Collecting Antique Blue Willow China
The Blue Willow pattern has been beloved by collectors for centuries and produced by numerous manufacturers. It is one of the most collected patterns in the history of china because of its beautiful design, striking color combination, and the story told by the pattern on the plate.
Basics of the Blue Willow Pattern
While there are variations in the design from manufacturer to manufacturer the basics elements always stay the same. Within the pattern you will always find the following images:
- Fruit trees
- People (at least a young couple and an old man, often a soldier or two)
- Willow trees
The pattern is always printed on a white background and is usually blue. However this pattern can also be found in other colors such as:
Story of the Blue Willow Pattern
The pattern is the illustration of an ancient Chinese legend.
Once upon a time, in the China of long ago, lived a beautiful young girl by the name of Koong Shee. She lived in a wealthy household surrounded by luxury and servants. Koong Shee soon fell in love with Chang, one of her father's servants. Because she was the daughter of a respected nobleman and lived in a palace she was forbidden to marry Chang. The girl was devastated and decided that she would ignore her father and continue to meet Chang in secret.
They met daily under a willow tree on her father's estate. It didn't take long for her father to find out. He became furious and had his servants put up a crooked fence to keep Chang away from the girl. Although the lovers were unable to meet they still were very much in love.
Eventually Koong Shee was told she was going to marry a wealthy friend of her father, an old man. The wedding would take place when the cherry trees were in bloom. In despair, Koong Shee poured her heart out to the birds that she often fed. Her sorrow was very deep.
Before the wedding could take place Chang snuck into the palace and took her away to a small house where they were married. They were very happy for a time but Koong Shee's father (in some versions fiancé) pursued them until he found them. He set fire to their small home on fire and burned it to the ground.
The couple was killed in the fire but upon their deaths they were transformed into doves and lived happily ever after.
History of the Design
In 1780 a man named Thomas Turner created the design from the story he had heard. He asked an engraver, Thomas Minton, an apprentice in the Spode Company, to engrave it. Spode introduced the design in Staffordshire in 1784 and it was immediate popular. In fact it was soon personalized and released by other china companies including Adams and Wedgwood.
The pattern has been in continuous use for nearly 230 years, longer than any other pattern.
Examples of the China by Different Manufacturers
Blue Willow is a particular design that is categorized as transferware. You can see some excellent examples of this pattern on the following websites:
How to Evaluate Blue Willow China
The value of the china, like the value of all antiques, is given based on several criteria. While the oldest pieces are highly sought after and command high prices at auction, many of the newer pieces are valuable as well.
Look for pieces that are not chipped, cracked, and that do not show repairs. Some crazing is fine. Crazing is the crackly appearance found on many old pieces of china. It is only on the outer glaze, the piece itself is not cracked.
Blue is the most common, as well as the most sought after color and will often be priced a little higher than a comparable piece in a different color.
Certain pieces are rarer than others and will command top dollar when they can be found.
If you live in an area where there are few fans of Blue Willow you may find that the pieces in the local antique shops are priced considerably lower than those in other areas. If you happen to live in an area where there are many collectors you can expect to pay higher prices due to the demand.
If the china belonged to George Washington, and this fact can be proven, it will naturally be worth more than china that doesn't have an impressive past. Make sure that no matter what you are told about the china you get a certificate of authenticity as a guarantee.
In addition, Blue Willow is worth more when it is from one of the more famous manufacturers:
Keep in mind that there were over 500 manufacturers of Blue Willow China over the centuries.
The Story of Blue Willow
Caring for Antique China
All antique china should be treated delicately no matter what the pattern.
- Always use a gentle soap not detergent.
- Fold a towel on the bottom of the sink to guard against chips and cracks.
- Rinse well in warm (not hot) water and dry away from sunlight and heat or air conditioning vents. Sudden changes in temperature can crack the dishes.
- Store in a glass front cabinet away from sunlight.
What's It Worth?
The value of antique china depends on the many factors listed above. If you are a new collector you should invest in a good price guide and develop a relationship with an antiques dealer you trust. Novice collectors should be wary of "great deals". There are a lot of newer pieces and lesser known manufacturers out there. The pitcher that you spent $350.00 might only be worth $50.00
An excellent resource for all collectors, whether they are just beginning or have been collecting for decades, is International Willow Collectors. This site is full ofhelpful information and images.
Enjoy your collection. Keep it somewhere that you can see it every day and marvel at the beauty of this classic design.