With its endless pattern variations and classic look, antique blue and white transferware is popular with collectors. Artisans started making transferware in the 1750s, but most of the pieces sold today are from much more recent decades. If you're starting a collection or want to find out more about some pieces you have, there's a lot to learn about this unique type of china.
History of Blue and White Transferware
In the 1750s, artisans in England began to use a transfer technique to create beautiful new dishes. These artisans would use a copper plate. These plates are not dishes intended for eating but instead are flat pieces used to etch designs. Artisans put designs onto the copper plates and then used heat to transfer the image to a very thin paper, similar to tissue paper. The artisan then put the paper engraving over a piece of pottery, fired it in a low-temperature kiln, and ended up with a beautiful piece of art.
Elaborate Patterns Developed Over Time
Over time, artisans designed more elaborate patterns. They did keep with pretty similar colorings, however. Antique blue and white transferware is one of the most popular color choices artisans made at the time and one of the most sought-after patterns by antique collectors today.
Transferware Made China Affordable
Artisans used transferware as a way to make nice dishes more affordable to the general population. At the time, most people still had very primitive clay or stone dishes. More elaborate versions had to be hand-painted, which was time-consuming and expensive. As ceramics became more popular, artists began to find new ways to make items available to more people.
How to Identify Transferware
It takes a little practice and background information to identify transferware when you're looking at china. There are some subtle differences between transferware and painted china, and identifying specific transferware marks and patterns can take some research.
Get Out Your Magnifying Glass
To determine whether a piece is transferware, get out a magnifying glass. Look very carefully at the design, especially where the colored edges meet the background:
- Pattern edges - Unless a piece is made in the flow blue pattern or another pattern that has intentional color bleeding, the color will stop abruptly at the edge of the printed pattern. This is not true for hand-painted or glazed china.
- Uniform thickness of color - The printed portion of a transferware design will be uniform in thickness and color, unlike a hand-painted decoration. There are no thinner or thicker areas in transferware printing.
- Texture - Older transferware will have a texture of random raised areas, and you'll be able to see this in the printed design. Newer transferware is machine-made and will be smooth.
- Lines - Real transferware often has very subtle lines where the paper with the design either had slight folds or met itself in a repeat. Look carefully for these.
Turn the Piece Over to Check for Marks
On the bottom of a blue and white transferware plate, teacup, or other piece, you'll sometimes find a mark. If the piece has a mark, it can help you identify the china pattern and the age. Don't worry if the piece isn't marked, though; some of the most valuable transferware items are unmarked. A few of the common transferware marks you might see include the following:
- Diamond and numbers - A diamond backstamp with numbers by it may indicate china made in England and registered with a patent.
- Made in England - After about 1920, many English china transferware pieces were stamped "made in England."
- Manufacturer's name - Some manufacturers, especially those producing trasferware in the 1800s and later, marked their wares with a backstamp featuring their name.
Popular Blue and White Transferware Patterns to Collect
There are thousands of different patterns of transferware, and blue and white dishes are among the most common and popular. However, a few interesting patterns stand out. For instance, Blue Willow is one of the most famous transferware patterns ever made. You may also see the following in antique stores and online.
Abbey by George Jones & Sons
This beautiful blue and white transferware pattern features images of buildings surrounded by a decorative, scalloped pattern near the rim. The delicate details of the ruined buildings and the floral decorations make this pattern special.
Albemarle by Alfred Meakin
A mostly white vintage pattern, Albemarle has a lacy design of flowers and leave that decorate the rim. This is a fairly rare pattern to find, but it's very lovely and looks beautiful mixed with other patterns.
Vermicelli by Cork and Edge
A delicate design with a squiggly pattern along the rim and a white center, Vermicelli has flowers printed in the middle of each piece. It's an old pattern, dating from the 1800s.
Fisherman by Coalport
This very pretty blue and white pattern dating to the late 1800s features a man fishing. You'll also notice boats, flowers, architecture, and a geometric design. Many pieces have a gold rim.
Italian Ruins by Minton
Made by Minton, Italian Ruins is a very detailed and intricate pattern featuring a countryside scene. There are animals, flowers, foliage, and architectural elements. This pattern dates to the mid-1800s.
Old Salem Blue by Spode
This vintage pattern from the mid-20th century features nautical scenes in the center of each piece. The rims are decorated in an elaborate floral pattern and have a scalloped edge.
There's a lot of variation in the value of antique blue and white transferware. Newer vintage pieces can sell for only a few dollars, while older, rare items sell for several hundred dollars. Just like with all antique dish values, there are a number of factors that affect how much blue and white transferware is worth.
It is possible for people to replicate the transferware look, and they often do. The blue and white pattern in particular is often imitated in contemporary versions of china and other place settings. These pieces are not actually transferware; however, as they are made with more modern methods. Real pieces will have lines through them from the transfer paper. These lines are faint and almost appear as cracks, but you should examine potential antique pieces for authenticity before spending money on them.
The age of transferware is one of the most important factors in determining its worth. This type of ceramic dish was very popular in the 1800s. Though the process first came about in the 1700s, it gained mass popularity about a half-century later. Most of the plates from this time period have disappeared, however, as families got rid of them. The few remaining pieces from this period can be quite valuable. More common are plates from the twentieth century. These range from designs featuring local sites as well as more traditional patterns.
When this method became popular, the affluent circles of Europe were obsessed with everything related to Asia (at the time called the Orient). These "Oriental" styles were popular in transferware as well. The blue color so often associated with this type of dinnerware is called "Chinese blue" and was indicative of the fondness for Asian themes and patterns.
As with all antiques, condition is very important when it comes to the value of transferware. Cracks, chips, scratches, discoloration, and other damage can dramatically reduce the value of a piece.
Rare pieces of transferware are worth the most. If there are many existing pieces in the same pattern and shape, an item of transferware will be less valuable. This can apply to a specific maker or pattern, but it can also be an individual piece in the pattern that is especially rare. For instance, a soup tureen may be worth several hundred dollars if it's rare to find, even if the pattern itself is common.
Today's transferware is available at many antique stores. The Transferware Collectors Club even has listings of all stores in certain areas that make this antique available. These stores tend to have varying ages and values of transferware available. Though some make their wares available online, it is important to remember these pieces may not still be available for sale.
Many circles or organizations also exist to help with people who are looking for authentic antique transferware. These groups offer information about determining the value of transferware and also may include pieces for sale.
Caring for Antique Transferware
Most transferware was made to be used, and it can be a practical choice even today. Properly storing your antique china is important, as is caring for it. Antique transferware shouldn't go in the dishwasher, but gentle hand washing won't hurt it. With the right care, your transferware collection can last for many lifetimes.