Porcelain marks, written in alphabets other than the modern alphabet familiar to Americans, are always difficult to decipher. The marks on Asian, Russian and other porcelains were so confusing that the U.S. government passed a law in 1891 that said each piece imported into the United States had to be marked with the name of the country of origin in legible English.

The Japanese used "Nippon," which was the English equivalent of the Japanese word for Japan. It was not until 1921 that the United States changed the law so that pieces had to be marked "Japan," not "Nippon." These laws make it easy for today's collectors to identify Nippon china. It was made between 1891 and 1921. The word "Nippon" often appears with other marks that identify the maker. Most famous is the M in a wreath mark used by Morimura Brothers from about 1911 to 1921. Some pieces were hand-decorated with landscapes or portraits. Others had raised white lines forming designs, while many were made with gold trim and raised "beading." Tea sets, vases, plaques, humidors and other useful pieces were made. Porcelains marked "Nippon" are collected by many today.

A dough box

Q: My grandmother once told me that the work table she used was actually a "dough box." I have inherited this piece, but I never asked her what a dough box is used for. It is pine, with a two-part wooden top that opens up.

A: A dough box like your grandmother's was used in two ways. The closed top served as a kneading surface. Once kneaded, the dough was placed inside the box so it could rise.

Skillet brings $150

Q: My mother used a square, cast-iron frying pan. I have never seen one like it. It measures 9 1/2 inches square and 2 inches deep. The bottom is marked "Griswold" inside a cross and double circle. Other marks include "No. 768," "Square Utility Skillet" and "Erie, Pa."

A: Griswold Manufacturing Co. was founded in 1897 by Matthew Griswold and his son, Marvin. Within 20 years, the company became a leader in the production of cast-iron cookware. Your mother's skillet dates from the 1950s. By then, the Griswold family had sold its interest in the company. Griswold Manufacturing Co. closed in 1957. Your skillet is worth about $150. If you have the cast-iron cover, the value doubles.

Cream top bottles

Q: As a child, I lived in Freeport, Ill. We had milk delivered in a cream-top bottle. I told this to a younger friend who collects dairy bottles. A: Cream-top bottles were popular in the 1930s. Milk was not hom*ogenized in those days, and the cream would separate from the milk and rise to the top of the bottle. The cream top was made with a bulge at the top for the cream. A special small ladle was used to remove the cream from the bottle. The tops were formed in many shapes. There was "cop the top," a molded man's head with the suggestion of a hat; "toothache," a top with a strange extra bulge; "baby face," which looked like a baby; and others. They now sell for about $35 and up.

Write to Kovels, King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017.

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