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

      Hi Kevin - I don't know this mark off the top of my head. Why don't you find a book on how to identify flow blue china? There is a lot of information out there as the china is so popular. Try your local library or you can find a used book to buy online. With a book you can identify the mark as well as the pattern.

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      Kevin P Keehan 5 weeks ago

      I was given many pieces of old Blue Flow..my mother told me it was very valuable before she died. On the back or bottom ofc each piece it has a small owl imprinted into the piece..any idea who made these

    • Dolores Monet profile image
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      Dolores Monet 2 months 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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      Mari 3 months 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 3 months 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.

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      Nancy Maxey 3 months 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 3 months 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

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      Wendeeloulou 3 months 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 4 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.

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      Carol 4 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?