Flow Blue: History and Value of Blue-and-White Antique China
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Questions & Answers
I have a platter signed La Belle. Is it worth anything?
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.
Where can I find the price for an eight-piece collection of Flow Blue, including serving pieces?
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.
© 2010 Dolores Monet