Novice Needing Help Identifying Mark

by Lorena Hensley
(Rainbow City, Alabama, USA)

Wucai 5-Clawed Dragon & Phoenix

Wucai 5-Clawed Dragon & Phoenix

Dear Peter

First, I want to thank you for this site. I've learned more here in two days than the last month of researching the web.

Over the years I have collected many oriental items from estate sales and yard sales. I consider them my little treasures and try to research them just to have little stories for each. I mostly collect Nippon items, but, recently I have been drawn to other items for their unique looks and markings. Unfortunately, I'm lost in this new endeavour and seek your help.

I love going to estate sales and picking up pieces that someone loved and cherished in their lives and bringing them home to continue the tradition. This particular estate sale was one in which I was searching for special things for my granddaughters graduation. She is salutatorian of her high school and is going into pre-med studies.

The estate sale was for a woman doctor who graduated med school in 1955 and taught Med students in Japan in the 1960's (according to a family member of hers). Considering the era in which this amazing woman became a doctor, I know that she must have had quite a struggle and was incredibly strong. I don't know when or where the doctor got this piece, but I believe that she possibly bought it while she was in the orient.

From studying your site I believe I know what 5 of the 6 characters in the mark mean, but the top middle character evades me. From left to right and top to bottom this is what I see:

period, ?, great, make, Wanli, Ming

I'm sure that I am really chopping up
a beautiful language by putting it that way. For that, I truly apologize.

I have learned so much about this piece already. I've learned that it is Wucai, meaning 5 colors. It has a 5 clawed dragon, which apparently the number of claws are important.

I finally figured out that the bird on the vase would be considered a phoenix not a peacock, which is what I first thought of it as. But, there is so much more that I am not quite sure about.

I believe it would be considered a Beaker Vase, but, I have also seen the term Altar Vase used for a similarly shaped vase.

The terms "archaistic shape and zun shape" have also appeared for similar vases. I guess by now you realize just how much of a Novice I truly am.

I would like to know as much as possible about this piece so I can share the history of it with my granddaughter.

I bought several things for her to have in her home that belonged to this wonderful woman in order to give her strength and inspiration as she faces her own struggles to become a doctor. If you can tell me about when and where this piece was or may have been made would be wonderful.

Finding out who the artist is or was would be phenomenal. Any and all help is greatly appreciated. Graduation is only a couple weeks away, but, I don't want to push. Any information at this point would be great.

Thank you again for this wonderful site, as I have a few more pieces that I am keeping and will be researching soon.

Warmest regards


Comments for Novice Needing Help Identifying Mark

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Translation of Wanli 6 Chinese characters (hànzì)Mark
by: Peter (admin)

Hi Lorena

You are a pretty good researcher. You already know more than me on the subject of Wucai/5 colours and 5 clawed dragons etc. What I have done is researched and published a system which we can all use to translate Chinese and Japanese. I am also interested in the broad principles of what we should all be looking for and thinking about in terms of being beginners in this vast complex subject of Oriental pottery and porcelain. I think even the 'experts' get bamboozled sometimes.

So you did well using my translation system but just got a bit muddled about which way to read the Hanzi (Chinese characters).

The Chinese write these marks from top right downwards and their words denote monosyllabic sounds. So the words GREAT MING WAN-LI PERIOD MAKE would look exactly as your mark says (this photo is your mark blown up bigger):-


I am no expert, but try to do my best on Oriental wares. I was enlightened by your research on Wucai/5 colours and 5 clawed dragons etc. I didn't know that previously - not to mention your excellent research on phoenix/peacock and Beaker Vases vs Altar Vases, and the terms "archaistic shape and zun shape.

I have learned a lot from Jan-Erik Nilsson who runs the excellent website and is an occasional guest commentator on this site. I did find a very good source for shapes of Chinese vases which I include an extract of here, with kind permission of ArtNetNews


Hope this assists your research.

Please keep publishing your findings on this page here (make a note of the web address and treat is as your own space).

If you need to put further photos up, please either send them to me or put them on Photobucket and post the links. I will then post them up manually (unfortunately, I don't yet have the technology for commenters to put pics in directly).

Best regards

Peter (admin)

Thank you
by: Lorena


Thank you so much. I was so excited to see the emails come across from your site today and had a hard time waiting to get off work to see everything. You have already given me so much information and ways to help my research, it is amazing. This is a truly wonderful site and I can't wait to learn more.

Warmest Regards,

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