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Flow Blue Antique China

Terry Hurley
Argyle by Grindley

With its gorgeous, flowing blue colors and beautiful patterns, Flow Blue antique china is highly sought after by collectors around the globe.

From Chinese Blue and White to Flow Blue

When Chinese blue and white porcelain made its way to England in the 1600s, it was highly valued. With its deep blue, sharp, crisp designs exquisitely hand painted on brilliant white porcelain, the blue and white pieces quickly became possessions of the aristocratic, wealthy and elite.

For almost 100 years English potters tried to emulate the beautiful colors of blue and white Chinese porcelain. In the mid 1700s, English potters finally mastered the use of cobalt oxide as an underglaze, a technique perfected by the Chinese nearly two centuries earlier. To replicate the white porcelain of the Chinese pieces, the potters developed an earthenware that was salt glazed and had a much whiter color than the stoneware of the time.

Within a few years the development of the process of transfer printing was completed. In 1760, the first blue and white English earthenware pieces with transfer printing were made. The process, called transferware, allowed a large number of pieces to be made with the same pattern using the transfer process.

Flow Blue: An Accident or an Invention

Although Josiah Wedgwood II is generally given credit for inventing the flow blue technique in his Staffordshire pottery house in the 1820s, there are some antique historians who believe that the flow blue technique was the result of an accident.

Antique historians that feel the process of flowing the blue was intentional believe it was done to cover any imperfections and unattractive areas that occurred as a result of the transfer pattern being applied and removed. They feel that it was the effect that occurred naturally when the cobalt oxide in the transfer pattern was slightly blurred to soften the seam and edge markings on the china pieces.

However, other historians believe that the popular flowing blue color was the result of a mistake or an accident that involved jars of chlorides being left in the kilns when the pieces were put in for their second firing.

Regardless of how the diffusion of the blue pigment originated, the china with the beautiful flows of color quickly became popular, especially in America. More companies began using the technique, adding ammonia chloride or lime when the pieces were glazed, to enhance the blurred flowing effect.

The Three Main Styles of Flow Blue China

Generally there are three main styles, or categories, of Flow Blue china. In some instances, a certain style was reintroduced at a later time. For example, early Flow Blue was typically Oriental in design. However, from approximately 1890 - 1910 some manufacturers brought back Oriental designs.

Oriental Style

The first decades of flow blue china production included patterns with Oriental motifs and designs. Popular images included:

  • Temples
  • Mountains
  • Asian gardens
  • Flowers
  • Plants
  • People wearing Oriental style clothing
  • Pagodas

Several popular manufacturers and patterns include:

  • John & George Alcock - Scinde pattern dating from 1840
  • Thomas Edwards - Cashmere pattern dating from 1850
  • Thomas Edwards - Cabel pattern dating from 1847
  • Podmore & Walker - Manilla pattern dating from 1845
  • Podmore & Walker - Temple pattern dating from 1845
  • Joseph Heath - Tonquin pattern dating from 1850
  • John Meir & Son - Kyber pattern dating from1870

Romantic Style

Also referred to as scenic flow blue, romantic pieces are adorned with images of quiet scenes and pastoral settings often done in an imaginary or mystical way. Examples of patterns include:

  • Pastoral scenes with trees, animals and cottages
  • Cottages or imaginary type buildings
  • People and water

Several popular manufacturers and patterns include:

  • Burgess & Leigh - Non Pariel pattern dating from 1891 - 1900
  • John & Wm. Adams - Watteau pattern dating from 1890 - 1910
  • W. Adams - Italian Scenery pattern dating from 1890
  • John Wedge Wood - Peruvian pattern dating from 1849
  • Edward Challinor - Rhine pattern dating from 1850
  • Sampson Hancock & Sons - Leicester pattern dating from 1906

Floral Style

Floral patterns of flow blue feature:

  • Flowers
  • Vines
  • Leaves

Several popular manufacturers and patterns include:

  • W.H. Grindley - Argyle pattern dating from 1898
  • W.H. Grindley - Syrian pattern dating from 1891
  • Wood and Sons - Seville pattern dating from 1900
  • Wheeling Pottery of West Virginia - La Belle pattern dating from 1900
  • Johnston Brothers - Blue Danube pattern dating from 1900 - 1904
  • Henry Alcock - Touraine pattern dating from 1898
  • Alfred Meakin - Kelvin pattern dating from 1891

Price and Identification Guides for Flow Blue Antique China

The following price and identification guides are available from Amazon:

  • Gaston's Flow Blue China Comprehensive Guide (Identification & Values) by Mary Frank Gaston
  • A Pocket Guide to Flow Blue by Jeffery B. Snyder
  • Flow Blue: A Collector's Guide to Patterns, History, And Values by Jeffery B. Snyder
  • Historic Flow Blue: With Price Guide by Jeffery B. Snyder

A Word of Caution

Since the 1960s companies have been producing reproductions of Flow Blue china. If you are new to collecting this beautiful china, take the time to educate yourself on how to tell Flow Blue antique china from later reproductions.

Flow Blue Antique China