Flow Blue: History and Value of Blue-and-White Antique China
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
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)
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. 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 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 Flow Blue antique china which my aunt has given to me. Is this worth anything?
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.Helpful 39
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?
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.
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?
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.
I have a Flow Blue pitcher and basin set. The mark on the base says "Maple England." Is worth anything?
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.Helpful 10
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.Helpful 8
© 2010 Dolores Monet