I am more fascinated by the stories behind the "stuff" that I find, and today's story is about Blue Willow...those plates that seem to be in every nook and cranny of vintage/antique/thrift shops and fleas.
The pattern on the Blue Willow plates looks Chinese, but it was first made in England. Many English designers copied Chinese plate designs, and it was popular in 18th century England. It seems that Thomas Minton designed the pattern around 1790, having been inspired by Chinese imports (see-China has always been in the picture!) Other references give credit to Thomas Turner of Caughley porcelain with a design date of 1780.
Willow actually refers to the pattern, a specific treatment, either applied transfer, or stamp, known as transferware. Background colour is always white, while foreground colour depends on the maker; blue the most common, followed by pink, green, and brown. Assortment, shape and dates of production vary.
In order to promote sales of Minton's Willow pattern, various stories were invented based on the elements of the design. The most famous story, which actually is English in origin not Chinese, is about a rich man named Tso Ling. The house on the plate represents his home. He had a beautiful daughter named Kwang-se who was the promised bride of an old wealthy man (but he did not own a basketball team--just kidding). Anyway, she fell in love with Chang, her father's clerk. Chang and Kwang-se eloped, and Kwang-se's father was going to have them killed. The gods turned them into turtle doves before Kwang-se's father could have them killed. The two turtle doves are on the top of the plate.
The Blue Willow plates in the shop were made in Holland. The entrepreneurs Winand Nicolaas Clermont and Charles Chainaye in 1851 founded a pottery in the Maastricht neighbourhood Wijck. Their company was taken over in 1859 by the Belgian engineer Guillaume Lambert and transformed into a limited partnership. Four years later it became a limited liability company that became generally known as 'Société Céramique'.
Under the directorate of Victor Jaunez (1863-1913), engineer P.J. Lengersdorff (1902-1915) and Edgar Michel (1915-1954), Société Céramique flourished and became the main competitor of Petrus Regout's firm, which was renamed Sphinx in 1899. Around 1900 the products of Société Céramique vied with those of Sphinx in price as well as in quality.
In the twentieth century, Société Céramique started to focus more and more on the production of sanitary ware. In 1958, to the surprise of many, the company merged with its Maastricht competitor Sphinx.
The factory premises were demolished in the early 1990's to make room for a prestigious new housing estate, which was given the name Céramique.
So, the next time you see a Blue Willow plate you will have a new perspective because the stories are priceless.
"I quite like antiques. I like things that are old and the history they bring with them. I would rather fly to Morocco on an $800 ticket and buy a chair for $300 than spend $1,100 on one at Pottery Barn."