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Flow Blue: History and Value of Blue-and-White Antique China

Updated on August 23, 2016
Dolores Monet profile image

After inheriting her grandmother's collection of antiques, Dolores has maintained an interest in the care and sale of vintage items.

Flow Blue: Wentworth by Meakin, England, 1880
Flow Blue: Wentworth by Meakin, England, 1880 | Source

What is Flow Blue?

Flow Blue is highly collectible, antique blue-and-white china. The vintage dishware was most popular during the Victorian era and has experienced several surges of renewed popularity in the past 45 years.

Flow Blue is a type of antique china called transferware. The production of this attractive dishware produces a gentle, hazy quality in the design that was originally a mistake. The brilliant white background contrasts with the beautiful cobalt blue color of the decoration.

How Flow Blue Was Invented and Produced

In the late 18th century, Chinese porcelain was an extremely sought-after product in England. The rich blue patterns, hand-painted on a bright white background, were very expensive and limited to the wealthier class.

It took over 100 years for English potters to duplicate the salt-glazed earthenware that created the brilliant white background, along with the application of cobalt oxide that made the Oriental blue patterns so attractive.

In the late 1700s, English potters created a technique for imprinting a design on china called transferware:

  • A copper plate is engraved with a design and heated.
  • Cobalt oxide is applied onto the engraved copper plate.
  • Damp tissue paper is then applied to the engraved copper plate.
  • The tissue is lifted off the copper plate and then applied onto the pottery.
  • The pottery piece is placed in water so that the tissue paper floats off.

There is some contention about the exact origin of Flow Blue. Some sources claim that the coloring agent diffused by accident, allowing the cobalt oxide to slightly bleed outside of the lines of the design. Other sources say that the diffusion was intentional in order to soften the edges of the pattern. Perhaps it was an accident at first, with the result being so pretty that the practice became more common.

Evolution of Patterns

Source

The introduction of transferware to the china industry created a product that was less expensive than imported, hand-painted Chinese porcelain. The affordable product was very attractive to the surging Victorian middle class.

At first, transferware Flow Blue patterns incorporated Oriental designs and motifs, including temples, pagodas, and Asian scenery. Later, the Victorian romantic sensibility created a market for floral and pastoral patterns that highlighted English culture.

Factory Seconds

In factory seconds, the coloring agent overflowed and blurred the edges of the design.
In factory seconds, the coloring agent overflowed and blurred the edges of the design. | Source

Manufacturers found themselves with an abundance of factory seconds and thirds, rejected because the blue overflowed into the white more than usual, blurring the pattern lines excessively. The United States provided a market for these factory seconds. The low cost of these rejected, yet beautiful, pieces of blue-and-white dishware made Flow Blue popular with the middle and working class. From 1840 to 1870, the popularity of Flow Blue rose, and in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries it had its great heyday.

Reproductions

Flow Blue Reproduction from the 1980's
Flow Blue Reproduction from the 1980's | Source

An interest in antiques created a new surge of popularity of Flow Blue for collectors in the late 1960s. Renewed interest in the late 20th century created demand for blue-and-white antique china as well as for reproductions for regular use in the home.

Four Basic Styles

Flow Blue china comes in four basic styles.

Romantic patterns feature pastoral scenes including trees and animals as well as quaint town scenes and collages.

The most sought-after versions of Flow Blue romantic scenes are:

  • Watteau by John William Adams (1890-1910)
  • Non Pareil by Burgess & Leigh (1891-1900)
  • Italian Scenery by W. Adams (1890)
  • Jenny Lind by Arthur Wilkinson (1895)
  • Excelsior by Thomas Fell (1850)

Oriental patterns affect an Asian style and may depict temples, pagodas, Asian scenery including mountains and gardens, and people dressed in Chinese-style clothing. Several desirable collectible patterns in the Oriental style include:

  • Scinde by John and George Alcook (1840)
  • Amoy by Davenport (1844)
  • Cashmere by Thomas Edwards (1850)
  • Cabal by Thomas Edwards (1847)
  • Manilla by Podmore & Walker (1845)

Floral patterns feature flowers, leaves, and vines. The most collectible florals include:

  • Argyle by W.H. Grindley (1898)
  • Lonsdale by Ridgeways (1910)
  • Blue Danube by Johnston Brothers (1900-1904)
  • La Belle by Wheeling Pottery of West Virginia (1900)
  • Seville by Wood and Sons (1900)

Brush-stroke is another type of Flow Blue that includes hand-painted brush strokes. It has a pink or copper luster and may include other colors besides white and blue.

  • Aster and Grapeshot (or "Blueberry") by Joseph Clementson in Canada (1840)
  • Spinach or Hops Petrius Regout
  • Tulip and Sprig by Thomas Walker (1845)
  • Strawberry by Thomas Walker (1856)
  • Blue Bell (1845-1850)

Here's more about the most desirable patterns in all these four styles.

How to Value Flow Blue

A Flow Blue sugar bowl by Wentworth.  An intact sugar bowl is more valuable than, say, a plate. The sugar bowl has more parts that can break, so the intact handles and lid make this a valuable item.
A Flow Blue sugar bowl by Wentworth. An intact sugar bowl is more valuable than, say, a plate. The sugar bowl has more parts that can break, so the intact handles and lid make this a valuable item. | Source

There is a wide variety of types and values in the Flow Blue market. Reproductions hold little value but are wonderful for home use, when you don't want to serve Sunday dinner on plates that may cost $100.00 each.

Values of antique Flow Blue pieces fluctuate with the demand, the economy, the rarity of a piece, and its condition.

FACTORS THAT INCREASE THE VALUE OF FLOW BLUE

  • Condition: no cracks or chips
  • Type of piece: Because rarity increases value, common sense suggests that certain pieces have become rarer due to breakage. Items with intact lids, spouts, or handles will be more valuable because these pieces break more easily when moved or used. For every remaining teapot, creamer, or sugar bowl, there will be dozens of plates, bowls, and saucers.
  • Unusual or very old pieces will be more valuable.

How to Identify Flow Blue

The manufacturer's stamp on the bottom of this piece is so blurred that it is difficult to read.
The manufacturer's stamp on the bottom of this piece is so blurred that it is difficult to read. | Source

Better dishware has a manufacturer's stamp on the bottom. Look at the manufacturer's stamp and discern all the information that you can.

There are books that can help you identify the type of Flow Blue that you own, or to show you the patterns that may interest you in the future.

Google the words or the shapes in the design of the stamp. This will lead to a list of products made by that manufacturer in that design. Google images may help you to recognize your specific piece of Flow Blue. Replacements Ltd. offers a wide range of dishware and is a great place to search for a pattern as well as value.

Check out the sites where Flow Blue is sold. EBay and dealer sites can suggest the current values of your own china. Of course, if you wish to sell your Flow Blue, you may want a written appraisal by a reputable antiques dealer, depending on what you think your piece is worth. Flow Blue can be found for as little as $35.00 on up to $500.00, depending on condition, style, type, age, and market demand. Some of the oldest pieces may be extremely valuable or museum quality.

How to Care for Old China

  • Avoid strong temperature changes.
  • Never clean old china in a dishwasher.
  • Hand wash with warm water, using a mild detergent (sparingly) and a soft cloth.
  • Rinse with cool, not cold, water.
  • If stacking china for storage, place a soft cloth or paper towel between pieces.

© 2010 Dolores Monet

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    • profile image

      Ruffy 5 years ago

      I've a large >16 inch platter named Davenport Madras but have no idea of value... any thoughts???

      thx

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Ruffy - Davenport Madras is beautiful. The stuff I've seen is very early, pre 1850 which would make it quite valuable. Of course plates, even platters, don't bring as much as items with lids or handles - more to break, see..but a platter would be worth more than a plate as there were less made. I don't want to venture an uneducated guess, but if this is a fun quiz, I'd say between $80.00 - $150.00.

    • profile image

      powbeach 4 years ago

      I have a large Manilla bowl and pitcher in very good condition. What could this be worth?

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

      HI powbeach - Manilla is a beautiful example of flow blue by Podmore and Walker in an oriental design, made from 1842 - 1862. This popular pattern has a rich cobalt coloring and a heavy flow. I have seen Manilla plates from anywhere between $50.00 for one that has a small chip to $100.00 in pristine condition. If the bowl is a large serving bowl, it is worth more than, say, a soup bowl, as obviously less were made. The same with pitchers. I'd imagine you'd want $100.00 for the bowl, more for the pitcher as the handle is very breakable and being intact makes it valuable.

      However, your Manilla is only worth what someone else is willing to pay in these tough economic times.

    • profile image

      Scarlett 4 years ago

      I am in a reach for my grandmother who has her mothers Flow Blue, when she moved in 1989 the same pattern sold in our small town in Washington State for $3,000 so grandma has held onto it. Once again she is moving and wanting to down size, she has a full setting for 12 plus two large serving platers, and one plater of another size. The sugar bowl does have a broken handle other than that there are no chip,breaks or flaws. My mother had a dealer look at it today and she was offered $500.00 or to take her chance at an auction. Needless to say that offer did not please grandma. I would like to know what you think she should do?

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Scarlett - far be it for me to advise your grandmother. It don't go how she wants and suddenly I'm in the hot seat. That being said, she must think of several factors:

      1) the pattern sold in 1989 for whatever. Who sold it, a dealer? Do you think the dealer paid 3 K for it? Of course not. What something is worth one year may not be the same in a bad economy.

      2) Flow blue may be a popular type of china, but I have found antiques, especially Victorian antiques to be very cheap these days. So cheap that I wish I had room for some Victorian furniture. A lot of the young people just don't want that old stuff. And the older folks are all downsizing. Remember that there is an age bulge, lots of people are baby boomers all wanting to get rid of stuff which devalues what they are ALL selling.

      3) If the offer did not please your grandma, tell her to sit on it, or let someone else keep it for awhile. Maybe she will change her mind and be glad to get the money that was offered. Maybe she won't. If she feels ripped off she'll be complaining to you all for the rest of her life.

    • profile image

      keri 21 months ago

      Hello, i have a flow blue platter that i am having a hard time locating and identifting the stamp. It is the dove woth a sprig and reads elsie above the stamp and Bs co. F? There is also another stamp marking in flow blue that looks like it may be 3 numbers? It also has an inlay stamp 5-07 ? I found some info on Bs co. But not enough detail to locate date and origin.

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 21 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Jerry Mosgrove - wonderful that you have such a large collection of one pattern! I've seen LaBelle listed as one of the top 10 most desirable Flow Blue patterns. And the prices of pieces offered for sale seem to reflect a continued interest.

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 11 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Anita Williams - pieces like the footed tureen and covered vegetable dish are quite valuable as there are obviously less of those items available. Plus, things like handles, lids, and feet are easily broken. Check the value of each item on Replacements Ltd. They offer the covered vegetable dish for close to $400.00. I did not show your comment as you included personal information. What a lovely set you have!

    • profile image

      alicia stiers 10 months ago

      I'm inquiring as to general value of 1900 (1909) willams adams & co. flow blue bread and butters plates that displays usa city, for example," souvenir of st. Petersburg, florida" ( importer was jhr) also there is one that on the back it says designed for L.E.Edwards. Please send any and all input. Thank you.

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 10 months ago from East Coast, United States

      alicia stiers - I've always found that seeing the image in addition to the description really helps. Why don't you check out Kovel's or Replacements to help ID and value your flow blue!

    • profile image

      Carole Terry 7 months ago

      I have an Flow Blue oblong serving dish which has the mark on the base of " "Shanghai" and the name "TD & Co" can you tell me anything about it or the value as I cannot find anything on line. Your help is much appreciated.

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 7 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Carile Terry - Thomas Dimmock was a maker of flow blue china so that may be the TD you see. Then again, maybe not. Why don't you check Replacements or Kovels, two online dealers. If you don't see the exact piece there, you can send them a query. Good luck!

    • profile image

      Linda Blake 6 months ago

      where is the best place to find japanese makers marks? I have a pitcher and bowl and have never been able to locate it to identify

    • profile image

      Jenny 6 months ago

      I've been trying to find information on a R. Crawford & Sons platter. There is a round gold stamp that says Liverpool. It appears to be from the 1880's and is English. Does anyone know where I could find more information to estimate the value?

    • rbarline profile image

      rbarline 6 months ago

      Hi Delores. We have a large collection of Villeroy & Boch Mettlach tableware in the Perlen pattern. The maker's mark according to PM&M dates it to between 1874 and 1909. I have posted photos of the dinner plates at the link below for you to look at. We are wondering if these plates would be considered as flow blue. The blue does seem to be very dimly present on the back side, but not strong like most of the flow blue pieces I see. Thank you for your time. - Ric

      https://goo.gl/photos/xbJLJhq3feCSVopDA

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 6 months ago from East Coast, United States

      rbarline - looking at the photo, I can see how clear the blue lines of the pattern appear. Flow blue means that the details ran a bit during the product's creation. The details in flow blue are smudged or hazy. Your other piece shows a pale blue highlighting around the flowers. The difference in shade is not the same as in flow blue.

    • profile image

      Valerie 5 months ago

      I Have four Bryonia Amber Flow Blue dessert plates in the dove pattern, with gold trim (scallops at the edges). I can find no reference to this pattern on line. Do you know it? These plates are in excellent condition and the outline of the doves is etched in gold.

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 5 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Valerie - I can't recall seeing these anywhere. In general, flow blue is valued higher for serving pieces, especially items with handle and lids because there are less of them around. It looks like flow blue dessert plates are selling for between $15.00 to $40.00 a piece. Rare items are always worth more. They sound very pretty.

    • profile image

      Doug 4 months ago

      I have over 100 pieces of blue and white antique China with a gold rim around them. The only writing that I can read on the back is the work England. The sets were made prior to 1937. Any info on the rarity and/or value from that era?

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 4 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Doug - researching old china takes a lot of time and effort. You would need to know the manufacturer as well as the pattern. You can probably identify the pattern first by simply describing it into Google images. Then follow the link if you see your specific pattern. Now the funny thing about patterns is that one design may have been made by several companies. For instance Blue Willow was produced by a gazillion companies. You also need to check for other marks. Some companies identify with just a few squiggles. Learning about your dishware may be a long process but can be a lot of fun. It's like a hunt! Good luck!

    • profile image

      Cora leavy 4 months ago

      I have a deep dark blue sugar bowl looks like it's from Japan but under the bottom it saYs 7 gal what does that mean and it's written in black with a paint brush

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 4 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Cora Leavy - it sounds like 7 gal would mean 7 gallons like on the bottom of a crock. I have no idea what it would mean on a sugar bowl. Sorryl

    • profile image

      Carol 2 months ago

      I have several pieces of china I believe to be Blue Flow. On the bottom of several pieces is crest with England written around the crest and the word Hamilton under the crest. Also, some of the pieces have what looks like a potter's mark. Have you ever heard of this type of Blue Flow before?

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 2 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Carol - I've seen some Hamilton and it's very pretty. Check out backstamps in antique porcelain and pottery guides online or in a book for more information.

    • profile image

      Wendeeloulou 7 weeks ago

      Any idea what the value of Ridgeway china's flow blue Ladas patterned dinner plates are?

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 6 weeks ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Wendeeloulou - This article is here to help you learn how to do your own research. You'd be surprised at how many people want me to do their research for them. You may want to check out the Flow Blue International Collectors Club for more information. - Dolores

    • profile image

      Nancy Maxey 6 weeks ago

      I have several pieces of Flow Blue, a large plate, soup turrain with platter underneath and a cream & sugar. I am wanting to know how I can find out what they might be worth

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 5 weeks ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Nancy - look at the backstamps on each piece. Marks on the underside of each item should display information such as who produced it. Some makers marks do not included words, but images. You can look up these marks in various price guides online or in books to identify each piece. Also, measure each piece to help in identification. Flow blue is still highly collectible so there is a lot of information out there.

    • profile image

      Mari 4 weeks ago

      I have a blue La Belle bowl, 4 pedestal legs trimmed in gold. Do not know anything about it. Passed down from my mother in law. Small candy bowl size. Any info.

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 4 weeks ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Mari - why don't you check out a flow blue collectors club to help you learn more about your item? You can also find tons of books about flow blue as it is highly collectible.

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