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Antiques Glossary

Antiques Glossary

The photo to the right is of a porcelain vase with Royal Worcester backstamp and Registered Number 227600. We all use jargon but sometimes it helps to have a brief explanation of terms used! We will add regularly to this glossary of antiques and collectable terms.

Acid etching Technique, using hydrochloric acid, to eat into glass and so create the desired design
Antique A collectable object over 100 years old
Art Deco A style, prevalent between 1920s and 1940, bolder and more angular than Art Nouveau, often with geometric and streamlined shapes
Art Nouveau A style, prevalent between 1890 and WWI, whereby object design was based on organic forms
Arts & Crafts movement European and North American movement, prevalent in the 1880s-1910, that emphasised craftmanship and simple forms, sometimes romantic.
Backstamp An incised, impressed, painted , decalled or stamped mark applied to ceramics and used to identify the maker. Backstamp variations can often be used to determine date of item. Fakes exist!
Berlin plaque A 19th-century rectangular porcelain plaque, exquisitely painted with portraits or landscapes.
Bisque Unglazed porcelain with a matt finish. Used to make figurines, ornaments and historically dolls heads. Fired decoration can retain fine detail
Bohemian Made in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic
Black basalt A high quality black stoneware introduced by Josiah Wedgwood in the 18th-century
Britannia metal A silver colour metal made from tin, antimony and copper.
Cabochon An unfaceted shaped and highly polished convex gemstone
Cartouche A decorative frame, often in the form of a scroll or a shield, used to bear the design of a coat of arms or initials
Chasing Hammering metal from the side to be viewed to create indented decoration.
Chinoiserie European made Chinese inspired decoration
CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species which prohibits unlicensed trade in many species of animals and plants and their "raw" parts but which allows trade of some pre-1947 worked parts.
Cloisonne A decorative technique whereby enamels are kept separate by fine lines of wire (often brass or silver)
Crazing Fine lines or cracks in the glaze of a fired ceramic object.
Earthenware Pottery that has not been fired to a sufficient temperature to become impermeable to water and requires glazing to stop porosity
Enamel (vitreous) A hard glassy surface achieved by fusing powdered glass to a substrate, usually metal.
Ephemera Collectable items, usually printed, that were originally intended only for transitory use, such as tickets, labels and posters
E.P.B.M. Electroplated Britannia Metal
E.P.N.S. Electroplated Nickel Silver
Faience Tin glazed earthenware (French term)
Famille rose Chinese porcelain with a lot of strong pink colour in decoration
Famille vert Chinese porcelain with a lot of strong pink green colour in decoration
Flatback A ceramic figure or figural group with a flat undecorated back surface to allow it to be placed against a wall or on a mantelpiece. Often used in connection with 19th century Staffordshire figures
Flow Blue 19th/early 20th Century earthenware where the underglaze blue transfer design has partly blurred during firing
Glaze The shiny surface found on many ceramics, fused to the body of the object through firing and creating an impervious, and sometimes decorative, layer
Ground The background or surface colour of ceramics prior to later decoration. It is also a term applied to rugs.
Hallmark Official mark(s) applied to certain precious metals confirming compliance to a purity standard and, in the case of the UK, the maker, origin and date.
Inclusions Air bubbles or specks of dust and dirt found within ceramic glazes and glass
Maiolica Tin glazed earthenware (Italy)
Majolica Lead glazed earthenware made in Britain, USA and Europe, often in bold colours and imitating decorative animal and plants
Milk glass Opaque white or coloured glass
Modernism An architectural, design and art movement that rejected using the past as a model, instead using forms and materials which related to the modern world.
Mon A Japanese badge or crest used to identify a family, perhaps the best known of which is the mon of the Shimazu clan, associated with Satsuma ware
Netsuke Miniature sculpture used as a toggle to attach to the sash (obi) of a man's dkimono, from which would be hung containers (sagemono), mainly boxes (inro) and which were held shut by sliding beads (ojime) on cords, all for storing personal possessions. Fakes abound!
Nickel silver A silver colour alloy of copper, nickel and zinc. It has no actual silver content
Okimono Wood and ivory sculptures carved by Netsuke carvers.
Ormolu Gilded bronze
Parian A form of white porcelain used to imitate marble and common in nineteenth century
Patina The thin layer that forms on the surface of metals over time from oxidisation or other chemical reaction. It is also commonly used to describe the effect of ageing, wear, polish and use on old wooden objects.
Pontil mark The glass scar formed when handmade glass is snapped off the iron rod that holds it. Sometimes the mark is ground out afterwards.
Porcelain A ceramic which has been fired to a very high temperature and has kaolin (china clay) as part of its composition. It is translucent and impermeable to water even before glazing.
Registered Number Registered Design Number/Rd No is a number given to a registered decorative design and has been in force since 1884, when it replaced the Registration diamond
Repoussé Creation of an embossed (raised) finish to metal by hammering from the reverse side.
Sampler An antique needlework composition
Satsuma ware Japanese earthenware with a cream ground, a fine crackle type crazed glaze with gilding and applied enamel decoration
Shagreen The skin of a shark or ray used to create attractive leather for book bindings, box and case covers and non-slip sword hilts
Slip A creamy mix of clay and water, used to decorate pottery or form hollow cast figures in moulds
Slipware Unfired pottery decorated with splashes, trails or painted slip, then fired
Spelter An alloy of tin and zinc, often used in 19th century figurines and clock cases as a substitute for more expensive and durable metals.
Silver gilt Sterling silver covered with thin gold layer
Sterling Silver Silver alloy with a minimum silver content of 92.5% (925 parts per 1000)
Stilt marks Small marks to surface of glazed ceramics where pieces of fireclay are used to separate objects to stop the glaze from fusing objects together or sticking to base of kiln
Stoneware Pottery made from a mix of clay and stone which becomes non-porous when fired at high temperature
Tole ware Decorative painting on metal (usually tin and pewter)
Treacle Glaze (Treacleware) A brown glaze made by the addition of iron oxide or manganese dioxide. Earthenware with treacle glaze is known as treacleware
Treen A domestic object which has been hand made out of wood
Uranium Glass Glass objects made with uranium added to the glass mix, mainly pre WWII. This glass fluoresces vivid green under ultraviolet light
Vaseline Glass Another name for Uranium Glass
Vesta case A small case used to securely hold matches with a ribbed striking surface, usually to base
Vienna Secession Group founded in 1897 that rejected the historical style prevalent, members included Gustav Klimt and Otto Wagner
Vinaigrette Small box with a hinged lid, internal hinged grill, under which would be placed a sweet smelling substance designed to mask the smell of the streets
Zinc Rot (Zinc pest) A destructive deterioration of zinc alloys due to impurities in manufacture. Particularly relevant to old diecast models but more recent cases have been reported when production standards lapse