Clue to china set’s origin lies in marks and symbols

 <span class="cutline_leadin">By the book: </span>Finding the history of a set of china isn’t so hard if you have an expansive library.
By the book: Finding the history of a set of china isn’t so hard if you have an expansive library.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Q: I recently purchased these pieces of china and wonder if they may be of value? Do you know how to investigate this? Any assistance would be appreciated.

A.Z., Naperville, Ill.

A: Researching art and antiques can be a very difficult chore. Many of our readers jump on the Internet without really knowing where to start or the right questions to ask. When nothing concrete turns ups, as is often the case, they become very frustrated with the treacherous little boxes on their desks and irritated when the inscrutable little gadgets do not provide answers that seem plausible.

This happens to us too, but we have a backup that really helps. Both of us have huge home libraries on antiques and art that generally guide us through. Most people do not have the thousands of books we have — but they do have access to public libraries that will often do the trick — especially with the aid of helpful reference librarians who are eager to assist in your quest.

On this china set, we did not bother with the Internet because we knew it would probably be a waste of time. Instead we looked at the mark and saw the initials “MZ,” an eagle with a crown over its head and the name “Czechoslovakia.” These clues were all we needed to solve the mystery of the origins of the china.

We pulled out Kovels’ New Dictionary of Marks and Robert E. Rontgen’s Marks on German, Bohemian and Austrian Porcelain 1710 to Present, and it only took us a few seconds to find the proverbial end of the string. We started by looking up the initials “MZ” in Kovels — we knew before we began that these initials were part of the mark of a famous company located in Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic).

This led us to the town of Altrohlau — currently Stara Role, Czech Republic. Switching to Rontgen’s book, we went to his listing of ceramic factories by location and found the history of the company that made the china set in today’s question. It was founded by Benedikt Hasslacher in 1813 as a Faience (tin glazed earthenware) and pottery factory.

It changed hands once before it became the property of Moritz Zdekauer in 1884 — thus the MZ initials. Zdekauer ran the factory, making earthenwares as well as table and decorative porcelains until 1909 when the enterprise was acquired by the Bavarian firm of C.M. Hutschenreuther. At that time, the name was changed to Altrohlau Porcelain Factories (this lasted until 1945 when the firm was nationalized).

However, the “MZ” initials continued to appear on the company’s products and the mark on the items found on the pieces belonging to A.Z. were used between 1918 (when Czechoslovakia became a country) and 1945 when the company was nationalized.

In order to value the pieces in A.Z.’s set, we would need to know how many pieces she has and their condition.

What we can see in one of the pictures is three platters, a gravy boat and what appears to be an individual fruit dish. The pattern is sweet and spare, but it does not appeal to most modern tastes — and this is a serious problem as far as values go.

Along with the desirability of the maker and the decoration, the worth of almost any set of china largely depends on its serving pieces with tureens and covered items generally being the most sought after. Platters and gravy boats can be desirable as well, and the items in the photograph sent by A.Z. should be valued for retail purposes in the $200 to $250 range.

Contact Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson at Joe Rosson, P.O. Box 27419, Knoxville, TN, or email them at If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include an in-focus, high-resolution photo of the subject.

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