Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Learning About Flow Blue

Since I took a break from electronics on Sunday, I had plenty of time to catch up on some long-awaited reading. I really enjoyed stepping out of the fast lane for a while, but some people weren't happy it took me so long to get back to them. I might make an electronics fast a once a month habit-maybe more than once a month, we'll see!

I read up on Flow Blue china and wanted to share with you what I learned;

"Flow Blue" is a term that is used to describe semi-porcelain, stoneware or porcelain items that have been decorated with a smudged or blurred blue under-glaze. The blue glaze bleeds in the firing process in the kiln and it "flows" into the white or clear portion of the piece.

The Flow Blue method originated in Staffordshire, England in the 1820's. England went on to become the largest producer of Flow Blue. The way the Flow Blue technique came about is by combining under glaze, decoration and transfer printing. Under glazing stands up better to use and wear because the pattern is sealed or permanently affixed and doesn't wear off.

The Chinese have used blue under glazing for centuries because they found out that the blue glaze could stand up to very high temperatures. History shows that the Chinese were importing blue and white china to England as early as the 1600's. The color of the blue glaze comes from the mineral cobalt.

English potters tried to produce their own version of the Chinese blue and white pottery, but were unable to do so until the 1700's when they were able to finally get the cobalt color imported from Saxony. In the 1600's, all of the designs on pottery and china were hand painted, which was very labor intensive and very time consuming, It wasn't until the 1700's that transfer printing was invented. Transfer printing made the process much faster, but there was still the issue of wear. The patterns weren't holding up to everyday use.

In 1760 the Worcester factory was the first pottery to accomplish under glazing. Although, most records give credit to Thomas Turner from Caughley Works in 1780.

The peak years for Flow Blue production in England were from the mid 1800's until the early 1900's. Because the combination of transfer printing and under glazing created a product that could be produced quickly and inexpensively with attractive patterns that held up to everyday wear, Flow Blue was very appealing and affordable for the general population and not just the wealthy. Up until that point only the well to do were able to have china and dinnerware as fine as this.

The Flow Blue techniques came about as a way to hide imperfections in the transfer process. Sometimes the workers didn't get the patterns lined up properly and it would really through off the look of the finished product. By letting the blue color flow or bleed, it helped to cover the mistakes, and added another dimension to the beauty of the pieces.

By the time the demand for Flow Blue was diminishing in England, it was just starting to take of in America. England had a hard time keeping up with the export demand.

Even though England was the major producer of Flow, Blue, America has been the biggest collector and the driving force behind collecting it. Many in England just don't value it as highly because it was mass-produces, inexpensive and available everywhere.

The majority of the Flow Blue that is our there is over 100 years old, making it considered to be a true antique. Many collectors collect it not only for its beauty but because they get to hold a piece of history.

When Flow Blue china was produced, it was produced to be used everyday and not put on display as collectors do now. Since it was used everyday, it got chipped, cracked and broken. Many pieces have become very rare and hard to find.

The hardest to find are wash basins, toothbrush holders and chamber pots with lids, cheese dishes and tureens. The most produced items were plates and bowls, so they aren't as rare as some of the serve ware pieces.

There are four main factors that determine the value/price of Flow Blue pieces;
               1. Age
               2. Theme
               3. Color
               4. Flow
The most highly sought after and most valuable pieces are from the 1830's to the 1870's because of the scarce chance of them still being around and being intact.

Petra Williams was the first person to classify the patterns into theme categories;
                1. Oriental
                2. Scenic
                3. Floral
                4. Art Nouveau

Color affects value as well. The darker blues tend to be more valuable and more collectible than the lighter blues. Usually the oriental scenes with a darker blue color and deepest flow are the most valuable pieces to collectors.

I think I prefer the darker blue color and the floral patterns. I'm not that interested in the oriental or scenic patterns and I really don't care for the dishes with turkeys or animals on them. I think I prefer the flow to be somewhere in the middle Not so much that the pattern is blurred up (what I would call a) mess, and not so light that every thing has crisp lines.

I don't think I will ever become a collector of Flow Blue. I do appreciate it and enjoy the beauty of it-I just prefer the chunky, durability of Fiesta-not to mention all the bright colors! All of the pieces of Flow Blue that I've seen either in person or in a book seem to be very dainty and fragile looking. I guess I am of a more practical, utilitarian type user/collector.

These are the plates I picked up last summer. They are what sparked my interest to want to know more about Flow Blue.

The plate on the top is my favorite of the three.


  1. Interesting -- I was glad to learn more about it. I picked up a whole lot of flow blue serving pieces early in my buying and I'm STILL sitting on them because I have no idea how to price them! I have a tough time figuring out if it's flow blue or transferware sometimes.