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.

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Recent News: Transferware

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Historical Accommodations
Maine Antique Digest, October 5th

For instance, for everyone who would object to Paul Scott's work, one might ask just how many cupboards full of shell-edge and transferware do they own? Opposed to the destruction of a 19th-century house? Does the objector himself live in one? “Someone ...Read more

Arts Festival & October Events Showcase Isle's Vibrant Arts
Yesterday's Island/Today's Nantucket (blog), October 1st

These single session classes include scrimshaw, transferware, textile art, shell art, and more, and are taught by artisans from Nantucket and the world. Inspired by Nantucket history, this 1800 House Program is dedicated to celebrating and reviving the...Read more

Deer and Folly
Maine Antique Digest, September 25th

In our September issue, Celia Briggs sought help identifying the pattern of blue transferware shards found on a beach in Maine. Dayton Bard of Santa Fe, New Mexico, provided an answer, pointing to an example he found on eBay and another in Brunk ...Read more

Patrizia Tenti Brings a Playful Energy to Milanese Design
New York Times, September 21st

Either way, Tenti sets her table with a mix of 19th-century transferware, early 20th-century flatware and contemporary pieces like Tsé & Tsé's platinum-glazed porcelain wine goblets — though when she entertains, she says, she usually just sits on a...Read more

Dress your table for fall, September 17th

Sweet transferware dishes are so versatile you could transform them for every season simply by pairing them with different accent colors: red for the holidays, blue for spring, orange for summer. For a fall table, we brought in shades of browns through...Read more

Antiques and Collectibles: Goat-patterned tea set a pricey collectible
Press of Atlantic City, September 11th

Your pieces will attract folks searching for antique miniature dishes, Staffordshire transferware, ceramics featuring animal decorations or replacements for items missing from an incomplete Goat pattern tea set. Collectors are paying $475 to $525 for a...Read more

Why The Met's China Exhibition Really Pissed Me Off
Refinery29, September 10th

The Staffordshire transferware pictured here provides a startling example: Offset by an ornate Victorian-style border, the caricature of Qing dynasty children playing sports is disturbingly similar to anti-Chinese propaganda cartoons from the Yellow Peril...Read more

How Vintage English Transferware Saved Nancy Roberts From Financial Hardship ...
Huffington Post, October 2nd

Though it can date back to the early 1700s, English transferware has become a hot item on the vintage marketplace. (If you have any, it might be the right time to sell.) Nancy Roberts, who runs the English Transferware store on Etsy, fell in love with...Read more