Where are you registered? Understanding British Registered Design Marks

Liddle Elliot & Sons maker's mark from West Circle Privy.

Liddle Elliot & Sons maker’s mark from West Circle Privy.

There are many different ways that we can date a site or specific artifact.  We can look broadly at the contextual history of the area, look at how a glass bottle was constructed, or use construction material like nails to create broad date ranges. Specifically with ceramics there are several ways to establish a time frame for the artifact including: paste thickness, decoration style, rim construction, colors used, as well as size and shape.  Sometimes we get really lucky, and a ceramic sherd will have a maker’s mark.  Most ceramic companies have well documented records for the changes made to their unique marks, making it relatively simple to establish a date range for most marked ceramics.  But sometimes with 19th century British ceramics we get every more lucky and can establish the specific date the ceramic was produced on.  This occurs when we are fortunate enough to have a British Registered Design mark.

Registered Design Mark on plate from West Circle Privy.

Registered Design Mark on plate from West Circle Privy.

Beginning in 1842 England begin offering “registered designs” for ceramics.  This is akin to a patent or copyright trademark today. The ornamental design act of 1842 expanded design protection into new types of materials, such as ceramics.  This allowed for manufacturers to protect not only the functional design of their products, but also their aesthetic design as well.

Each of these diamond marks contain very specific information that tells us what class of material the object is, the day, month, and year it was produced, and the bundle number.  There are two ways this information can be arranged.  The first configuration was used from 1842-1867.

Labeled registered design mark (1882-1867).

Labeled registered design mark (1882-1867).

There are published tables that identify what each of these letters and numbers mean.  A good example can be seen here, but there are also published books where the same information appears.  Based on those tables we know that the ceramic pictures above was produced December 18th, 1856:

  1. IV = ceramic
  2. L = 1856
  3. A = December
  4. 18 = 18th
  5. We don’t need to worry about the bundle number

If we were in England we could go to the British Archive and view the specific design that corresponds with this information.  However, even without a trip to England, there’s still even more information that this mark can tell us.  By knowing the specific date it was produced, you can look this information up in books, and sometimes figure out who the manufacture was of the ceramic. This is useful if you have a sherd that contains a registered design mark, but not lucky enough to have the maker’s mark.

Registered Designs from 1868-1883. Image Source.

Registered Designs from 1868-1883. Image Source.

The design changed slightly for ceramics produced between 1868-1883. During these years the arrangement of the symbols changed. The year and day marks have switched places, as have the month and bundle.

Post 1883 registered number mark. Image source.

Post 1883 registered number mark. Image source.

In 1884 England switched from the diamond registered date mark to a new registry number system where a numerical mark designated a specific year. Similar to the registered date marks, this information can also be found in published tables. The dates in the tables are the lowest/first number recorded for each year.  So for example let’s look at the registered number in the above image, 49221. This number falls between the 1906 number (471860) and 1907 number (493900) so we know it was produced in 1906.

So sometimes diamonds are not just a girls best friend, they’re an archaeologists best friend.







Maker’s Marks from the Gunson Assemblage

My project involves examining where, what company, and the timeframe the different marker’s mark, collecting from the excavation from the Admin/Gunson site, came from. As we wrapped up with Unit A on Monday, I finished taking and collecting pictures of the marker’s mark found from each level. After sorting them out into groups, I came to the conclusion that the majority of the dishware was from K. T. & K Co. (Knowles Taylor & Knowles), Johnson Bros, and the Homer Laughlin China Company. I am still in the processing of determining where and what company the other marker’s marks are from. It’s difficult when only parts of the marker’s mark is present or has been damaged.

Marks & Library has been an excellent resource that I have turned to. They have images of different kinds of maker’s mark and can help with determining the timeframe of which they were used to and from. I have also looked at a few books in the arts and humanities part of MSU main library. They have several books about ceramic, dishware, and marker’s mark.

I think the most different and interesting piece of marker’s mark from Unit A would have to be C. Ahrenfeldt Limoges from level 10. Limoges style porcelain was produced near the city of Limoge, France beginning in the late 18th century and continues to this day. It does not refer to a specific manufacturer, but rather the style of ceramic. This piece appears to have two marker’s mark printed together. C. Ahrenfeldt Limoges comes from the company Charles Ahrenfeldt and the second marker’s mark comes from the company Charles Ahrenfeldt & Son. On the other side includes some flower decoration. This is helpful because having one piece of decoration can help determine what the complete dish would have looked like and can possibly help determine the timeframe of the marker’s mark.

Unit A Level 10 Limoge

Unit A Level 10 Limoge Front view


Unit A Level 10 Limoge

Unit A Level 10 Limoge Back View


Not all of the marker’s mark has decoration present on the opposite side. Since my project focuses on determining the company and timeframe of the maker’s mark, not having the decoration doesn’t hurt my research but can only help it.

I am very excited to start the next unit. I would like to compare the different marker’s mark from Unit A to the other units to see if there are more fragments of maker’s mark that possibly could be are from the same company but a different timeframe or even a different company.

Ceramic Decorations from The Admin Building

This semester I have been working on analyzing the materials found near the Administration building on campus. This is an interesting assemblage because we have such a large range of materials. We have whiteware, porcelain, stoneware, yellow-ware, glass of all types and metal. Within the ceramics, we even have a wide range of decoration techniques including hand-painting, transfer print, flow blue, decals, gilding, edging and more. Given that the assemblage itself isn’t very large, it is an impressive range of artifacts that may be able to reveal some of MSU’s secrets. Here is a part of the analysis of the decorations and how it might help us better date this collection.

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Flow Blue Decoration, Photo by Meyers Emery

Flow Blue

Flow Blue is a style of pattern found on white refined earthenware that originated during the 1820s in Staffordshire, England. The name “Flow Blue” was given to this pattern because of the way that the blue glaze blurs during the firing process. The pattern was very popular in America, but it only began being produced in the states in 1875. The pattern of the Flow Blue ceramics changes with popularity over time, and due to this we can more accurately date its use. During the 1830s, romantic landscapes were the most popular, and after 1850, the Willow pattern is the most common. After the 1870s, Japanese landscapes and styles gained popularity, and floral patterns were popularity from the 1860s to the early 20th century.

The pattern we have here is a floral flow blue pattern with a lightly scalloped edge. It was likely a plate or shallow bowl based on the curvature. Sadly we only have one small fragment of the piece so it is difficult to identify the specific pattern, and there is no maker’s mark to help determine manufacturer. Based on patterning, this piece likely dates between 1870 and 1920.

Decal Decoration, Photo by Meyers Emery

Decal Decoration, Photo by Meyers Emery


Decals were first introduced onto ceramics in 1890 as an easy and colorful form of decoration. It remained popular throughout the 1930s and continues to be used today. The decal is made up of three layers: the color or image which comprises the decorative design, a clear protective layer, and the backing paper on which the design is printed on by using lithography. Unlike Flow Blue techniques, decals have multiple bright colors and crisp lines between them. Americans were unable to produce their own decals until the 1930s, so they relied on imported ceramics or imported decals, and were unable to procure many before the 1900s.

The floral decoration this this ceramic sherd is a clear decal. Not only does it have crisp clear lines and colors, but if you rub your finger lightly over the image you can feel the edges of the decal. Given the availability and popularity of decals in the states, this piece likely dates between 1890 and 1930.

Cobalt Oxide Decoration, Photo by Meyers Emery

Cobalt Oxide Decoration, Photo by Meyers Emery

Hand-Painting with Cobalt Oxide

Stoneware crocks are a popular item for household use during the 19th century in North America, and can still be easily found in antique shops around the country. Stoneware pottery is easy to make in the states, can stand up to daily life and abuse, and isn’t porous like earthenwares. This specific piece can easily be identified by its salt-glaze; a glossy, translucent and orange peel like texture formed by throwing salt into the kiln during the firing process. In between firings, cobalt oxide would be applied to the pot to form bright blue decorations in a variety of hand-drawn shapes. Decorations range from flowers to animals, sprigs of leaves to quotations, name of the owners to birds.

This particular piece appears to either be some kind of flower- a calla lily or tulip perhaps, or if looked at from another angle, could be a bell with ribbon. Since these pieces were used over a long time period and decorations were personal rather than changing with fashion, it is difficult to assign this piece a date. The best we can say is that it was likely used during the 19th century and may have been kept beyond that date.

Makers Marks from the Admin Assemblage

For the past few weeks the Campus Archaeology fellows completed washing the artifacts recovered from a possible trash pit along the Red Cedar River near the Administration Building and have begun sorting and analyzing the assamblage. This was a particularly exciting find due to its sheer enormity compared to other test pits explored in the area. Our initial hypothesis for this assemblage is that it may represent debris that was discarded on campus from the Engineering Building that burned in 1916. This is due to the presence of a high volume of what appears to be broken laboratory glass and metal ware.

There is also a high frequency of whiteware associated with the assemblage, including a few sherds that have makers marks which are crucial to providing a relative date for the trash pit. Three distinct makers marks have been identified that identify two ceramic manufacturers: the Edwin M. Knowles China Co. and Knowles, Taylor and Knowles Co. (KT&K). Sherds bearing the Edwin. M. Knowles Co. mark are generally dated by the presence or absence of numbers beneath the mark. Those that include numbers have specific production years associated with them. These production numbers were present on all of the makers marks from the Edwin M. Knowles Co., however three of them were broken such that the numbers are not discernable. Based on sherds complete enough to analyze, the assemblage may date from roughly 1910-1920. This would definitely suggest that the assemblage might have originated from the Engineering Building after the fire.

There are two variations of the KT&K marks, which may be separated by many years. The mark on one sherd, a medallion-like emblem with an eagle in the center and the word, “WARRANTED” printed across the top, was in circulation as early as 1879. One reference book on makers marks indicates that this design was printed on dishware prior to 1904. The second, simpler design first appeared in 1919, with variations appearing in 1926.

As it turns out, the dates on the whiteware seem to bust our working hypothesis regarding the origin of this assemblage. In reality, considering that the university probably lacked the means to transport this much material the distance between the engineering building and the current Admin building as well as the fine nature of the whiteware, it is likely that this material came from elsewhere. Determining the origin of this interesting assemblage will continue through the spring semester as part of a year-long process to locate a site for this summer’s Campus Archaeology Fieldschool.