The word “Nippon” is simply a term for “Japan.” This term was used up until about 1920 when the United States Government disallowed it. So, if you can find a piece that says Nippon, it’s probably from before the 1920s.
Of course, there’s always a catch.
There are plenty of fakes out there. And not just fakes, but newer reproductions that may be similar (or identical) to the older ones. It’s important as a buyer, seller, and/or collector to be able to spot a fake when you see one.
This list of what to look for is not an end-all professional’s guide to spotting the real deal. It’s a list of tips that should serve you well, but always be wary. (Insert clip of Mad-Eye Moody saying, “CONSTANT VIGILENCE!”) Ask for proof of authenticity, inquire about the history of that specific piece, and0 always try to buy from a reputable source.
A. Backstamps: There are plenty of fakes out there, so be sure to brush up on which ones are definitely not original Nippon backstamps. The ones that mimic the real ones will probably be blurry and/or messy looking.
B. Weight: Real Nippon is lightweight, like bone china. If it feels heavy or clunky at all, you’ve probably got a reproduction or a fake.
C. Transparency: When held up to the light, you should be able to see it shining through the piece. This is because real Nippon is made out of a thin and delicate porcelain. If it’s solid white and you can’t see the light coming through, then it’s probably fake.
D. Details: Nippon was hand painted by artists with an extremely good eye and a talented hand. There should be minimal mistakes. The glaze should be even and should cover the entire piece. No details should be sloppy or poorly painted on.
E. Gold: The newer gold will look more yellow than that bronze-gold finish of the older pieces. Don’t worry if some of the gold is worn away – this is normal for a used and vintage piece. If the gold looks fake, then it probably is. Remember, real gold leaf/gilding was used with these pieces.
Also be sure to familiarize yourself with known patterns and shapes of Nippon ware. Some fakes could look like the real-deal, but if it’s not a known pattern, it’s probably NOT a long-lost piece of Nippon. More than likely, it’s a knockoff.
This post was put together with the help of several others. The first of which is this great eBay guide. They’ve got some fantastic pictures of fake backstamps there. Next is this indispensable post from the Myriad Trading Co’s blog. They have tons of supporting pictures and more detailed information. They’ve also got a post about the real Nippon backstamps.
Have you run across any Nippon before? I’ve got a sugar and creamer that belonged to my grandmother, and I’m fairly certain it’s real. I’ll have to snap some pictures of it and show you guys sometime!