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

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

What Is Flow Blue?

Flow Blue is a 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

Here you can see some heavy blurring of the color on Flow Blue

Here you can see some heavy blurring of the color on Flow Blue

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 Asian designs and motifs, including temples, pagodas, and scenery. Later, the Victorian romantic sensibility created a market for floral and pastoral patterns that highlighted European 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.

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 a collecting craze made the dishware popular and quite expensive.

The high demand for the product encouraged a storm of reproductions. Some copies were made to fool the consumer, others to allow day to day use.

Flow Blue Reproduction from the 1980's

Flow Blue Reproduction from the 1980's

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. In the past, western people often referred to any culture east or southeast of Europe as Oriental. The so called Oriental designs can include Middle Eastern motifs as well as themes from Japan and India.

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)

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.

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.

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. Many of the books you find will be older, printed in the collecting heyday, so stated values will not reflect current prices. However, they can help identify what you have. Helpful books include:

  • Gaston's Flow Blue China - A Comprehensive Guide Identification and Values by Mary Gaston
  • Flow Blue: a Collector's Guide to Patterns, History, and Values by Jeffrey B. Snyder
  • Collector's Encylopedia of Flow Blue by Mary Frank Gaston
  • Flow Blue China by Petra Williams

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 Dishware

  • 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.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have Flow Blue antique china which my aunt has given to me. Is this worth anything?

Answer: If any piece of Flow Blue is in excellent condition it will be worth something. Although prices are not as high now as they were in the past, when everyone was collecting everything like crazy, there will still be some value.

Now that older people are downsizing and younger people prefer mid century modern, demand for Flow Blue China has decreased.

Value can change quickly and even fairly recent price guides can be off. The is a difference in regional markets as well. Expect a higher value for unusual items or items with handles, lids, and spouts that can easily break.

More plates, soup bowls, and dessert plates were produced so they will be cheaper than things like tea pots, lidded soup tureens, or things that came one to a set.

You can research your pieces in a book. Older books are good for identification but do not reflect current value. For information, try

"Gaston's Flow Blue China : A Comprehensive Guide Identification and Values" by Mary Frank Gaston, 2005.

The online site and collectors association, the Flow Blue International Collectors Club is a font of information.

Question: I have a piece of Flow Blue Gironde pattern. The mark is blurred, but there is also this on the bottom "Patented Dec 24th 96 USA." Would this piece possibly be a factory second?

Answer: The Gironde pattern of Flow Blue was produced by W. H. Grindley. The pottery was opened in 1880 by William Harry Grindley and Alfred Meakin of Turnstall, Stoke-on-Trent, England. The company changed hands several times until it was taken over by Woodlands Pottery in 1991. The Gironde pattern features clumps of flowers and gold on the high points of the rim.

Pieces were marked "Turnstall" in the 1880s. When the McKinley Tariff Act in 1890 mandated that imports to the USA had to be marked with the country of origin, the backstamp featured the word "England." So the letters "USA" would not appear on the product.

For more information on Flow Blue marks, patterns, and backstamps turn to the book "Gaston's Flow Blue China Comprehensive Guide, Identification, Values" by Mary Frank Gaston.

Question: I have two plates, one has the words "Improved stone" imprinted, "Hong Kong" painted in blue, and 2253 in red; the other has a blue Imperial Stone stamp with lions, Hong Kong in blue, and 2253 in red. Trying to find out more about them, they have additional colors than just blue on white. Can you give me any more info?

Answer: The Hong Kong pattern with the words "improved stone" refers to the stoneware from which it was made. The pattern was made by the Staffordshire Pottery of Charles Meigh which was in business between 1835 - 1849 or Charles Meigh and Sons from 1851 - 1861. Both feature the 'improved stone" on the bottom. The pattern features a Chinese inspired landscape with two buildings and a bridge, as well as an island with a willow tree on the top left.

The pattern is offered on several online sites with prices between $20.00 to $80.00 depending on condition. Lower-priced items show some chips, cracks, or crazing.

Question: Do you know the Alton Trade pattern of Flow Blue?

Answer: W. H. Grindley produced a pattern called Alton in Flow blue in the 1890s. When looking at a plate you will notice a scalloped edge and a white center. Delicate blue scroll works and tiny flowers in a Y shaped design circle the plate. You will see a small fleur-de-lis around the edge at the bottom of the vase.

I am not sure what you mean by the word "trade."

Question: I have a Flow Blue pitcher and basin set. The mark on the base says "Maple England." Is worth anything?

Answer: You can research your Flow Blue china by looking in a book like "Gaston's Flow Blue China Comprehensive Guide, Identification, and Values" by Mary Frank Gaston. Published in 2005, this, and other older books can help you identify your piece.

You may be hard pressed to find someone else to valuate your items for free online. Deciding the value of older dishware takes some time and few people are willing to put in that time for free. But you can do that yourself by looking at Flow Blue auction sites and dealer sites and checking out sold prices for the kind of item that you have.

Check to see if there is more information on the backstamp. Remember that during the Flow Blue collecting hay day many reproductions were produced. If your piece is indeed authentic, it will be quite valuable. After all, these kinds of sets were often used so easily broken. Handles easily snap off or the two pieces separated.

Question: I have a platter signed La Belle. Is it worth anything?

Answer: La Belle flow blue by Wheeling pottery remains one of the most desired patterns. I just saw a 12.75-inch round platter that sold for $90.00 on Ruby Lane.

You can learn the value of your piece by signing up and logging into Kovels or Replacements. Check online auctions to see what pieces similar to yours have sold for - not the offered price.

Remember that stains, cracks, and chips decrease the value of any antique dishware.

Question: I have a plate made by W.H.G Hindley & Gringlan. It is "Florida FB" blue and white. How much is it worth?

Answer: There are many books out there on Flow Blue and blue and white china. However many of them are over ten years old, so they will not reflect current values. They are best used for identification purposes.

Check out online price guides for current values. You can look at Replacements, Kovels, and Worthpoint. You can also learn more about your china from the Flow Blue International Collectors Club

Question: I have a 6-inch Flow Blue plate. I think it is New Wharf pottery but the mark says "Conway Royal Semi-porcelain England". Between the porcelain and England, instead of the Stafford Knot, it has a shield-like structure with the initials F.W.W. I can't find anything like this mark on the internet. Does this sound like New Wharf Pottery and from what era?

Answer: New Wharf Pottery opened for business in 1878 then became Wood & Son in 1894. You can check these marks out online. Conway shows a knot with a crown on top, as does New Wharf. Marks can be confusing with many variations on a theme. Also, the mark of a particular company often changes over the years which is a great way to find the age of a piece.

You can find out how to identify Flow Blue by consulting books such as Mary Frank Gaston's "Collectors' Encyclopedia of Flow Blue China." If the mark on your plate does not ring true, it may be a reproduction. According to RubyLane, many repros show an unglazed bottom rim while authentic pieces are fully glazed. Some reproductions show a blue-green tinge instead of cobalt. Also, newer maker's marks are usually two to three inches wide, while original pieces are marked with smaller, one-inch marks.

You can find out more about Flow Blue marks as well as reproductions by joining the Flow Blue International Collectors' Club. They feature a Flow Blue Pattern Identification Project with over 1600s items.

Question: Where can I find the price for an eight-piece collection of Flow Blue, including serving pieces?

Answer: Flow Blue is still quite popular so you can learn a lot by searching around online. Identify your dishware by looking on the bottom at the marks there. This will tell you who made the pieces. Identify your pattern either with the marks or by describing the pattern in the search box. Check out online auction sites and online antique dealers.

If you are looking to buy or sell, take some time to learn all that you can about your Flow Blue.

Question: I have a large round platter that looks like Flow Blue but it also had orange color design on it. It’s of an Asian pattern. There is no manufacturer mark on the back. Could this possibly be a Flow Blue piece?

Answer: Some of the earlier examples of Flow Blue do not have a backstamp. Also, many of the early designs featured an Asian motif as Chinese porcelain was very popular and expensive. The producers sought to copy Chinese designs. That being said, some reproductions do not show a maker's mark.

Look for the smudged edges of the design to see if it's Flow Blue. One reproduced series has no bakcstamp, and the background white has a greenish cast.

Your best bet is to consult the books suggested. When searching in a book or online, make sure you take a close look at your piece. Are there flowers, vines, leaves, landscapes, birds, bridges, or other images? Measure the size of your piece as well. Closely compare familiar images. Sometimes an extra (or one less) image in the design shown in a book may indicate that you have a reproduction.

Question: How much would a complete set of Flow Blue China in excellent condition be worth?

Answer: In order to find a value, you must determine exactly what is it that you are researching. Some patterns are more in demand than others. What was hot last year may not be as popular this year. Values can vary by region. A pattern that people who live in England love may not garner interest in the American West.

In general, Flow Blue values have diminished since the big collecting craze of the 1990s. The aging collectors are downsizing, so a lot of the product is on the market. Younger people are not as interested in Victorian, flowery or fussy china and lean more toward mid-20th-century products.

Value is a complicated issue. Sites like Replacements state retail value, that is how much a product will cost to replace at retail. This is the value you need for insurance purposes. There is a difference in what you will earn from a sale to a private collector, at an online auction site, to a dealer, or at auction. Remember that any dealer will need to cover overhead and will want to make a profit.

When you state that you have a complete set - what does that mean? China manufacturers offered dinner plates, dessert plates, luncheon plates, platters, bowls, cups and saucers, sugar bowls, teapots; the list goes on and on. The value of individual pieces will vary as well. While tons of plates may have been produced in a particular pattern, fewer things like soup tureens and teapots were made. Also, pieces that have handles, lids, and spouts easily damaged or pieces lost making them more valuable.

You may want to visit a Flow Blue convention or show. Learn as much as you can about your collection as well as the market. Only then can you determine the value.

Question: I bought a Grindley flow blue covered vegetable that has the mark from 1891-1914, but I cannot match it. It looks just like The Marquis, but it has gold trim. In the space where the pattern name should be on the back stamp, it is just blank. What does this mean?

Answer: I am not sure what you are asking. If it has a mark then it has a stamp. Gridley produced many patterns. William Harry Gridley and Alfred Meakin founded W.H. Gridley in 1880. In 1891, W.H. Gridley moved to Woodland Pottery. The Marechal Neil pattern was produced from 1891 - 1914.

The Marquis pattern has dark cobalt around the rim, a white center sometimes with a central scalloped round pattern (depending on the piece). Marquis is edged in gold. The back stamp looks like a wreath that is open at the top. Inside the wreath, it says W.H. Grindley and England. Below are the numbers Rd No 473130. This old pattern from the early 1900s should show a little wear on the gold. It is such a pretty pattern.

China patterns and back stamps can be very confusing. Check out one of the recommended books for further information.

Question: I have 100+ pieces of Flow Blue antique china which was given to me by my grandmother. Does the set of Flow Blue china have a higher value since there are 100+ pieces?

Answer: There are many variables in the value of Flow Blue or any antique china (or ironstone, etc.) Rarity is the main advantage in value. Obviously, a large and complete set is rare so I'd say yes there is a higher value in a complete set than in each individual piece if added up. Other things that affect value are age, condition, demand for a particular pattern, and location. In some areas, certain patterns are more popular than in other areas.

Question: What is the name of the pattern on the teacup in the article?

Answer: The teacup pattern is "Seville" by New Wharf Pottery, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. Thomas and William Wood, brothers, established the pottery in 1877 which was later taken into Wood & Sons in 1894.

Question: I have a mint condition water pitcher and a large basin bowl. It is marked" Burton" 1730 Kac&B LATE MEYERS and a picture of a potter on top of the date. Is this a valuable set of China?

Answer: Potteries changed ownership as well as names which can create confusion as to who made what.

The year 1730 refers to when the pottery was first built by Joseph Stubbs, not the year your item was produced.

The stamp "Keeling & Company Ltd. Late Mayers England" was used from 1909 - 1937. A stamp that shows the pattern name "Burton" over a kneeling man facing left, with 1790 in a box beneath and K & Co. under the date was made from 1886 - 1891.

The Pattern called "Burton" is very pretty. It features large, cobalt blue flowers and leaves edged in gold. Gold highlights also decorate the panel sided pitcher. There is a Burton teapot on Google images that is for sale on eBay. They are asking $130.00. Whether they get that or not is anyone's guess. Because pitchers and basins were often used and not stored in a china closet like a teapot, they were often damaged. I am guessing that the pitcher and basin would hold more value than the teapot. Just keep searching for more items in this beautiful pattern to get a better idea of the value. The values of Flow blue china can be different depending on the area where you live. In some areas, it is more popular than in other areas.

Question: I have a Flow Blue Platter 15 1/2" X 13" made by W Adams & Co. England. The markings include Fairy Villas Stone China. An R is ingrained in the bottom. It has no cracks or chips. What is the worth of my china?

Answer: The W Adams mark for Fairy Villas features the pattern name in a fancy cartouche with a crown at the top, "Stone China" above, and "W Adams & Co Tunstall England below. The mark dates between 1891 and the early 1900s. Tunstall was an area in Staffordshire, England that included many potteries.

When you wonder about value, you have to realize that value can mean several things. You can check out a site that shows retail value like Replacements which shows how much you would have to pay retail to replace the platter. Then there is fair market value, that which a seller could expect from a sale. If you choose to sell to a dealer or through an auction, you would not get the full amount of the sale due to seller's costs including profit.

Values change quickly into today's markets as items slip in and out of demand. Search for W. Adams Fairy Villas platters on eBay and other online sales or auction sites to check asking as well as sold prices. Remember that a platter would be worth much more than,say, a dinner plate as there were fewer platters produced than dinner plates.

© 2010 Dolores Monet

Comments

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on May 08, 2017:

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.

Carol on May 07, 2017:

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?

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