buyers.
The ceramics were hand-painted and gilded by individual artists, and Noritake instituted production line painting and decoration to satisfy future demand. It took nearly 10 years for the company to develop their fine china, but the result continues to enchant collectors today, and the company still thrives.
Identifying the China
Noritake china is often referred to as antique, vintage, or collectible, but this terminology can be confusing to a new collector.
Antique Versus Collectible Pieces
Based on the U.S. Customs definition, antiques must be at least 100 years old, so the earliest Noritake pieces are antiques. "Collectible" can be used to mean pieces under 100 years old, and much of Noritake falls under that definition. And finally, since Noritake still produces dinnerware and other items, the products can also be considered new, contemporary, or vintage and retro (roughly 25 years for vintage and under up to 50 years for retro): just remember that these are informal terms with no official definition, and different dealers may use the terms interchangeably.
Recognize Noritake China
The following tips will help you determine whether a piece is a Noritake one.
- Noritake used many backstamps or marks over the last century and identifying them helps determine the age of a piece. The earliest pieces issued by the Morimura company date to around 1891 and used a backstamp with "Hand Painted Nippon" and a maple leaf. (Before they built their own factory for producing porcelain, the Morimuras purchased ceramic blanks from other manufacturers and had those decorated by artists. So, the porcelain was painted for, but not made by, the Noritake firm.)
- A slightly later (1906) and unusual example was in the stylized shape of a bat (which meant good luck) and had "Royal Sometuke Nippon" stamped on the china.
- A 1908 mark is called the "Maruki" symbol, which represents overcoming difficulty. The symbol includes a tree, which was later changed to spears (for breaking through obstacles), and a circle for peaceful settlement of problems.
- By 1911, the "M in wreath" mark appeared, representing the family name, "Morimura." According to the book, Early Noritake by Aimee Neff Alden, the stamp may be found in green, blue, gold and magenta colors. This is one of the most commonly found marks on antique Noritake.
- Other marks include the word "Noritake", a picture of a factory, and the M in wreath. The words "Hand Painted" and "Nippon" also appear. "Nippon" is an older word for Japan but in 1921 import regulations required that only "Japan" be used, so a rule of thumb is that china marked "Nippon" was made before 1921.
- From 1921 until World War II, Noritake pieces were stamped with "Japan" or "Made in Japan."
- China manufactured between 1948 and 1953 was stamped with "Occupied Japan" or "Made in Occupied Japan" underneath the backstamp. The Noritake company was concerned that the quality of their work was not up to the highest standards because good materials were scarce, so they instead sometimes used a "Rose China" mark.
- After 1953 the company brought back the original trademark, but replaced the "M" with "N" inside the wreath.
The Noritake Collectors Guild has one of the most extensive listings of backstamps online, including many of the modern marks. Spend some time there and become familiar with how the stamps changed through the decades, which will help you when you purchase Noritake pieces.
Since its founding, the Noritake company has produced millions of pieces of china and porcelain, so collectors can find items for a few dollars or a few thousands of dollars. Local antique shops generally have pieces in stock, but if you want to go beyond your neighborhood, try the following:
- China replacement services - These services, including Hoffman's or Replacements, stock thousands of Noritake pieces, from antique to modern. Replacements has a free alert service and pattern identification service.
- Outdoor markets - Markets take time and effort to explore and spot the treasures, but those may include Noritake china. One of the largest and best-known markets is in Brimfield, MA. It's a huge antique and collectible show held several times a year in the fields along Rt. 20 outside of Brimfield, Massachusetts, and can attract up to 5,000 dealers. You can also find extensive markets for day, weekend, or weeklong visits across the US, from New York City to Long Beach, CA. An excellent guide to big markets can be found at Flea Market Insiders, with detailed information about dates, times, and places.
- Antique malls - Malls frequently stock Noritake. One of the largest in the U.S. is the Heart of Ohio Antique Center with 500 dealers. Another in Verona, VA claims to be the largest antique mall in square footage, so you'll be certain to find Noritake pieces there. You can find an antique mall near you or across the country through the AntiqueMalls website.
- Online antique malls - Online malls are constantly changing their stock and represent sellers around the world. Try Tias (a recent search turned up more than 2,000 listings for Noritake) or Ruby Lane.
Selling Your Wares
Collectors often learn this the hard way: it can be more difficult to sell than to buy. If a Noritake piece is unusual, rare, in excellent condition and a sought-after pattern, then a sale may be simple to arrange. If you have six Tree in the Meadow pattern plates (somewhat common), you may need more time to sell, especially if you require a certain price for them. While you may see your plate listed for $50 at an antique shop, remember that the seller advertises, has a following, and may carry that plate as inventory for months.
Valuing Noritake takes research although online sources like What's It Worth? can help. To sell your Noritake, consider the following resources:
- Noritake collector groups sponsor conventions and other gatherings that attract dedicated china buyers and sellers. Check out the Nippon Collectors Club or look for Noritake Collectors Society announcements.
- Online auctions (like eBay) require effort to make a sale, including photography, packing, and shipping. You can set a "buy now" price so that the viewer has the option of purchasing outright or participating in the auction. Searches can reveal hundreds of offerings from a dollar and up. Check the "Sold" listings to see what items comparable to yours sold for.
- The buying service from Replacements is easy to use.
- Local classified lists, like Craigslist, are free, and let you target a selling area.
The best way to learn about Noritake is to see it. If you are planning a trip, consider a detour and stop where you can experience Noritake in all its glory, up close. If you can't get away anytime soon, there are also some outstanding online "museums" that let you examine rare and unusual Noritake items.
- Start in the country where it all began: the Noritake Garden and Museum are located in Nagoya, Japan and visitors there can learn about the china's history and see rare pieces of dinnerware from 1904 to present.
- Collector and historian Yoshie Itani's website contains much information about the history and artistry of Noritake china, along with many examples. (You can translate the site through Google.)
- Galerie Sonorite displays rare and unusual Noritake for sale (but only if you are willing to pick it up in Japan). The photos are worth the time and effort to navigate the site which can be translated through Google.
Noritake is still affordable for a new collector. Pieces can include ashtrays, biscuit jars, dinnerware, novelties, bells, jam jars, spoon holders, and so on. No one is completely certain how many patterns were made by the company, but there are a few major patterns that attract collectors and are instantly identifiable as Noritake.
- Lusterware is an ancient technique of decoration, and is achieved by adding a metallic oxide over a base color: when fired, the glaze looks iridescent. Lusterware can be found in blue, gold, white, and other colors. Noritake lusterware is often orange (sometimes called peach) and blue, with hand painted additions. Look for teacups and saucers, sandwich dishes, bowls and vases, with prices starting under $10 as seen on the sold section of eBay.
- Tree in Meadow (sometimes called House by the Lake) was originally named "Scenic" (according to the collecting guide, Noritake: Jewel of the Orient), produced in the 1920s, and hand painted. You can find it in plates, bowls, waffle sets (pitcher and sugar shaker), jam jars and many other items. Expect to pay under $20 for small pieces, but rare items like a candy jar can list at $250 or more, as shown on sites like Replacements, or on other secondary markets.
- Azalea was advertised as Noritake's most popular pattern and it remains so. The white, pink and gold flowers appeared on everything from teapots, to children's china table sets, to cream soup sets. Azalea was sold through the Larkin Company catalog, beginning in 1915, and this partnership between Noritake and Larkin resulted in Noritake's name and products reaching millions of homes. Pieces range in value from $6 for a saucer to $1,500+ for a child's tea set, as listed in WorthPoint (you can view the tea set, but you will need a subscription to see realized prices.)
- Pattern 175, or Gold and White, was produced for nearly 90 years, from circa 1906 to 1991 or 92. The raised gold tracery was a rich looking, but affordable, design for the middle class home. The design is sometimes referred to as "Christmas Ball," although other Noritake designs have been called that as well. Expect to pay $8 for a saucer and up to several hundreds of dollars, depending on the piece, as shown by realized prices on eBay.
Research the Company
Noritake has had a complex history, with many backstamps, thousands of designs and unidentified or forgotten patterns rediscovered every year. Keeping up with this information can be overwhelming, but there are a number of excellent online and in-print resources for learning about Noritake china, among them:
- Gotheborg.com is a superb source for information about Japanese ceramics and their website has a section about Noritake history, backstamps, and products.
- The National Heritage Museum of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library has an excellent web page about Noritake, along with rare examples from the museum's collection.
- The translation is a bit difficult to follow but Noritakeshop.jp has fascinating information about the Noritake company's early years.
- For a detailed timeline of Noritake and its products, Chinafinders is an excellent source. They also locate pieces for collectors.
- The Noritake Collectors Guild has history and resources listed on their website (including a way to generate a catalog of your collection)
Treasured Ceramic Art and Dinnerware
Noritake porcelain remains one of the most enjoyable areas for new or advanced collectors. There's always something new to dazzle or intrigue, so take some time to learn about this company and its contributions to the decorative and utilitarian ceramic arts people still enjoy and treasure.