Blue Willow

Blue Willow is described as decoration with painting in cobalt blue under the glaze. This covers a lot of porcelain, pottery and facts about the design and what is truly Blue Willow will still cause more than a few arguments across the antique and collecting world. Not being an expert on the subject I decided to research the term and the porcelain to finally come to terms as to what Blue Willow really is.
We know the original design comes from China and probably a town called Ching-te-chen in the Kiangsi Province. This area was the mainstay for blue and white china for domestic use and shipments to European countries.
What is still not a profound definite yes or no is who worked up the design that has been used since the late 18th century to the present. It appears there are no original pieces from China to compare the design too. So what is real Blue Willow and how do we know when we are looking at it?
Perhaps the best answer to that lies in the two men who have been given credit with designing the transfer and the design we now know as Blue Willow. Let’s take the lesser known story first to get it out of the way. Thomas Minton in some circles is believed to be the original designer of Blue Willow. True he was an engraver during the time around 1780-1800 and he did work for Spode during the time frame of the fist blue willow. This could mean he was the engraver for the blue willow at Spodes factory. It does not mean he was the designer of of the pattern. True he did start and operate a factory but the factory did not start operation until around 1796, six years after Spode was credited with the design. Since his patterns, porcelains and pottery became famous and are highly collected people like to defer the concept of blue willow to him.
There is some indication he was with Spode during the period Blue Willow designed but again history has ways of obscuring facts. Minton did produce flow blue or willow during the early years with a reputation for copying other companies patterns. So for this author I am going to go with the standard answer and work with Spode to find out what Blue Willow really is.

Josiah Spode has been credited with designing or copying the willow design in 1790 from a Chinese line of dishes or porcelain called Mandarin.

Now before we go any farther with the supposed father of blue willow as we know it lets look at the porcelain it's self and figure out what is really blue willow and what is just a cheap imitation or not even blue willow at all.

The process of making blue willow is a transfer process to the piece as an underglaze, this process started out as a copper transfer plate by the english whereas now we screen transfer and other methods of technology to get the underglaze. The Chinese version was to mix water with the blue and paint on the design and then fire the piece. Blue willow as will be explained in next weeks article is a certain set of images placed together to represent a scene or story. These images include a bridge with three people crossing it, a willow tree, a boat, a main teahouse, 2 birds flying and a fence. No known Chinese pattern has all of the images placed on one piece as the English patterns do.

There are some different colors used in the process, red, pink, brown, and of course the original cobalt blue color used on the first pieces. The process used made the image soft against the stark white backgrounds in the really good pieces and as the images developed and more designs were added to each design such as putting borders around the edges of pieces different transfer processes making the final pieces less appearing but not by much.

The blue color has changed over the years as it did with the Spode pieces. The darker more flowed pieces were changed two times by Spode before coming to a final color. Through the years the colors have changed to a soft blue in most of the better pieces.

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