Transferware: Elegance for The Rest of Us

Way back in the day, Imari and other Japanese and Chinese hand painted porcelains were very expensive, and only the gentry could afford it. But everyone else wanted to share the same luxurious colors and designs – they were sick and tired of plain, undecorated dinnerware.

Enter transferware.
In the mid 18th Century, the British (particularly artisans in Staffordshire) pioneered a method of producing pottery patterns that could be replicated more precisely and affordably.

A copper plate similar to those used for paper engravings was used to transfer a pattern onto tissue paper, which in turn transferred ink onto ceramics. The piece was then fired in a kiln to fix the pattern before being glazed.

Voila. No more need to hand paint the fine lines needed for a sophisticated pattern. Beautifully decorated dishes, bowls and pitchers were now available to the masses.

Sort of like having a 19th Century Target store.

Types of Transferware:
There are so many interesting facts about various types of Transferware that I’ll have to save that for future articles. But these are the more common Transferware categories:

Blue Willow: This is the most popular type, and is available in colors ranging from classic cobalt to pink, brown, black, purple, green and the more rare yellow. There’s also a less common embossed type from the Paden City Pottery, shown here.

Flow Blue (also spelled Flo Blue): Highly collectible, cobalt Flow Blue can also be found in the more purple-hued Mulberry.

Flow Blue porcelain. Photo courtesy of Treehouse Antiques, Cape May, NJ

Flow Blue porcelain. Photo courtesy of Treehouse Antiques, Cape May, NJ

19th Century Transferware: Produced by various potters from the 1890s to around 1915. Some of the best-known names include Wedgwood, Spode, Johnson Brothers and Villeroy & Boch

20th Century Staffordshire: The least expensive type of Transferware

Collecting Transferware
Transferware is still being made today, often in the same patterns as vintage or antique pieces. Original 18th to 19th Century pieces are extremely expensive and hard to find. But early 20th Century versions are very collectible and valuable in their own way. You just need to know what you’re doing before you pay too much for what appears to be a vintage or antique piece.

Here are some hints to help identify vintage or antique Transferware:

Scratches from utensils and faint crazing are normal, and a tiny chip may not be an issue. But a large chip could reduce value by half or more! On the other hand, that’s a good excuse to buy the item – you can use and enjoy it every day without worrying that you’ll devalue it further.
If the piece is marked “England” or “Made in England” it is 100 years old or newer.
Look for glazing throughout the piece. Glazing helped to prevent staining. Since reproductions are meant only to look like antiques, they aren’t glazed in “unused” areas. Check to be sure lids are fully glazed, as well.
Check handles and other attachments. They were originally made separately. Newer pieces will be hollow, with a hole where they join the main piece (although some Chinese fakes now have separate attachments.)
Check the marks. Older ones tend to be smaller, and there are no copyright or trademarks before the 1950s – definitely not before the 1920s. (Of course, if it’s microwave or dishwasher safe it isn’t old, either.)
No country? No company? Be suspicious. Older pieces carry the country of origin and maybe a pattern name (but it won’t be “Flow Blue.”) Newer ones may have a paper label saying “Made in China” that can be easily removed. This is when the item’s provenance becomes critical.
Beware of plates with “royal arms” and the name “Victoria.” No documentation has yet been found for these marks.

There are books that can help you identify Transferware patterns, but they tend to be expensive. Many antique stores carry copies.

And you can also watch a series of videos about collecting and caring for Transferware

Next up: Blue Willow.

Happy hunting!

About sarathurston

I'm a marketing communications writer who also loves antiques and collectibles. You can find my shop on Etsy at
This entry was posted in Antiques, Porcelain, Pottery, Transferware and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Transferware: Elegance for The Rest of Us

  1. Pingback: Transferware: Elegance for The Rest of Us | From the desk of Sara Thurston

  2. Pingback: The incomparable beauty of Hull Pottery | Janvier Road: Where old becomes exciting and new

  3. Pingback: The Accidental Beauty of Flow Blue | Janvier Road: Where old becomes exciting and new

  4. Pingback: Blue Willow and the Star-Crossed Lovers | Janvier Road: Where old becomes exciting and new

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