Discover Vintage America - MARCH 2016

Noritake china set evokes a company's history

Q: Hey Michelle! Mom has a Noritake tea set that was bought in Japan in the mid-to- late 1950s. It is in perfect condition as it has been kept in a curio cabinet all these years. If I send you photos of it, can you give me an estimate of its worth? Let me know! Thanks!


A: Noritake is a well-known producer of china produced or sold by the Morimura Company of Japan. You would be hard pressed to find anyone in the antique business unfamiliar with the Noritake name.

In 1876, Baron Ichizaemon Morimura IV formed a trading company called Morimura Kumi (Morimura Brothers) with offices in Tokyo and retail and wholesale venues in New York for the export of traditional Japanese products such as china, curios and other gift items. Morimura was a supporter of the modernization of Japan.

Besides running a china decorating facility of their own from 1878 to 1884, Morimura Kumi also purchased and distributed porcelain blanks to nearby areas to be decorated by independent porcelain painters. The quality of early Noritake wares varied dependent upon the skills of the individual decorators.

In 1900, Morimura IV went to the World's Fair in Paris (The Exposition Universelle) and came upon the idea of trying to manufacture a high quality, modern, western style dinnerware for export. In Jan. 1, 1904 they formed Nippon Toki Kaisha Ltd, the forerunner to the present Noritake Company. The company was founded in the small village of Noritake, a town rich with the raw materials to create beautiful porcelain and filled with talented painters to decorate the wares. In 1908, the first Japanese registry for a Noritake back stamp is recorded for use in Japan.

From around 1890 until 1921 the Nippon Toki Kaisha Ltd. marked their export porcelain with
their country of origin as "Nippon" to comply with the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, which stated that all imported items had to be marked with the country of origin. In 1921 American import law changed and required the place of origin be marked in English. Therefore, back stamps were changed to "Japan" or "Made in Japan".

In 1910, the first china products from this new company were ready for export to the U.S. In 1911, the first U.S. registry for a Noritake back stamp was recorded for export purposes. The early Noritake back stamp of the letter "M" in a wreath and the words "Hand Painted" was used from around 1914 to 1940. As a general rule, the earliest dinnerware plates were decorated with a lot of gold because it was thought that this would have great appeal to the U.S. consumer.

Noritake quickly learned American mass marketing techniques. From the late 1920s throughout the 1930s and until the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, which put a stop to normal business, "Hand Painted Imported Noritake China" was offered as a premium by the Larkin Company of Buffalo, N.Y., to its millions of customers purchasing soap, beauty and home products by mail. Some patterns appear to have been designed exclusively for the Larkin Co. such as "Azalea". Typical marks from c. 1925 to 1940 include the green Noritake mark #190.
Early Noritake china dinnerware featured the "Hand Painted Nippon" text around a wreath-circled "M" for "Morimura" as the back stamp of most pieces.

"Noritake" appears on back stamps of other pieces, with either "Japan" or "Made in Japan". After WWII from 1945 to 1948 Noritake China was sold under the label "Rose China". In 1953, the letter "N" for "Noritake" in a wreath replaced the long used letter "M" in a wreath. From 1945 until early 1952, occupation of Japan by the Allied Occupation Forces had been in place and many back stamps for this period say "Made in Occupied Japan". Today the number of known different Noritake marks total more than 400.

Noritake-made wares marked with "RC" have a special place in Noritake production history. The mark was first registered in Japan in 1908. In 1911 the first marks with the famous laurel wreath was registered. In 1911 a series of circular marks with the RC drawn in an Art Nouveau style were registered in Japan.

In 1946, the word Noritake was temporary dropped from the back stamps and RC reappeared as "Rose China" along with a picture of a rose and the words "Made in Japan." The post-war quality was not up to the pre-war quality standards so Noritake decided to remove their valuable brand name from production wares.

The bottom line is that your lovely tea set made at the Toki Kaisha factory dates to no earlier than 1953 when the wreathed M was replaced with the letter N. With over 400 known back stamps the variety of patterns is well in to the thousands and I was unable to find your exact pattern name in any of my books or resources. However, the current resale value for the set, which is based on a traditional Japanese tea set, is $125-$150.

Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.