Sake is an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice and has been created and drunk in Japan since the Nara period (around 710 to 794 AD). Sake is most usually drunk using quite small cups with no handles call Choko and poured from a ceramic pot or flask called a Tokkuri. There are also other flatter saucer style cups called Sakazuki, but these are usually just used at weddings and on more important occasions.
The Satsuma pottery makers would have drunk Sake and therefore, made Sake cups and pots that were used either for special occasions or as everyday items. Each of the Sake Choko cups would have been adorned with the same hand painted designs that you see on a Satsuma Vase, making them very beautiful pieces. Each cup, pot to bottle would have also been signed with the makers name or mark, the same as all other pieces - so you can check for these when making an identification of the items before buying.
As with some of the Satsuma vase items, the cups and pots may have just been ornamental, rather than being used all the time. The Japanese hold tradition and ceremony very highly in their culture, so some pieces of Satsuma were more decorative, not practical.
The tiny Choko sake cups are only designed to hold a very small amount of drink and do not have handles. They tend to be like a rounded bowl shape, rather than with a stem or base to them. However, more modern sake cups made in the Satsuma style (1910's onwards - Meiji period) have been known to represent a traditional western cup design, or have a short stem on the bottom.
Lithophane Sake Cups
Some modern sake cups or bowls have Lithophanes in the bottom, where thin and transparent pottery is used to display an image of a face or a picture. Due to this being quite a modern technique (1820's) the pieces of Satsuma that you might find this on are certainly not antiques. However, they are very beautiful and seeing a face at the bottom of your sake cup after taking a drink would be a good thing.
The pot used for serving the alcoholic mash made from water and rice is called the Tokkuri and is also quite small in size compared to a western teapot. The Sake would be poured from it's bottled container and served either chilled or at room temperature.
The Tokkuri is usually just a pot with a spout and handles, also decorated in the Satsuma style, but can also take the form of a bottle shape, with a cylindrical body and thinner neck. However, some other items of Satsuma do look like sake bottles - so be careful it is not a bud vase (used for displaying a small amount of flowers). Try to imagine filling the bottle or pouring from it. Sometimes this will help you identify if the bottle is for sake or not.
As part of the sake serving equipment, there are also larger bowls that are used to clean and wash the smaller cups. These bowls can also be hand painted in the satsuma style and form part of a set.
Here are a selection of items for sale on eBay at the moment that relate to Satsumaware Sake cups, pots and equipment. Remember to check them for authenticity before you buy.
One of the most popular and famous of the potters who made Satsuma style pottery was Makuzu Kozan. Born in 1842, Kozan was one of the Kyoto pottery experts who made the Satsuma style famous around the world and his works are still considered to be of the finest quality.
Although he was not one of the original potters from the initial Satsuma kilns, his artistic stylings and craftsmanship have made his pieces very collectible.
Learning from his father, who owned a very successful workshop in Kansai, Japan, Kozan had not been expected to take over after his death.
However, his skills in painting that were learnt from the age of 9 onwards took him in that direction. The story goes, that the young Kozan was asked to create a pot for washing brushes by his painting master, Giryo.
When Kozan carved an intricate dragon pattern that would only show when the dark inky water seeped into the carved areas, his father was so impressed that he took the pot and fired and glazed it himself, then taking Kozan into producing more pieces.
His expert skills and techniques soon lead to orders for his work from the Imperial Court and other notable local people.
These consisted of small items of tea sets and equipment, right up to sets of 50 bowls, all decorated with red and gold and arranged on a shelf for display. His work during the Meiji period in Japan became his most popular.
It has been said that, although Kozan was from a more modern time, he strived to created pieces that were in the stylings of older Satsumaware.
This may also lead us to the reason why some of his works are not marked at all, possibly trying to make them look more antique and more like "old Satsuma".
These pieces are often referred to as "Ota Ware" or "Makuzuyaki" and lead some collectors in the west of noting him as a maker of forgeries.
After this mark on his character (around 1870), the majority of his pieces after that period do have his name on in an attempt to ensure that his works were recognised for their superior quality.
Even if you don't speak, read or write Japanese, the markings on pieces of Satsuma pottery can be quite easy to decipher, providing that you follow some simple rules.
To start, the markings are read in the opposite direction to English. Start at the top right hand corner and read down. If there are 2 lines of Kanji characters, move to the left and start at the top of the next line, reading downwards again.
Many of the Japanese makers marks on Satsuma porcelain or pottery are simply the name of the person who made the item, or a generic marking such as "Dai Nippon Satsuma".
You may also find that there are no main markings, only Japanese numbers. These types of markings are more common on larger vases that form part of a set.
The piece may be marked as "Left 3", meaning that it should be positioned as the third item on the left-hand side. Obviously, a vase like this would be part of quite a large set. The centre item may have the main marking of the maker on if it is of sufficient providence.
How to work out the markings yourself.
I do not read Japanese at all, apart from a few simple Kanji that I have become used to. I often refer to a Kanji online system that allows you to build up the symbol piece by piece to make the word.
This can take a little practise though and does not always give good results - especially with hand painted markings and definitely when it comes to people's names.
Another way to find the marking yourself is to look at the large list over that the Gotheborg website. I often look there and scan the list of markings, trying to spot one that looks the same. Again, this takes time and can make your eyes hurt, but will be worth the effort.
It might also be worth looking at the Imari and Kutani markings on the Gotheborg site too, as these are very similar to the marks found on Satsumaware pieces.
Each Kanji is made from a number of marks, which can be help in identifying what it means or says. Using the Find Kanji By Radicals site, you can slowly build up the marking, piece by piece to form the full item.
Start by estimating the number of marks in the kanji. A point to note is that unless there is a curve in the marking, lines that are at right angles to each other are usually 2 separate strokes.
Go to the Kanji by radicals site and see if you can spot the kanji in the list they have available (which is sorted by the number of strokes).
Click the kanji mark if it is there, or start to build one yourself by clicking on each element in turn. For example, if there is a straight line in your kanji, click the straight line mark under section "1" of the site.
Add extra marks, piece by piece until you can build up an image of the kanji you are looking for. Note that when you add additional pieces, a number of completed kanji will appear at the bottom of the page. Examine these regularly to see if you can spot your one there. Sometimes, this can be better than just building your own kanji piece by piece.
Once you have found the kanji, click on it at the bottom part of the page and you will be taken to a screen showing more information. Look at the Korean translation on the right hand side, which will give you a good chance at a phonetic translation. You can also see possible English translations too on the left hand side.
Common Japanese pottery marks.
You may find that some pieces of pottery have very similar looking marks, which is good for people like us who are looking to find the authenticity.
Here are a few common markings that you might find when examining the mark on the bottom of your item:
Dai Nippon (Great Japan).
This mark was used during a time in Japan where they were becoming very proud of their country and efforts were being made to establish some sort of pride in where the makers of pottery such as Satsumaware lived and came from.
You will quite often see these Kanji on the right-hand side of the marking, denoting that the item was "made in Japan" or of Japanese origin.
I guess that it is just a hallmark to show where the item came from or a way of the maker announcing that they were from that place. If you see a piece with this written on, then you can assume it will be from the Meiji period (1868-1912).
The Shimazu crest.
Most old and authentic pieces of Satsumaware will have the Shimazu family crest on, usually at the top of the marking (the red circle with the cross in).
This mark shows that the pottery was made under the rule of the Shimazu clan and is a good way of determining if the item is of value.
The crest is always found at the top of the cartouche. If the item is hand painted, then the markings are more genuine. Some more modern copies have the Shimazu crest, but you can tell them have been stamped or printed with a machine.
This commonly used marking can mean "mountain" but is often found to be within the name of the maker, eg Gyozan or Kozan.
If you see this marking, it will help you determine part of the name of the maker. The Zan marking can also be read or translated sometimes as "san" too.
Zan can also be marked in a more stylised way, such as on this marking by Gyokuzan, where the "zan" at the bottom looks very different to the normal kanji.
This marking means to "make" or "manufacture" and can be found on many pieces of Satsumaware.
However, due to the fact that it is quite a detailed kanji, it can sometimes be hard to identify properly. The more strokes there are in the kanji, the harder they can be to read.
I can usually spot this one by remembering the design of the marks below the horizontal like at the bottom. Sometimes, the marks at the top can be hard to identify as they are quite small and have been created by a brush.
This part of the marking means "to made" or "to manufacture" but can also mean "made by" and is often the last kanji on the marking, written in the bottom left corner.
Many markings will have the "Dai Nippon" mark on the right, the name of the maker on the top left and "Zo" underneath. Reading this literally, you could say that it would mean "Made in Japan by me" (with me being the name of the maker).
Left and Right
If the pieces are a part of a larger display set, the vases or items will often be marked using information as to where in the line-up they should appear.
For example, "Right 3", meaning that the item should be the third item on the right in the display.
You will find that the word left or right is followed by a japanese number. You can find a list of numbers here.
Examples of satsuma markings and translations.
Here are a few markings from images of pieces that have been sent to me (many thanks to those that sent them in and please come and "Like" us and join in). I have also put a translation too of the makers name.
I get messages asking if pieces of inherited or bought pottery are genuine and if I can give an approximate value. Apart from people looking for information on Satsuma Pottery or getting a great deal on the eBay listings I provide on each page, this is the most common reason people might visit this site.
So how do you tell if a piece you own is a genuine antique Satsuma vase, plate or button?
Actually, it is much simpler than you think and with the item in your hands, the only question you need to ask yourself is "where is the marking and what does it look like?".
The "makers mark" or marking on each Satsuma piece is the key to unlock the value, age and authenticity. Looking at the marking will let you know a rough date and if the item is worth anything or not.
Check for English words first.
So you have the piece in your hand now and have flipped it over and found the marking - what next?
First of all, look to see if there is any english words on the marking, such as "Made In Japan" or "Hand Painted". If there are, then the piece is most certainly NOT an antique.
Once the Satsuma style was seen by the general public and became a popular look, the style was mass produced across the world (usually in China) and stamped with these sorts of markings. If your piece has this on, it is probably made in the later half of the 20th century and will not be worth a great deal of money.
However, collectors do still want these items and if they are good condition or come with a good story, then you might get some money for it on eBay.
Check for the Shimazu crest.
Another good sign of an authentic antique mark is the presence of the Shimazu family crest. A simple circle with a cross through it is the sign of the clan that ruled the Satsuma province in Japan around the time that most of the original items were made. If this crest is on the pottery item, then you most likely have an original piece.
The crest should also be accompanied by a signature or mark of the maker and is often painted in gold strokes. The Kanji (Japanese symbols) will often be the name of the maker or sometimes a number, placing the piece as one of a series of potteries, designed to be displayed in a certain order.
Is the makers marking hand painted or stamped on?
All of the original Satsuma pottery pieces were made, glazed and painted by hand. Therefore, you should be able to see if the marking has been painted by hand or stamped on.
If a stamp or print has been used to mark the piece, you may have a more modern item - most likely mid to late 20th century and worth less value. Obviously, a stamped mark will look more “perfect” than a hand painted one, so it should stick out like a sore thumb.
Do you know the history of the piece?
Many of you contact me with stories of inherited pieces of Satsuma pottery or asking for information about a family heirloom that has been passed down through the years. Knowing where and when the Satsuma pieces came from can also help determine their value.
Due to the style becoming so popular in more recent years, many people purchased (not inexpensive) pieces that have stayed in the family for many years, only to be found again or looked at in more detail more recently. If you are able to find out when the pieces were purchased, it may help you work out how old they are.
The more modern items are mass produced and are marked with English writing, which should be a good indicator of their age.
Does it "ring"?
One of the obvious differences between porcelain and earthenware pottery is that the former is very thin, which allows you to hold the item and tap it, producing a "ring" sound. You can probably test this on some more modern items you have at home.
The fact that Satsumaware is made from clay and earth means that they have generally thicker "walls" and the material will not allow a "ring" when tapped. You can test your Satsuma piece yourself to see if it will produce a high pitched round when tapped. If you get a dull sound, then you are more likely to have a genuine piece.
What to do next.
If you are really stumped and can’t find the information you need, there are a few other options you have.
The excellent Gotheborg satsuma markings site is a brilliant resource and is a great place to look for pictures of markings on Satsuma pieces. It should be easy to compare your marking with the ones there.
If you are feeling brave, use the Kanji by radicals site to construct the Japanese symbols and try to work out the meaning yourself.
Get some good Satsuma pottery books.
There are a number of good books at Amazon which are perfect for learning about Satsuma Pottery and identifying the piece you have. You can also check out our post of the best books to use to help you.
The writers here at our Satsuma Pottery website are all passionate collectors of Japanese culture, from Samurai armor to Uchiwa fans - but none of us are experts in our respective fields. Asking us to value a vase or tea set based on a few blurry images is a very difficult thing to do - and certainly not something we are proficient at.
We use a number of methods to estimate the Satsuma Pottery value when looking to buy pieces or to appraise items for other people. I thought it made sense for us to share them here, so that you are able to do some of your own research before taking them to be properly valued in person.
These are presented in no particular order, but they are definitely points we consider and tools we use when looking to see what price a piece might sell for or should be bought for.
1. Is it real?
Whether a piece is a "genuine" or "real" piece of Satsuma pottery is something I have written about before - and is definitely the first place to start if you are looking to confirm the providence of the piece.
Does it have a hand painted marking? Most original items have the makers signature done by hand.
Is the Shimazu crest on there? The red circle with a gold cross is a good sign that the piece is a genuine antique.
Is the marking written in English? Many pieces made after the 1940's were marked with "Made in Japan" or "Japanese Satsuma" on them. If your piece has english writing, then it will not be as valuable.
2. The history
This is not something you can put a price on easily, but many of the pieces that people have contacted me about originate from within their family. These pieces have been passed down to them and the current owner is looking for a value (to sell or for insurance purposes).
Satsuma pieces that have a good, proven story behind them will be worth more money. For example, if the piece was presented as a gift by a notable Japanese person (Emperor or such) then it will be worth more than a piece found at a local thrift shop.
You also have to be able to prove that the story is real too to get any decent value from the item.
3. Is the Satsuma piece damaged?
Like any other piece of antique pottery, the better condition it is in, the more valuable it will be. Cracks and chips can be repaired, but any serious collector will not want to do this anyway as it will detract from the piece, but these things have to be taken into account when estimating the value.
4. Look at what is selling now.
One of the best ways to estimate the price is to look at what is selling and seeing if you can find something similar to your piece.
The best place to do this is on eBay and they quite happily give you access to their "Completed Listings" over the last 30 days or so. Use the following links to view items that have been sold on eBay (use the eBay site nearest to your location):
This list has already been sorted to show more expensive items at the top. This is because the higher priced items are definitely genuine and therefore you will be able to match your item with more certainty.
The listings on eBay will help you match the style, size and type of item and some of them also have images of the makers mark too (click the items to see more details and pictures) so you might be able to identify who your item has been made by.
Don't forget that you can use the "Categories" links on the eBay pages to drill down further into specific types of piece, such as Satsuma Buttons or Bowls. Alternatively, add some additional words to the search box at the top of the eBay page to help narrow your search.
5. Check the marking on the bottom.
There are a number of other websites that can give you more information about Satsuma pottery and also some images of the markings.
The best is the Gotheborg site, which has an extensive listing of markings and their translations. This will help you identify the maker, area the piece was made and also a rough time period of when it was made.
There are also books available from Amazon that will help you identify the piece. These can be a great resource for lovers of Japanese and Satsuma pottery.
I hope this list of methods and resources has been a help to you in identifying an estimated price for your Satsuma pottery piece.
I am not able to offer this as a service online, but there are websites such as ValueMyStuff that will do it for you - for a price. I have not met anyone who has used such a service as yet, so please provide me with any feedback you have if you decide to go down this route.
This is the kind of post where I like to right some wrongs and dispel some errors when it comes to buying antique Satsuma pottery pieces.
If you look on sites like eBay, you will find many Satsuma Table Lamps for sale, which, although they are attractive, they are not what I would call authentic. They even go so far as to advertise them as "antique" too.
My points are as follows:
The majority of these lamps are made from Satsuma "Style" vases and pots that have been changed to hold a wooden stand and electrical connection.
No right minded antiques collector would wreck an original piece to turn it into a lamp. They would just be crazy. Apart from drilling a hole in the base for the electrical cord to run through, they also block off the hole at the top too.
These vases are only imitation Satsuma. They are produced in the Satsuma style only - so be careful and wary of buying ones that claim to be antique.
You may come across an old lamp from the 40's, after Satsuma pottery became massively popular all over the world, but that is most likely the most antique you will get. There may be exceptions to this rule, but I think this is right.
So please be aware of my thoughts on this subject and buy knowing exactly what you are getting.
Moriage is the term used to describe the fine and delicate layering or placing of clay on pieces of pottery.
The type clay that is used for this method is known as "slip" and is thicker and stickier than the clay used for the actual item.
The Japanese potters of centuries ago were enthused with this method and used it to create many brilliant designs over the years.
This technique was not just used by the Japanese potters though, it is a method of decorating fine porcelain and pottery that has been adopted all over the world.
In the case of Satsuma pottery, the clay was often added in small bumps, circles or lumps to decorate the piece.
On a satsuma vase for instance, you will see small raised dots, often painted a different color (such as white).
These are the moriage layers that are build up slowly as the piece is made, fired during each layer and then more raised areas are added before the piece is finished.
It is also possible that the moriage designs were made as separate mouldings and then applied to the Satsuma pieces. However, this practice is more likely with more modern pieces.
Beading is also used quite heavily on this style of pottery too, with small dots of clay added to make raised bumps that are then painted when the piece has been fired and completed. These raised areas on the pottery add to the overall design, making them more decorative and unique, compared to just a painted piece.
The combination of hand-painted designs, moriage and beading make some of the Satsuma pieces very collectable and valuable.
Other types of pottery from Japan also used this method of decoration too. Dragonware pottery is famed for it's intricate dragon designs that stand up and are raised from the piece, all classed as moriage pottery.
The shame about this kind of decoration is that it can be easily damaged over time and break off. Also some of the paint-work, gilding or colour can rub off if the pieces are not kept in good condition.
Often, with Dragonware tea sets especially, the moriage areas are often where the handles are, which can lead to some areas becoming damaged, just through daily use.
The team and I get plenty of emails from readers of this site asking us to look at their Satsuma Pottery and tell them the value, the history and anything about it we can.
The only problem is, that 80% of these messages are met with the same reply:
"I'm sorry to say that this piece is not a real Satsuma antique, it is a mass-produced copy, probably not even made in Japan"
Being able to determine which item is real and which is a copy or fake is not an easy task. You will need to be able to find the marking on the item and confirm that it is the real deal and not a copy.
A great rule of thumb is to remember that all original pieces made in the Satsuma region of Japan do not have any english words on them. The artists and makers always signed the pieces with their names and often the word Satsuma, but never in english. They also commonly show the image associated with the emperor of the time, a circle with a cross through it.
So remember, if you are looking at purchasing a Satsuma Vase or something similar, turn it over and look at the marking on the bottom.
If it says "Royal Satsuma" or something similar, you know it is not an antique. The pieces that were copies are very beautiful and look very nice and there is nothing wrong with owning one. It will cost you substantially less than other originals too.
You will also need to remember to look for the crackled glaze and the off white or creamy coloring of the pottery underneath. The images are also important too and you should look for traditional Japanese people such as Geisha girls, immortals or plants and animals. Anything contemporary will show that the piece is a copy.
Do you have any tips for our readers on spotting fakes or copies of Satsuma Pottery?
You might also be interested in our list of books to help you find out about the Satsuma markings.
We all love to read about Satsuma Pottery and there are many books available that will teach you about the makers, the markings and the process used to make this kind of pottery. Also, people have their favorite kinds of books too. Some will opt for a proper antiques guide, offering prices and tips on choosing a good and authentic piece, but others will want to know as much of the Japanese history behind the items as they can. Learning the information about where the pieces cam from can make owning or collecting them so much more rewarding.
Here at the Satsuma Pottery site, we want to help people get involved in the history and the background of the people that made the pieces. The time when these vases and buttons were made was hard and people were very poor. Making pottery was an excellent skill to have, as was the ability to illustrate the pieces. Those who were fortunate enough to work, making these masterpieces, were the ones how were able to have a better standard of living in early Japan.
These books will tell you about Satsuma Pottery, but also about the times they were made and the people who were involved. From warlords to emperors, the history of Satsuma is very rich, so choose a book and enjoy. The books are also good for noting the different styles and signatures of the makers, which will help you know if the pieces you have are of any real value as antiques.
1. Imari, Satsuma and Other Japanese Export Ceramics
The popularity of Japanese ceramics in the West caused a vast and delightful variety of wares to be made in the late nineteenth century for export. Colorful Imari porcelain in deep blue, orange-red, and gold, Fukagawa porcelain in imaginative designs, as well as the softly colored Satsuma earthenwares, are the best known of the old Japanese exports, shown here in hundreds of variations created by skilled decorators. This new edition has an updated values reference and additional items shown in each chapter, especially early Imari wares from the period c. 1700. Also presented are the exotic Sumida and Banko wares, relative newcomers to the field whose popularity has grown steadily over the last ten years. Makers' and decorators' marks, unusual shapes, design variations, and hard-to-find examples are all shown in 600 color photographs with identifying captions and concise text.
2. Treasures of Imperial Japan: Ceramics from the Khalili Collection (Nasser D. Khalili Collection of J
Full-colour catalogue of an exhibition of 98 items of japanese ceramics by Meiji artists such as Makuzu Kozan and Yabu Meizan.
3. Meiji Ceramics: The Art of Japanese Export Porcelain and Satsuma Ware 1868-1912
Pressure exerted by America in 1854 caused Japan to open its doors after 260 years of isolation. Wide receptiveness to everything Western was the driving force behind the modernization of Japan initiated by the Meiji government, yet it also induced a rapid rediscovery of indigenous cultural values. At early Paris and London international exhibitions, the Japanese decorative and applied arts sparked off the Western fascination with all things Japanese japonisme. In Japan, on the other hand, new technologies were eagerly adopted the government realized that increasing production for export would be an excellent means of promoting Japanese economic growth and thus enhancing Japan's status worldwide. Meiji Ceramics represents the first in-depth study of the development of Japanese export porcelain against a highly charged background of political, economic and cultural factors. Includes 180 artists's signatures. Text in English.
4. Collector's Encyclopedia of Pickard China: With Additional Sections on All Chicago China Studios
This book documents and illustrates over 1,000 pieces of china, the Pickard trademarks, and old advertising with color photos and current collector values. It also includes over 150 brief artist biographies, patent information, a bibliography, and the various china associations. All known antique pattern names, as well as popular designs of anonymity are listed, many patterns never before identified. Due to the lack of a source of information on Pickard china, Alan Reed has devoted a decade of research on his own -- through interviews, letters, papers, U.S. Census records, and through other collectors. The history of the other Chicago studios and the artists from the 'golden era' (between 1894 and 1925) of handpainted china are included. 2000 values. REVIEW: Over 800 photos with no repeats from Book I are featured in this collector's guide. It's divided into six collectible categories: early years (1700 - 1875), cabinet cups, nineteenth & twentieth century, English bone china, miniatures, and figurals. A marks section, helpful appendix, and bibliography are included, as well as useful tips for dealers and collectors. -Robert Clayton
5. MEIJI NO TAKARA: TREASURES OF IMPERIAL JAPAN: Ceramics Part Two: Earthenware (The Nasser D. Khalili
The second of two volumes on ceramics, this book covers earthenware and focuses on another great artist-entrepreneur, Yabu Meizan (1853-1934), and illustrates 168 of his earthenwares and those of his contemporaries and imitators, minutely decorated in enamels and gold over a characteristic crackled ground. This volume of the Collection is sold with a free copy of Volume I: Selected Essays.
Although Satsuma style pottery can be very old, there are still a number of Tea Sets that were made during this time period.
The Satsuma Tea Sets usually come as a set, often in a wooden presentation case inlaid with a soft material such as velvet or silk. However, it is also possible that the set may be more modern, which is also something you would need to look out for when buying.
This kind of pottery tea set also features the intricate designs, patterns and images that make the Satsuma style so popular and collectable all over the world.
You may find a set with images of Geisha girls on or minute pictures of plants and flowers. The images are so tiny and intricate that it is hard to believe that they have been created by hand, hundreds of years ago. It is also common to find imagery of the Japanese Immortal gods on these pieces - especially the saucers and bowls.
However, these gods of wealth, wisdom and luck are featured heavily on many of the potteries from the Satsuma region and time period.
Many pieces also seem to feature dragons as the motif, with the teapot especially, using the dragon's head and neck as the pouring spout. It is also common for these pieces to be painted in quite dark colours, using Gosu blue and also lots of gold.
Even though they were designed for everyday use in Japan, it is likely that some sets were merely decorative, or were designed to be presented as gifts, rather than used to drink green tea on a regular basis.
When buying a Satsuma tea set, make sure that you ensure that it is all in place. The set often comprises of a small tea-pot and some small bowls or cups (later on).
Also, make sure that the markings on the bottom of the set are not written in English as this is a good indication that it is not an original piece and could be a copy or a more modern reproduction.