The Accidental Beauty of Flow Blue

Josiah Wedgwood II is credited for inventing this beautiful and popular form of Transferware. But other experts think it happened by accident when the cobalt oxide escaped its boundaries during firing or glazing. These pieces were sold as “seconds,” and enjoyed a short-lived craze among the English.

Americans loved it at first sight, and they snapped up Flow Blue as quickly as it could be shipped, from 1840 – 1870. Soon, the Dutch, Germans, French and American manufacturers produced it, until its popularity waned around World War I.

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

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

Flow Blue (also spelled Flo Blue) pieces are highly collectible and valued for their distinctive blurred, flowing designs and vivid cobalt blues.

How to date Flow Blue
Earlier Flow Blue (the 1840s) has the look and feel of ironstone, but by 1880 more delicate semi-porcelain was being used. (All dates are fluid, since the types ebbed and flowed – no pun intended – in popularity.)

Traditional designs can help with dating:
Asian: Temples pagodas and people in traditional Asian clothing. The earliest motifs for Flow Blue.
Romantic: Pastoral scenes and scenes of village life. (Later 19th Century and early 20th Century)
Pattern: Mostly floral (Later 19th Century and early 20th Century)
Brush Stroke: Handpainted (not Transferware), with a slight pink or copper tinge as well as colors other than cobalt. (Mid 19th Century)

19th Century Thomas Rathbone "Clyde" Tureen. Photo courtesy of Susies Art and Antiques, Etsy

19th Century Thomas Rathbone “Clyde” Tureen. Photo courtesy of Susies Art and Antiques, Etsy

Spotting Cheap Reproductions
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, interest in antique Flow Blue regained momentum, and the market responded with cheap Asian reproductions. The 1980s were famous for these fakes, and the wise collector will learn to distinguish the old from the new.

Look for the same features as with other Transferware.
Antique Trader provides a comprehensive look at old and new Flow Blue.
The site lists manufacturers who made Flow Blue since the 1960s, which I’ve copied here:
– Ashworth Brothers
– Dunn
– Blakeney Pottery
– Stanley
– New Wharf
– Victoriaware
– Vinranka

UPDATE: “Real or Repro” just published a fake mark for the Iris and Waldorf patterns.

There’s also an excellent article by Dolores Monet that gives a comprehensive history of Flow Blue.

And this website details the different categories of Flow Blue

Old or new, Flow Blue is still a lovely way to decorate your table!
Enjoy the hunt!

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About sarathurston

I'm a marketing communications writer who also loves antiques and collectibles. You can find my shop on Etsy at http://www.etsy.com/shop/JanvierRoad
This entry was posted in Porcelain, Transferware and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Accidental Beauty of Flow Blue

  1. Pingback: The Accidental Beauty of Flow Blue | From the desk of Sara Thurston

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