Blue willow ware dates back to 15th century China, where it was originally made and shipped at great cost to Europe. Transferware china is made by transferring a pattern design from a copper plate to paper and then onto the pottery. It was produced as a more affordable, mass-produced alternative to the original hand-painted china. Blue willow is one of the most easily recognised transferware patterns, as stated by the Antique Trader website. The detailing is attractive by itself, although the story behind the design adds to the enjoyment.
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According to the International Willow Collectors, the blue willow design has the longest continuous production -- 200 years -- of any china pattern. Potters from China exported the dinnerware and tea services to London where it was purchased by wealthy homeowners. Queen Mary II bought a set from China and requisitioned a special cabinet be made to hold the collection, thus the term "china cabinet."
Although many manufacturers over the years created their own versions, all dinnerware called "Blue Willow," has certain elements in common. The pagoda -- or teahouse -- a bridge with people on it, two birds, an apple or orange tree, a willow tree, a fence and a boat. Although the pattern is most often in blue or white, many other sets were made in red, yellow, green, brown and other colours. There are even multicoloured sets.
The story of the blue willow china actually came about after its manufacture, not before. The story says that a man and his daughter lived in a pagoda near a bridge and underneath an apple tree. The man promised his daughter in marriage to an old, wealthy merchant. As often happens in love stories, the daughter fell in love with someone else -- her father's clerk. They eloped in a cottage across the sea. When the father discovered them, he threatened to kill them. Before their demise the gods turned them into a pair of turtle doves.
The original Blue Willow dishes did not carry a mark and often today new pieces are not marked either. If your pieces have a manufacturer's mark, it is less complicated to date them. Many marks are documented in collectors books on antiques. Often, it will have the name of the country -- such as England -- alongside the mark. The most accurate way to find out the value of your dishes is to take them to a reputable antique dealer or collector. He will study the glaze, the general feel of the pottery, the pattern and any markings to help determine the age.
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