Q: Is my two-handled vase decorated with panels of flowers and a bird resting on a flowering cherry-tree branch worth anything? Its blue circular mark says "Nippon."
A: Assuming your Nippon porcelain vase, circa 1910 to 1921, with pigtail-shaped handles measures around 8 inches high and is in good condition, it's worth about $175 to $225, said Kathy Wojciechowski, author of "The Wonderful World of Nippon Porcelain, 1891-1921" (Schiffer, $52.95 postpaid from the author, Box 230, Peotone, Ill. 60468;  258-6105).
The 1891 McKinley Tariff Act required imports sold in the United States to be marked with their country of origin. Japanese-made goods were labeled "Nippon," the Japanese word for Japan, until a 1921 U.S. law required the English word "Japan." Thus, "Nippon" isn't a single manufacturer; it's a generic term for mass-produced Japanese exports made between 1891 and 1921.
Nippon ceramics were inexpensive when new (12-inch high vases generally sold for $2 or less), so they weren't always given careful handling. Damaged pieces usually were discarded rather than repaired. During World War II, many patriotic Americans either removed or obliterated the Nippon mark from their porcelain, or disposed of the items entirely. As a result, what once was plentiful now is increasingly hard to find. With prices increasing, so, too, is the number of fakes.
Few dealers stock Nippon-era dinnerware because complete services are hard to assemble, transport and display. Most Nippon place settings are traded by matching services such as Matchmakers, 1718 Airport Court, Placerville, Calif. 95667, (916) 626-5672. Dinner services generally retail from $600 to $2,000, depending on pattern, condition and number of pieces included.
Have a question about an antique or collectible? Write to the Solis-Cohens, P.O. Box 304, Flourtown, Pa. 19031-0304, enclosing a clear photo of the whole object and all marks, and noting its size. If you want your photo returned, include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Personal replies are not possible, but questions of general interest will be answered in this column.
' Solis-Cohen Enterprises