Learn more about the history of a blue and white collectible earthenware called Flow Blue, and what to look for when buying these beautiful pieces.
In the mid-1830s, the British began shipping Flow Blue pottery to the United States. But they weren’t being generous with their cache; they were actually trying to get as much of it out of England as possible. Flow Blue is a type of white-bodied earthenware marked with cobalt-blue patterns. During the 1800s, etiquette experts and other sources of social convention emphasized formal Victorian dining. The Victorians were not content with a simple four-piece place setting; a properly set table required numerous pieces and serving utensils. Chinese and French porcelain was the tableware of choice. However, middle-class citizens could not afford the expensive Chinese and French porcelain.
Needing something to take the place of fine porcelain and to meet the etiquette requirements, Flow Blue was the affordable solution. British citizens, however, weren’t happy with the product, and Flow Blue was soon marked for export to America. American dealers took an interest in the way the blue transfer “flowed” over the surface of the pottery, and Flow Blue soon became popular among the American citizens. Its popularity lasted into the early part of the twentieth century.
Earlier examples of Flow Blue pottery featured cobalt blue designs. Potters who had become adept at the process of transfer printing realized that the cobalt blue could be forced to flow over a piece. As a result of their discovery, the flow on these early pieces was more pronounced. Later pieces of Flow Blue began to exhibit subtle shades of blue and feature other colors, including gold gilt. Flow Blue originally copied designs found on pieces of Chinese porcelain, but later pieces of Flow Blue incorporated floral motifs.
Research Before Purchasing
For people interested in collecting Flow Blue, Jeffrey Snyder, author of five books on Flow Blue, suggests doing some research before making a purchase. Also, consider joining a collectors club, such as the Flow Blue International Collectors Club, which puts members in touch with other collectors who can provide knowledge and assistance in identifying pieces of Flow Blue. Jeffrey recommends finding a local antiques dealer who specializes in and is knowledgeable about Flow Blue for help as well in identifying and locating pieces.
Prices for Flow Blue Pottery
Many factors impact the price collectors can expect to pay for a piece of Flow Blue. “For a plate, the condition will impact upon the price, as will the pattern on the piece, whether the piece carries a manufacturer’s mark or not, and whether the potter is a well known name such as Wedgewood or a lesser known firm,” he says. For example, a 10-inch plate in the Touraine pattern can cost as much as $125, while a Blue Danube pattern platter can run close to $300. Certain pieces, such as plates and bowls, sell for much less than rarer pieces of Flow Blue like teapots, tureens and gravy bowls, Jeffrey says.
Repaired Pieces and Stilt Marks
Pieces that are chipped, damaged or repaired are generally considered less valuable than pieces in perfect condition. “Prior to the wars and the recession, when interest in Flow Blue was at its highest, collectors were expressing an interest in rarer wares that had been repaired with nineteenth-century staples,” Jeffrey says. “Except in the case of very rare pieces, damaged and repaired items are generally avoided.”
Jeffrey also points out that collectors may find pieces with three or more small dots on the base. These dots aren’t blemishes; they’re actually stilt marks. “Three pronged, Y-shaped stilts kept newly glazed Flow Blue wares from sticking to the sides or bases of the saggers (large clay cylinders used to protect the unfired wares during kiln firing,” Jeffrey says. “When removed from the piece after firing, these stilts leave these small dots.”
With a little studying on the subject, collectors can comb antiques shows and tag sales and look at Flow Blue with renewed appreciation.