Noritake is a word frequently heard in collectible and antique circles. The origins of Noritake as china formally begin with the founding of a company titled Nippon Toki Kabushiki Kaisha, Ltd. in Japan in early 1904.
It was much later, in the 1980s, when the company officially assumed the name Noritake Company. A 1981 company brochure states "because Noritake is the name of a place, that word could not be officially registered as a trade name. However, because of the consistently high quality and reliability of our products, we were finally given permission to register the name."
For generations, Japan had been a closed culture and economy, protected by severe sanctions against all interaction with the West. Porcelains from Japan and her neighboring countries had long been admired and sought in Europe and many places in between. The very late 1800s had been a time of change, and it was into this new Japan that what would become Noritake China was born.
In 1876, years prior to the founding of Nippon Toki Kabushiki Kaisha Ltd., Ichizaemon Morimura VI and Yutaka Morimura formed Morimura Brothers. Inc. It was a trading company dedicated to exporting traditional Japanese products. Ichizaemon Morimura VI had been a visionary and supporter of modernization for Japan. Within the year Yutaka had opened a Morimura Bros. retail store in New York. From this earliest period, Morimura sought to adapt quality Japanese art and skilled craft to the needs, designs and market appeal of the American consumer. Morimura did not produce products during this period but exported the creations of others. In 1890, the McKinley Tariff Act was passed by Congress that required imports to the United States to be marked with their country of origin. Nippon was commonly used to identify Japan in part because it is a Japanese word for the country. Nippon signifies only the country of origin and implies no other information. Early Morimura imports would likely have been marked thus, as would have other imports from Japan.
The quality of early Noritake varies greatly. This is because of the manner in which it was decorated. China blanks were made and provided to independent decorators and painters in nearby regions. Quality varied with the individuals skill. From 1878 to 1884 the Morimura brothers operated a china decorating facility of their own, but not a pottery. In Noritake Collectibles, Lou Ann Donahue reports that from 1884 until 1890 they utilized decorating factories "all over Japan."
It was the Morimura brothers success at matching Japanese production with American designs that lead to the birth of Noritake in 1904. Incorporators were Ichizaemon Morimura, Magobei Okura, Jitsuei Hirose, Yasukata Murai, Kazuchika Okura, and Kotaro Asukai. The factory to produce the porcelain was located near the source of raw materials and in a community rich with skilled potters. That site was Nagoya on the main island of Honshu.
Within a few years of Noritake's founding, the company undertook production of the machinery
necessary for use in its potteries. This would prove critical and a key element
in the company's success because it insured the availability of machinery, and set a high standard for production capabilities.
The early backstamps were in traditional Japanese Konji characters, resembled brush strokes, and told the country of origin. Morimura brothers was a many faceted importing company of which the "Noritake" china lines were just one part. The first Japanese registry for a Noritake backstamp is reported as 1908 for use in Japan. The first reported U.S. registry for a Noritake backstamp for importing is 1911.
Noritake first produced dinnerware for the American market in 1914. A piece of the dinnerware in the Noritake factory in Nagoya shows that the pattern was The Sedan (11292), a white body with cream border with a small spray of flowers. It bears a typical backstamp of Noritake, the letter "M" in a wreath and the words "Hand painted." Generally pieces made prior to 1921 will bear the word Nippon in the backstamp; it was used infrequently after 1921.
The 1921-1941 Period: Noritake Extraordinaire
The period from 1921 until 1941 is a time easily set apart in Noritake production. It is clearly defined on both ends by two events: a change in U.S. law in 1921 and the entry into World War II in 1941.
Until 1921 Noritake predominately marked export wares "Nippon," one word used to describe the country of Japan. In 1921 American import law changed to require the place of origin be marked on a product in English. Since Nippon was an adaptation of a description of the island country in the native language, Nippon was no longer acceptable under the new law. Backstamps after 1921 state "Japan" or "Made in Japan."
Noritake production circa 1920 was divided into two main categories: Dinnerware and Fancy Ware. Fancy Wares would be today's giftwares, including but not limited to vases, ash trays, wall pockets, odd service pieces and decorative plates not intended for table use. Both lines were designed for the American market in New York and produced in Japan. This controlled attentiveness to design was a major benefit for Morimura/Noritake. Writer Ronny Cohen labeled it "Made in Japan, but designed in New York and marketed in America." Noritake did well in giving the American market shapes and decorations it could relate to and wanted. American design, Japanese quality products, and progressive advertising from the earliest years created for Noritake an incredibly strong position in the market. Some of the Noritake design influences were cutting-edge art deco during the late 1920s. After a world-wide depression, the designs of the 1930s were markedly more pragmatic. Marketed in department stores and Five & Dimes, Noritake allowed America to take "art deco" into their homes and onto their tables.
Noritake was a leader in advertising both dinnerware and Fancy Ware or giftware. Morimura brothers went to the extravagance of purchasing the full front page of highly influential trade journals like Crockery & Glass Journal as early as 1920 and for years thereafter. The earliest found color advertisement in the tableware trade journals for any dinnerware are those for Noritake. This further represents a major outlay of capital and belief in the power of advertising. By taking such bold moves the Morimura brothers had firmly established their reputation and that of Noritake in America by the early 1920s.
A look that Noritake popularized in the early 1920s through the mid-1930s was lusterware. Lusterware used bright single-color glazes over which a thin metallic film was applied, resulting in a rainbow of iridescence. Art deco theme decals and hand paintings were often used with luster finishes to create stunning period objects. Japanese lusterware is not uncommon, and Noritake marked lusterware represents but a fraction of the total 20th Century Japanese lusterware products available today.
Noritake imports to the U.S. market ceased with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In the course of the War, the Noritake factory sustained some damage. Although workers were few and access to the materials needed for production was limited, the factory never completely closed. During the War it produced limited dinnerware for domestic Japanese use and grinding wheels for industrial use.
For the period from the end of World War II in 1945 through April 28, 1952, the United States and its Allies occupied Japan. Noritake wares from circa 1948 to 1952 may bear a number of marks including "Made in Occupied Japan" and "Occupied Japan." It was also lawful to mark items just "Japan" or "Made in Japan" during this period, thus all products made in the occupied country do not necessarily bear the tell-tale identification.
Noritake After 1948
In the 1946-1947 recovery period of post-war Japan, Noritake production for American servicemen became an important part of the economic recovery. The official explanation given by Noritake is that the quality had not resumed the level of pre-war production, so the company marked wares in this period "Rose China" to preserve the Noritake reputation. The name Rose China was used in the post 1946 era; however, Noritake sales to U.S. Military PXs continued for many years as a significant market. It is likely that a reluctance toward buying Japanese products so immediately after the War may have influenced the use of the Rose China name rather than the recognizably Japanese name of Noritake.
After World War II, Noritake focused on production that embraced the culture and design interests of the countries it produced for. By November of 1947, Noritake, Inc. of the United States was organized and operating in New York. Noritake ware again became available in the U.S. in 1948. For today's collector, the ambiguities that surround Noritake and Morimura brothers can be overwhelming. The loss of extensive company records during World War II makes some questions forever unanswerable. Donahue noted that some extant records are in "old Japanese" and are yet untranslated. Questions about possible meaning (if any) of various color backstamps, the dates of usage, and production location remain disputed and, in some cases, unanswered at this time. Various authors have advanced varying time lines. United States Patent Office information does allow us to date the first usage for some backstamps.
The use of a backstamp including the letter "N" in a wreath was adopted in 1953 by Noritake, replacing the long used "M" in a wreath. From 1945 until early 1952, occupation of Japan by the Allied Occupation Forces had been in place and many backstamps for this period say "Made in Occupied Japan."
Noritake remains one of the world's largest manufacturers of china and porcelain with production facilities now located all over the world. Markets have expanded to include stainless flatware and crystal. In 1979 an author noted monthly production of over 5 million pieces of china with distribution to over 90 countries. (Donahue)
Source Page, B.; Frederiksen, D.; Six, D.; Noritake: Jewel of the Orient; Greensboro, NC; Page/Frederiksen Publications; 2001.