Dragonware Tea sets
Dragonware Tea sets are porcelain tea services with a oriental dragon decoration.
Background and Description
Dragonware tea sets were produced in Japan from the end of the 1800s.
They were decorated using Moriage, a style of porcelain decoration that lays beads of porcelain on the item prior to kiln firing, and then painting these later. This creates a raised motif on the item, in this case, a dragon.
Other design techniques include Satsuma pieces which add a Satsuma and enameled handles to the moriage dragon, a coralene design using tiny glass beads heated to look like coral, enamelled designs, and finally occasionally a flat dragon of gold or coloured paint. While this is not the typical raised dragon, it is still considered dragonware.
Dragonware was manufactured as display items for the table, and can include anything from smoking sets to vases, lamps, ashtrays, plates, incense burners, and of course tea sets.
The original manufacturer of dragonware was Nippon/Noritake. The Nippon company were renowned for making Japan’s finest China for the Japanese community, while the offshoot Noritake Company were focused on the European market. Thus articles could possess a Nippon stamp or a Noritake stamp.
Since then, many different companies have manufactured dragonware.
The style and material can vary depending on the age of the item. Modern examples are not as nicely made as the older items. Generally those made prior to the mid 20th century are considered collectible.
Collectors may choose to focus on one particular area of manufacture, such as Kutani pieces. They may choose one company, such as the Nippon Toki Kaisha, Ltd.
Nippon pieces have recognisably large and ornate dragons that encircle most of an item. The very earliest examples had glass beads for eyes rather than moriage ones.
The changes that occurred to the style of dragons over the years can help to date each piece of dragonware. Pieces with enamel work around the edges are typically older. Some dragonware even has ‘Occupied Japan’ stamped on the bottom – this can add value.
Newer dragonware can be recognised from the lack of detail on the dragons, a smaller size that don’t wrap around, less care and attention paid to the design.
The most common colour used was smoky grey with black or white, though often sets would also incorporate deep blue, red, orange, green, gold, and chocolate brown. A sign of a newer piece is the use of pink, bright green, purple and yellow.
Some of the teacups have lithophanes inside on the bottom – a raised design, often a Geisha. This adds value to a piece of dragonware. Lithophanes were created using a lead finish, so these cups should not be used to drink tea from.
Dragonware tea sets can sell for a few hundred pounds or dollars on auction websites such as eBay, depending on age and condition.
A 23 piece set of old Noritake dragonware sold for $1,800 at Elite Decorative Arts, Florida, in March 2012.
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