Everyone’s grandma has (or at least had) that collection of highly decorated “good” dishes that are fit for use only on the rarest occasions or with her most honored guests.
She was not wrong for that.
Porcelain (also called china or fine china) evolved slowly in China, reaching its final form around 1500 years ago, from where it slowly spread out to other Asian countries, eventually reaching Europe in the 18th century.
While porcelain originated in China and was traditionally used there for centuries, the Europeans were the first to begin mass-producing it for general use. They quickly cornered the market in the 19th century.
This unique material those plates were made of is called porcelain. This kitchenware material employs a manufacturing process that is significantly more demanding than those used in creating other regular stoneware and earthenware items.
Consequently, this type of pottery easily became one of the most prestigious thanks to the combination of the substantial efforts required in its production and the unmatched, sublime aesthetics it can create in finished items.
In its initial form, porcelain sports a brilliant white color that is already more aesthetic than other types of earthenware.
However, the material also combines brilliantly with all types of glazes and paints, creating a welcoming canvas that can bear a wide variety of decorative treatments and help create some of the most eye-catching designs possible on kitchenware
This combination of factors is key to why china ware is often the go-to for creating upscale place settings for holidays and special occasions.
While many of us today are significantly more casual without our utensils, this tradition of using high-end dishes still continues in many homes, especially among opulent families. Premium china ware is also a common feature in upscale hotels and restaurants.
So yes, your grandma was not wrong, and these dishes deserve the respect they get, especially when they are from a stock manufactured with the highest standards. Hence, it is no surprise that these tableware sets were often passed down across generations.
The most popular form of china today, Noritake china, is a common feature in many American homes, and there is a high chance they could form part of the bunch of odd items your grandma left you.
Did you recently get some Noritake china and wonder how much they are worth?
Noritake sells both formal and casual dinnerware and has done so for over 100 years. Hence, the price of any single Noritake china piece can vary considerably, depending on factors like its type, production year, and condition.
On average, the regular Noritake china will retail for between $2 – $8 per piece. However, on the flip side, the rarest and most valuable antique pieces could sell considerably higher, reaching prices of a few thousand dollars per set.
To understand why antique Noritake china ware can cost so much, you must first examine the history of this long-lasting company whose name is intertwined with porcelain use in the United States.
The History of Noritake China
Noritake china as we know it today started as the brainchild of two Japanese brothers, businessmen Ichizaemon and Toyo Morimuma.
At the tail end of the 19th century, the Morimura Brothers ran a successful trading company named after themselves in New York City through which they imported traditional merchandise, antiques, and raw materials for decorative arts from the far East for resale here in the United States.
After over a decade of considerable success, Noritake Bros. was looking to expand their business, which is how it got into producing porcelain.
After visiting a world fair held in Paris in 1889, the Morimura brothers were enchanted by the French porcelain they ran into and sought to recreate similar items for the American markets.
Always the speedy executor, by 1904, the Morimura Brothers set up their own factory in Japan under a company named Nippon Toki Kaisha Ltd.
The factory—which was under the full control of the brothers—was situated in Noritake, a small village near Nagoya (now also known as Noritake-Shinichi, Nishi-Ku, or Aichi), which the brand later named itself after.
While the popular porcelain products from this company have been known in everyday speech as “Noritake china,” the company couldn’t use this name officially until 1981.
In Japan, there are extremely strict guidelines for using place names in trademarks, company names, and trade names. Consequently, the company was blocked from using “Noritake china” as a product name, even though that was the common name generally used everywhere their porcelain products were purchased.
According to the report from the company, they were only given permission by the government to register the name officially in 1981 in reaction to their long track record of producing high-end, reliable products.
The product was fondly called Noritake china because of the main production factory located in Noritake village in Japan.
The factory was fully owned and controlled by the Morimura Brothers, allowing them to control the entire manufacturing process and ensure a stream of products of the utmost quality and guaranteed durability. Their oversight of the production process also enabled them to rapidly try out new aesthetics, mapping them to match the tastes of their American audience.
Over their 100+ years of manufacturing porcelain, the Morimura Brothers were considered world leaders in the industry in terms of the quality of their products and their market coverage, a trend that still continues today.
By 1911, seven years later, the Morimura brothers had already registered their first porcelain mark in the United States, and began producing dinner sets like the Sedan produced primarily for this region.
The first batch of works from the company were highly-detailed, hand-painted pieces produced to the highest standards of quality and in extremely limited quantities.
These early releases from Noritake China are now the most sought-after pieces by collectors as they are the rarest of the bunch and often show the highest levels of artistry you would find in their lineup.
Over the years, the company shifted to a more mass-marketing-themed setup that allowed them to set lower price points for its products and reach a broad audience.
Furthermore, economic downturns and the periodic political turmoil between countries during the 20th century—especially the animosity between the United States and Japan during World War II—placed a strain on the company’s production system and forced it to go easy on its lofty product standards and to simplify its manufacturing process on multiple occasions.
Nevertheless, this switch to homogenized large-scale production techniques was instrumental to the Noritake’s continued success, as they could provide affordable yet highly decorative pieces that found their way into most American homes.
Today, Noritake still produces this steady supply of new dinnerware releases, complete with updated, contemporary designs to match the needs of today’s porcelain aficionado.
How Much is my Noritake China Worth (Value Guide)?
Thanks to their use of a broad variety of aesthetic patterns and color mixes, Noritake china is one of the most favored porcelain products by users around the country. These same characteristics have also made some of these pieces highly sought after by collectors over the years.
While some collectors aim to find the rarest and most valuable items on the market, others seek out complete sets of particular aesthetics, collecting everything from dinner plates to teapots, vases, serving trays, and ashtrays.
However, without an intimate knowledge of the market dynamics, how do you tell how much your piece of Noritake China is worth to interested collectors?
The following factors can give you a clue.
Like with all forms of collectibles, with Noritake china, the age and rarity (which often go hand in hand as the oldest items are typically the rarest) of the item are huge factors in deciding its price on the collector’s market.
For Noritake porcelain items, this trope is especially true because the earliest pieces in the line were made under special circumstances. During this period, the Morimura Brothers did not have a mass-market manufacturing process, opting instead to release a considerably smaller quantity of products with a focus on enhanced detailings.
Consequently, all of the china pieces produced by Noritake during this period—which were all hand-painted—represent some of the best quality work by the company.
Noritake (Morimura Bros.) items produced from the company’s inception to around 1920 were all hand-painted—often with gold glidings—and sported the highest levels of craftsmanship possible.
Items from this era are the most sought-after by collectors.
By the early 1920s, the company set up assembly lines that helped them produce a stream of more affordable products that are easier to find and less valued by collectors.
Noritake china specimens from the first couple decades of the 20th century are considered antique items by collectors and typically attract the most demand and (matching) substantial ransoms.
On average, you can expect these older and rarer antique items produced before 1920 to retail for between $100 to $700, depending on the demand for that particular specimen.
The most in-demand items that typically attract these lofty price points are usually highly ornamental items like vases, teapots, trays, and wall plaques. In contrast, everyday-use items such as regular dinner plates often retail for relatively less, although they still sell for considerably higher than newer, mass-produced variants.
For example, this antique Noritake small dinner plate produced before 1920 sold for $25 on eBay, which is considerably less than what you would get for more decorative items from the same era but significantly higher than the $2 – $5 a similar piece from newer, mass-produced line-ups would go for on the open market.
Some examples of the high-ticket ornament Noritake China pieces from this golden era include this eye-catching Art Nouveau Antique Noritake Porcelain Vase that sold for $545 on eBay earlier this year.
Not all of the antique items from this era are as flamboyant as the one we highlighted above. This unassuming Noritake Annabelle teapot managed to sell for $250.
However, on the flip side, some of these antique specimens were made exclusively for display purposes. A good example of that is this aesthetic plaque that depicts an elk stag in a meadow, portraying the image with an intricately detailed high-relief design.
While Noritake china pieces from the pre-1920 era are easily some of the rarest of the bunch, extreme rarity is not exclusive to items from this period.
On average, the rarity and age of Noritake china items are interlinked, as all products produced before 1920 were slowly manufactured by hand in small batches. This automatically places items from this era at the top of the totem pole.
However, when the company began mass-producing porcelain with assembly lines, it did not completely shut down its production of hand-painted items.
Noritake still seasonally produces small quantities of highly detailed, hand-painted items, making these unique pieces quite rare even though they were produced much later than the traditional antique specimens.
Examples of these new era rare specimens include this hand-painted plate produced in the 1940s that depicts a picturesque view of the English countryside, with a shepherd tending to his sheep.
The rare eye-catching specimen sold on eBay for $300.
With Noritake china producing hundreds of item types over the years, it is becoming increasingly harder to tell an antique piece apart from more common and cheaper mass-distribution items.
One of the easiest ways to determine if a Noritake china piece is one of the rarer antiques is to check its backstamp or product mark.
Marks and Stamps
With so many different variations of products released by Noritake—many of which are remakes of older designs—it can be quite difficult attempting to place the exact age of a piece.
As we have highlighted earlier, the date of production of a particular specimen can strongly affect its final price on the collector’s market. Hence, if you suspect you possess a potentially valuable Noritake china piece, this is one of the first properties you must consider.
The easiest way we found to date a Noritake piece yourself was through the backstamps and marks that exist on the bottom of all their porcelain products.
Backstamps on Noritake china (and products from other pottery makers are a result of the McKinley Tariff Act of 1890 instituted by President William McKinley.
This legislation was passed to promote the consumption of American–made items as it imposed tariffs on a broad range of imported products (including pottery) and forced foreign manufacturers to place the name of the origin country of all such affected imported items.
These backstamps that were originally instituted to indicate the product’s country of manufacture quickly became more elaborate symbols of the producing company, often incorporating the company’s crest or trademark.
With companies changing the stylings of these backstamps ever so often, they quickly became an unofficial dating system through which collectors could approximate the manufacturing date of the item.
There is an abundance of Noritake backstamps created by the company through the years, with experts estimating that there are at least 400 of them.
We found this comprehensive repository online that can help you match the backstamp on your Noritake china piece. If the mark corresponds to any of the backstamps from the pre-1920 era, the chances are that you have a valuable antique piece on your hands.
Condition and Set Combinations
With collectibles, the condition of the piece always matters. The best price you would get for any Noritake china specimen is for a version that has never been used and was immaculately preserved to retain its original release condition.
The better the condition of the piece, the more money you will get for it, irrespective of whether it’s a rare antique piece or a run-of-the-mill mass-produced variant.
Another key determinant of the final price you get for a unit is if it comes as part of a set.
Many of Noritake china releases feature complete set versions that can contain as many as 100 individual items. A complete set of items can often retail for larger than the sum of its parts, especially if that collection is also considered rare.
Some of the most impressive collection sales of Noritake items include this set the company created for the Imperial Hotel in 1922. American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright originally designed this dinner set in 1922, containing twenty-one dinner plates, twenty-two salad plates, twenty-three dessert plates, twenty-two bowls, and twenty-one teacups with saucers.
The entire set sold for $16,250 at auction.
Valuing Your Noritake China
If you suspect your Noritake china might be worth a lot, the first step to take is to access it using the factors we outlined in this article to avoid going on a wild goose chase. If your porcelain piece passes this preliminary test, you can then proceed to value your item to get an estimate of what collectors would pay for it.
A good place to start is to compare your piece with entries in Noritake china reference books like:
- The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Noritake by Aimee Neff Alden
- Early Noritake China by A.N. Alden and M.K. Richardson
- Noritake: Jewel of the Orient by Bob Page, Dale Frederiksen, and Dean Six
Alternatively, you can visit any of the following Noritake recommended appraisers and dealers: Replacements, LTD, Set Your Table, International Association of Dinnerware Matchers, and DinnerwareMatchers.com.