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An Introduction to Staffordshire Blue & White

including Willow Pattern

We all love Staffordshire Blue and White transfer ware, which covers all the old plates with printed designs on them, from the famous Willow Pattern and other "Chinese" designs to views in town and country..Although the term -.Staffordshire Blue can also be misleading as it was made in other colours such as pink,green,black,brown, grey etc.Of course to display the plates and jugs well,nothing suits them better than the old fashioned dresser.However, dressers are very pricey nowadays,but there are other ways of displaying your wonderful collection.What about making one yourself out of old cupboards that are still fairly cheap in country auctions.I know a friend who has put an old book rack on top of a base which has 3 drawers.A shelf has been added underneath the drawers to enable him to place a pile of odd meatplates on.The book rack has been edged with yards of stiff Victorian hand made lace bought from an antiques fair , the lace about 2-3 inches in depth, just enough to disguise the edges of the shelves, and pinned on with drawing pins just above the edge.A Chenille runner across the top finishes the effect off.Another way to display your wares is on a series of shelves which again can be edged in old stiff lace., and don't worry when the lace looks a bit yellow, as this will create an ambience that new lace wouldn't. Staffordshire printed earthenware was made for those who could not afford the fine porcelains but still wanted a good quality product with interesting and attractive designs..All the early transfer printed plates are much lighter than the late 19th/20th century ones.The earlier plates often have no foot rims , the glaze is thinner and has a soft wavy look,while the blue (or other colour) is quite different in shade and intensity. Also, you will find three little spur marks around the rim, either above or below, this is where each plate was kept separate from it's neighbour in the kiln. The printing process was as follows.The design was first engraved on a copper plate, which was inked and then rubbed clean , so that the ink stayed only in the engraved lines. A very thin tissue paper was pressed upon this, taken off and then pressed upon the ware. The paper could be wiped off by wetting it, and this left the design printed upon the piece (plate,cups,jugs etc)Sometimes this printing process is shown very clearly when a part of the design has been applied on the 'skew', for of course with the shaped pieces the design had to be made up by using several separate pieces of transfer paper. Up to this point , the ware is still in the biscuit or unglazed state., but now a glaze is applied, the piece is fired again to 'fix' it, and the design is thus protected from all those countless knife scrapings and washing ups it is due to get in it's hopefully long lifetime.. Now we will talk about the designs.Most famous of all is the Willow pattern, which originally appeared about 1780 and is still going strong.Nowadays a standard pattern has been evolved, but if you go back to the beginning of the Victorias reign and before, you will find endless variations of it, Some people have plates with only 25 apples on the tree; others have as many as 50, and whereas, the bridge usually has 3 figures on it, there are often only 2 or even 1. Here is the old rhyme about the pattern:- "Two pigeons flying high A Chinese vessel sailing by, Weeping Willow bending o'er Bridge of 3 men - if not 4, Chinese temple there it stands Seems to take up all the land; An apple tree with apples on A pretty face to end ,my song. Most experts seem to agree that this design originated with Thomas Turner of Caughley. It is said that after a trip to Paris in search of new ideas for designs, Turner came back with some Chinese motifs which he set his designers to work upon,.One of them was Thomas Minton- who afterwards founded the famous firm of that name.Having worked on the original Willow pattern copper plates,he then went on to make different versions of it and sold them to potters like Adams, Davenport, Copeland, Wedgwood and the rest. Each one had some difference - the position of the Pagoda, the bridge, the number of figures, the kind of trees and so on. These potters were not always content to keep to the original design they bought from Thomas Minton, and they would shamelessly lift a more successful version.At Swansea, for example, the design used up to about 1824 was very similar to the one on Leeds creamware, ie., the bridge was on the left and there were 2 figures on it, and no sign of an actual Willow tree. But after,, Swansea changed direction to the more standard pattern, the reason probably being that as this had become the most popular it had the biggest demand for replacements. The story attached to the pattern is that there was once a mandarin who had a beautiful daughter named Koong Shi. He had promised her in marriage to a wealthy but ancient merchant. However, Koong Shi had fallen in love with her father's secretary, a handsome young man named Chang. When the Mandarin discovered this he banished Chang from the house; so the young man wrote Koong Shi a heartbroken note of farewell and floated it down the river past her window, in a coconut shell.But, Koong Shi, who was quite as obstinate as her father, sent the little ship back on the next tide with a note pointing out that she had already been a prisoner since the catkins came out on the Willow tree, and by the time that the Peach blossom came out she expected Chang to come and take her away. So Chang waited for the eve of the wedding celebration, and in the confusion of the comings and goings, he bore her off, together with her jewels. As soon as the mandarin discovered the elopement, he gave chase. So in the normal standrad design you see 3 figures on the bridge - Koong Shi carrying her distaff(she would now presumably have to make her own clothes) Chang hanging on tightly to the jewel box, and the irate manadarin behind brandishing a whip. The lovers were apparently trying to reach Chang's home on the island, but they only just reached the little house before the mandarin caught up with them, and in his fury he burned the place to the ground with the lovers inside .Just in time, the kindly gods- always on the lovers side- transformed them into a pair of Tutle Doves, so that they could bill and coo over the river for ever. So that is the story of the Willow pattern. However, I wonder did Thomas Turner while talking to some old Chinese importer of Porcelain in Paris, did not hear a story like it and then decided to build a picture around it.?We shall never know. Moving on to other patterns, the next most famous pattern must surely be Spode's Blue Italian.It is one of the early landscape patterns produced by Spode and others, using famous pictures or engravings.A whole lot of these came out between 1806 and 1826, including the Caramanian series taken from a book called "Mayers Views in Asia Minor, mainly in Caramania".Then we have the now very sought after "Indian Sporting Scenes" showing pictures of hunting scenes in the jungle and many classical and Chinese patterns.Staffordshire potters did an enormous export trade in them, bringing out designs especially for that market with famousAmerican beauty spots, historical buildings as well as scenes of the early pioneering days.There were just as many English views and scenes.Hundreds of Potters went in for this ware, some of them household names like Ridgways,Clews,Davenport,Adams,Mayers,Mintons,etc.,and a host of other shorter lived Staffordshire firms.As many smaller firms of potters used each others copper plates, it is handy to know that they had different borders around the wares, and this is often the only way to hunt down a maker when there is no mark. The last point I would like to make on transfer ware is this, "What happens when you have filled your dresser or shelves to capacity"? Well, the answer is you go on collecting. The Chinese do not disply their pictures on the walls, for they find that after a while they cease to look at them, accepting them as part of the furniture.So they keep them hidden away and bring them out only when they want to enjoy them, like turning on the TV.You can also let your collection flow over into other cupboards and shelves, and every now you can change them all around in a new refreshing way.

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