Transferware is about as close as you can get to printing on ceramics. Developed in Staffordshire, England in around 1760, the technique consists of transferring a print from an engraved and inked copper plate to a sheet of paper.

The paper is then applied to the unfired clay, be it earthenware or bone china, which absorbs the ink from the paper. After the paper is removed, the clay is glazed and fired.

Staffordshire had long been a center for fine ceramics, but the Industrial Revolution made the area a center for mass-produced wares for England’s growing middle class. Transferware permitted potteries to produce far more than if they were hand painting everything, which Wedgwood and especially Spode capitalized on.

The sources for the earliest transferware designs were 18th-century blue-and-white porcelain platters and plates from China, which were very popular in England at the time. Italian scenes were also replicated in blue on white. During this early period in transferware, patterns such as Willow were introduced and quickly became entrenched in the form’s visual vocabulary.

After the War of 1812, Staffordshire potteries produced imagery calculated to appeal to American customers. Around 1820, a pottery called Ridgeway created a series of what is today regarded as Historical Blue Staffordshire, or Old Blue as it’s sometimes known, called “Beauties of America.” These handsome, patriotic pieces depicted important U.S. buildings such as City Hall in New York.

Other potteries turned out jugs and platters bearing pictures of Boston Harbor and Niagara Falls. And potter Thomas Mayer produced a highly collectible series of transferware pieces known as the “Arms of America,” which featured coats of arms for many American states.

By about 1830, some potteries were pushing the limits of blue on white by adding lime or ammonia to a kiln during firing, which made the blue glaze run or flow. These “flown” pie...

English manufacturers of antique flow blue included Wedgwood, Johnson Brothers, Minton, Royal Doulton, and Swansea. Patterns ranged from Blue Danube to Idris to the classic Willow. As for the objects themselves, they ranged from teapots to platters to vases. Even dog bowls were produced in flow blue.

One interesting subset of flow blue is the blue-marble effect. All-over patterns such as Lazuli lent itself to this look: When given the flow-blue treatment, the pattern would blur so that from afar the object resembled a piece of carved, blue-veined marble.

Today, collectors choose transferware based on the pottery, the subject, or even the border. Some like to collect only pieces with “Crown, Acorn, & Oak Leaf” borders, others prefer “Tulips,” or “Pineapple,” or “Grapevine.”

Use is the last major transferware-collecting category. Plates and bowls, of course, are good examples of objects designed for everyday use, while platters where often reserved for special occasions, which means their transferred patterns are often more elaborate and intricate.

Dessert items can range from pierced plates and baskets to footed serving dishes. Teapots and cups are also popular, as are jugs, ladles, and a category of specialized items delicately described as toilet ware.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

This gallery showcases highlights from the 5,000 items in the museum's ceramics collection dating from 1500-1900. I… [read review or visit site]

Ceramics at The V&A

Ceramics at The V&A

A great reference on ceramics from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Learn about different ceramics techniques and st… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Blue White English Asiatic Pheasants Transferware Ironstone Tray PlatterAntique Child's *floris Ligna* Tea Set Staffordshire ~aesthetic Red TransferwareAntique Blue & White Transferware - Pepperette - Unusual!Antique 1893 Columbian Exposition Chicago Multicolor Transferware PitcherRare 19c Texian Campaigne Brown Transferware Bowl Staffordshire Historical1884 Antique Wedgwood Seaweed Melton Brown Transferware Oval 14.75" Platter 1880Antique Ridgway Oriental Blue & White Transferware 13 Inch Oval Serving PlatterOld Rowland&marsellus Pitcher-historical Pottery-staffordshire Transferware-ex!Edwardian Transferware Cricket Plate Ep Kinsella Hope Of His Side Boy BatsmanAesthetic Movement Transferware "shansi" Plates With Diamond Registry China DecoAntique Holloway's Gout Sore Breasts Pot Jar Ceramic Transferware Quack MedicineWaechtersbach 19thc Aesthetic Transferware Mint Dish Children Gnomes InsectsAesthetic English Transferware "bamboo"Antique English Lustre China - Lady & Child Decorated Transferware Cup & SaucerRare Waechtersbach 19thc Aesthetic Transferware Gravy Children Gnomes InsectsRare Waechtersbach 19thc Aesthetic Transferware Platter Children Gnomes InsectsAntique Ridgway Oriental Blue White Transferware China Flow Blue Gravy Boat Brown Toile Peppertree Tabletops Porcelain Teapot - Brown Floral Transferware Vintage Royal China Red Willow Ware Sugar Bowl With Lid Transfer WareQueen Victoria Regina Commemorative Transferware Coronation Pitcher Ca. 1837Johnson Brothers Antique Brown Transferware Two 8.75" Soup Bowls 1890'sAntique Brown Transferware Ironstone Sugar Bowl,tea Caddy Lid Only-staffordshireMasons England Ironstone Red Pink Transferware Octagonal 8 3/8" Bowl VictorianCrown Ducal 14" Platter Signing Of The Declaration Of Independence, TransferwareRare Waechtersbach 19thc Aesthetic Transferware Charger Children Gnomes InsectsAntique Brown Transferware Pottery Pitcher Transferware Ironstone Large White NrAesthetic English Transferware "the World"Rare Waechtersbach 19thc Aesthetic Transferware Bowl Children Gnomes Insects #2Rare Waechtersbach 19thc Aesthetic Transferware Plate Children Gnomes InsectsRare Waechtersbach 19thc Aesthetic Transferware Plate Children Gnomes Insects #2Blue And White Transferware Coffee Tea Pot W/ Lid – Adams Aladdin - Very Nice!Antique Brown Transferware Furnival Chantilly Pattern Dinner PlateAntique 1840 Sicilian Plate Mulberry Transfer Ware 9 1/4" DiameterMeiji Period Japanese Blue & White Porcelain Transferware Igezara Plate Spode Blue Room Collection Floral Dinner Transferware PlateAntique Pair George Jones English Historic Transferware Abbey Dinner Plates TmgAntique C1895 English Pottery Brown Transferware Hand Color Aesthetic Bird TileAntique Masons Blue "fruit Basket" Transferware.english Ironstone Plates Set OfDartmouth College Hanover Nh E.m. Carter Plate English TransferwareJohnson Bros English Chippendale Serving Plate Red Transfer Ware Rose DesignAntique Transfer Ware Childs Plate Fishers Staffordshire C.e.& M Aesthetic English Transferware "bamboo"Villeroy & Boch Cup & Saucer “rusticana Pattern Mettlach Transferware”Vintage Furnvilas Brown Transferware Dinner PlateCrown Ducal Bristol Transferware Purple Set Of 4 Tea Cups