By Gerald Davison


The previous edition is now out of print.

New and much expanded 2020 edition is coming later this year

This new edition will include more information on the Republic period and will feature in the region of 4000 marks. It should be available for publishing at the end of 2020.

To register interest in this, please use the email address at the foot of this page **

Inscriptions and marks of varying types appeared on Chinese pottery and porcelain with increasing frequency from the Tang Dynasty (618 - 906 CE) through to the Republic in the early years of the 20th century.

From imperial marks to the many "hall" and auspicious marks used by scholars, collectors, potters and artists this is the essential book for all professional buyers, collectors and antique and art dealers with an interest in Chinese ceramics. Written in a way that will appeal to the beginner as well as the experienced professional, the introduction contains colour illustrations of a varied range of objects together with their marks - all colour images courtesy of Sotheby's.

Building on the gradual success of, first the unique small format 'Guide' (450 marks) published in 1987 and reprinted twice, and then the much acclaimed and more comprehensive 'Handbook' (1800 marks) published in 1994, this NEW and EXPANDED publication now contains TWICE the content with over 3,400 marks spread over 316 pages.


Almost 20 years in the making, it is the only reference work in any language to deal so exhaustively with the entire range of these very diverse marks. This time, over 3,400 individual marks are beautifully reproduced in colour and still compiled in sections and groupings to make recognition of such unfamiliar shapes as easy as possible. All of the marks are translated into English together with the pinyin Romanisation. The range of marks includes not only those in the regular kaishu script but also some 500 marks redrawn in the classical zhuanshu seal script form together with a range of pictorial symbols. Finally the very detailed 70 page Directory section then provides a wide range of historical, dating, geographical and mythological information, where available, for each mark.

A detailed cyclical table (shown below) is included for translating the jiazi dating system often included in commemorative marks.

Book specification:-

Printed on high quality, 115 gsm silk art paper, sealed after printing and hard bound in red ‘Balacron’ faux leather with gold blocking, coloured end papers and silk headers. 375 pages, 235 x 156 mm. Weight approx. 900 gms.

ISBN: to be advised

UK RRP GBP to be confirmed

SECURE postage and packing:



Chronology of Chinese Dynasties and Imperial Reign Periods

Table below shows the 60 year jiazi cycle dating system.

Apart from imperial reign periods, specific date marks are almost of an unlimited nature ranging from just the year to a combination of reign period, year and precise day. Although they are not found frequently on Chinese ceramics their potential diversity is considerable. My dating table above will, with a little familiarity, enable the user to translate most types of date mark.

The only difficulty arises when in the case of a long mark the date may be added to an inscription of dedication to an event, person or place. Chinese calendars have been based on numeric cycles of 60 since Shang dynasty times (c1600-1028 BCE) at first for cycles of days but from around IOO BCE for years. Years are given unique names within the 60 year cycle by combining two characters. The first of these is taken from The 'Ten Heavenly Stems' and the second from 'The Twelve Earthly Branches'. This results in the Ten Stems recurring six times and the Twelve Branches only five times providing a unique set of non-recurring combinations throughout the 60 year cycle, known as the jiazi,

The main problem with this system is that without any further information there is no way of knowing which cycle you are dealing with. For this reason the cyclical year characters are usually accompanied in inscriptions by the imperial reign title, in which case the cycle can be identified and comparison can then be made with the Christian calendar. As official Chinese chronology starts from 2637 BCE the cyclical dating table spans cycles numbers 45 to 76, equivalent to the period 4 to 1923 CE. This table enables the character combinations for each year to be easily converted to specific years.

Translating many date marks requires identification of numerals so I have also provided a table of these. The Chinese characters used for numbering are both simple and logical in their use. There are two versions either of which can be found in many date or commemorative marks. The first are the numbers that equate to the Arabic numbering sequence used throughout Europe. The second type of character represents the complicated form of those same numbers used to prevent fraud. In the table of numbers the character yuan for 'first' is also included as this frequently occurs in marks. Larger numbers are simply compounds of the simpler basic numbers created by combining tens with units or the multiplication of units by tens as shown in the table.