Bavarian china collectible pieces come from one of the earliest and most sophisticated porcelain-producing regions in Europe -- Bavaria, Germany. Crests are stamped, indented or painted on the underside of the antique china, many under the glaze and most quite legible. The crests varied over time as china factories changed hands, and Bavaria's political status shifted. A basic overview of Bavarian china production over the centuries will help you better identify the crest marks on your porcelain. For a more probable date and value, you can consult porcelain marks books and websites, antiques experts, and auction house or museum appraisers with a photograph of the china pattern and the crest on your piece.

Hard Paste and Heraldic Beasts

Bavarian china was made from hard paste -- fine, white clay called kaolin that is fired at extremely high temperatures for a long time. The result is glossy -- often slightly translucent -- very hard porcelain that "pings" when struck. Once Europe discovered the secret of kaolin and fine porcelain-making, the powerful families who controlled the clay quarries opened china factories. Bavaria had high-quality clay quarries; its first potteries were named, and sometimes marked, for historic or contemporary rulers. Later, owners of the Bavarian potteries added their names to the marks. Identifying marks often featured the royal crest or parts of it, such as one or two of the golden lions. The lion was the heraldic animal of the Wittelsbach family, which ruled Bavaria for nearly 1,000 years. Some marks show a crown, a common symbol of a royal license that might have a cross rising from its center or sitting atop a pair of intertwined Cs.

What's in a Name?

Among the earliest porcelain factories were those established by decree in 1794 in Tettau, in Bavaria's Thuringia province. "Tettau" is a word you will find in the crests used to identify Royal Bavarian china. Another common crest name is "Nymphenburg." Porzellan Manufaktur Nymphenburg, under the patronage of the Bavarian crown, began hard-firing its "white gold" china in 1747, and marking it with a tiny indented shield on the underside of each piece. A double triangle -- a six-pointed star -- with numbers and letters was also used. The china still features a rich, cream-tinted glaze, and is still made entirely by hand in the porcelain factories -- although the shield, a mark filled in with diamonds and often topped by a crown, has become more elaborate and colorful.

How Marks Evolved

Early marks were blue "T"s, for Tettau, followed by a period or dot, applied under the glaze. Until 1795, the "T" marks ranged from spare straight lines to more elaborate calligraphy. Later marks incorporated a banner bearing the letter T, displayed by a stylized lion standing on two legs, and sometimes showing words such as "Germany," "Bavaria" or "Caravane" (a series design). These marks, in use from 1866 to 1902, were gold and were sometimes elaborate. After 1902, similar gold stamps over glaze added different words and configurations of the banner and lion or lions; the words included "Tettau," "Royal Bayreuth," "Bavaria Wittelsbach Germany," "Hohenzollern China Germany" and the names of other manufacturers who ran the porcelain works. The marks blossomed into solid greens, reds and blues, followed by an ornate multicolor stamp from 1946 to 1949. Later marks for china exported to America often read "Royal Tettau, Germany, US Zone."