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 Staffordshire Transferware Frog Tankard - Slight Damage But Lovely!Antique Staffordshire Caledonia Brown Transferware 19" Platter Scottish HuntingAntique Transferware Davenport Mulberry Cyprus Ironstone Sugar JarVintage Color Transfer Ware Porcelain Limoges Floral Box Gilt Trim4 Vintage Crown Ducal Pink Bristol Transferware Dinner Plates2 Rare Mason's Ironstone Vista Red/pink Crescent Salad Plates Transferware EnglAntique Staffordshire Child's Brown Transfer Ware Little May 17 Piece Dish SetAntique 1800s Brown Transferware Pitcher George Scott Stone China Cincinnatti OhHoward Johnson Restaurant Ware Vintage Transferware Platter Mayer China Usa 158Gorgeous Staffordshire Ca 1850 Ironstone Purple Transferware Bowl B&s ClaremontFine Antique 18/19c Soft Paste Transferware Porcelain Bowl W GiltAntique Brown Transferware Plate-farm-hall-staffordshireCrown Ducal Bristol Transferware Purple Set Of 4 Dinner 10" PlatesVintage Wr Midwinter Landscape Pink Red Transferware Lazy Susan Five Piece SetVilleroy & Boch Burgenland Maroon Transfer Ware Tureen W/ Lid 1947-56Antique Ridgways Blue Transferware Oriental Lg. Serving Bowl W/lid & Under PlateAntique Ridgways Blue Transferware Oriental Pattern 5-3/4" Dessert Plates (8)Vintage Ye Olde Willow Staffordshire Transferware Platter, EnglandMintons Holland Black Transfer Ware 10" Dinner PlateDunn Bennett & Co Imperial Aesthetic Movement Floral Transfer Ware Bowl & PlateAntique Boch Freres La Louviere Napoleonic Napoleon Black Transferware PlateCopeland Spode Greek Key Brown Transferware Cup & Saucer Blue Willlow Pattern In Brown And White Transferware Platter - StaffordshireAntique Ridgways Blue Transferware Oriental Pattern 6" Bread & Butter Plates (6)Antique Ridgways Blue Transferware Oriental Graduated Oval Serving Bowls (2)8 Vintage Bread And Butter Plates Rossini Country French Green Transfer WareDavenport Staffordshire Transferware Child's Cup And SaucerWilliam Adams Columbia Blue Transferware Ironstone Pickle Relish Dish, Ca 1850Kitchen Antique 1882 Wh Grindley Tunstall Daffodil Brown Transferware Tureen6 Myott Tonquin Pattern Red Transfer Ware 8" Salad Plates EnglandAntique Green Toile Transferware Plates Country French By Rossini Vintage Toscany Collection Porcelain Tissue Box Blue-white TransferwareVintage Ovaltine Buntingware Transferware & 50th Little Orphan Anniversary Mugs2 Pc. Shenango Restaurant China Red Floral Transferware Pattern Low Soup Bowls