Q: My mother left me a tea set from Japan. It’s extremely delicate and is black matte with gold etchings. The bottom has a geisha lithophane, but the mark on the plates are symbols I have no idea how to research. How can I find out more about it?
A: Your tea set is Kutani porcelain, which was made by several different potteries in an area of Japan that is now part of the Ishikawa Prefecture. “Kutani” means “Nine Valleys,” the name of a village in the area. Kutani was first made in 1656 but most that is found today is from the nineteenth century. Items made for export to the United States had to be marked with the country of origin after 1891, so your tea set was made before that or was not made for export. You can find tea sets and other pieces in this pattern offered for sale online, both with and without lithophanes. Lithophanes are made by casting clay in layers of various thicknesses so the picture shows when the piece is held to the light. This mark is from the mid-twentieth century. The tea set may have been brought back by a tourist or a returning soldier after World War II and didn’t need the country of origin mark.
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