Blue Willow China: All About This Timeless Classic

From its origins in Staffordshire to its enduring popularity, Blue Willow china is an exceptional dining collectible.

Lauren Thomann is a business owner, antique dealer, and freelance writer/editor with 16 years of experience and a B.A. in English and Linguistics. She specializes in antiques—mainly Victorian through Mid Century—antique jewelry, old house renovations, and lifestyle and home-related content. Click the link to learn more.
blue willow china

Blue Willow china is blue and white willowware depicting a willow tree, a bridge, and two doves. Collectors have loved this classic pattern for centuries, and many manufacturers still produce it. With its beautiful design and cultural significance, this type of china has a wide range of values. Here’s everything you need to know about the antique and modern takes on this classic.

Round antique Minton plate with blue willow pattern and gold with diaper pattern.
Blue Willow Plate by Minton, c. 1875, via Smithsonian Design Museum

History and Significance

Blue Willow is believed to have originated in England in the late 18th century. The exact date of its invention is unknown, but it is thought to have become popular around 1790. The design was inspired by a Chinese legend and features a scene of two lovers separated by a river, with a willow tree and a bridge connecting them. The blue and white color scheme is also derived from Chinese porcelain.

The Chinese fable is about a wealthy merchant who falls in love with a poor maiden. When their families forbid them from being together, the couple runs away and are transformed into doves that live happily ever after under a willow tree.

Cultural Impact

This china pattern became popular in Europe and America somewhat simultaneously. In Western cultures, people see the pattern as a symbol of true love and fidelity. They even used it as a wedding china pattern throughout the 19th century.

The pattern has been reproduced by many different potters over the years—and it’s still made today. Willow china (or Willowware) is a significant collectible because it reflects the historical exchange of goods and ideas between different cultures. In this sense, the pattern symbolizes the world’s interconnectedness and how different cultures have influenced one another throughout history.

Value Guide

The value of Blue Willow china can range from a few dollars for a mass-produced piece in poor condition to several thousands of dollars for a rare, vintage piece by a well-known manufacturer in excellent condition. Remember, the value varies depending on the piece’s age, state, and rarity.

When appraising this pattern, it is important to consider not only the age and condition of the piece but also the manufacturer and any unique features it may have. A piece with a rich history and a high level of craftsmanship is likely to be more valuable than a newer, mass-produced piece without any distinctive features.

The value of Blue Willow china can range from a few dollars for a mass-produced piece in poor condition to several thousands of dollars for a rare, vintage piece by a well-known manufacturer in excellent condition.

For example, older pieces, particularly those made in the 18th and 19th centuries by manufacturers like Spode and Johnson Brothers, can be worth thousands of dollars. A complete set of 18th-century willowware by Spode would be worth even more at auction.

 Even newer pieces can hold some value. This is especially true if they are part of a complete set or have unique features. For example, a limited edition set produced in the 21st century by Churchill China, with each piece hand-painted by a skilled artist, can be worth a significant amount to collectors.

Collection of Blue Willow China at the Lahaina Heritage Museum
Collection of Blue Willow China at the Lahaina Heritage Museum, c. 1880, via Wmpearl, Wikimedia Commons

Common Manufacturers

Blue Willow china has been produced by many different manufacturers over the years. Here are some of the most well-known manufacturers (most of which are still in business in some capacity):

  • Aynsley. Aynsley produced the pattern from the 19th century to the present day.
  •  Buffalo China. Buffalo China produced the pattern from the 20th century to the present day.
  •  Churchill China. Churchill China produced the pattern from the 20th century to the present day.
  •  Johnson Brothers. Another well-known manufacturer of willowware china, Johnson Brothers, produced the pattern from the 19th century to 2015.
  •  Royal Doulton. Royal Doulton is a historic manufacturer of blue willow china, producing the pattern from the 19th century to the present day.
  •  Spode. One of the most well-known manufacturers of blue willow china, Spode, produced the pattern from the late 18th century to the present day.

Types of Blue Willow China

Over the years, manufacturers produced this pattern with several variations and designs. Here are some examples to explore while researching:

  • Traditional Blue Willow china. This is the classic Blue Willow pattern that features the scene of a willow tree, a bridge, and two lovers. This design has been reproduced by many different manufacturers and remains a popular choice among collectors.
  •  Modern Blue Willow china. Some manufacturers have updated the classic Blue Willow pattern with modern designs and colors. For example, Churchill China has produced a range of Blue Willow china with bold, colorful designs and contemporary shapes.
  •  American Blue Willow china. Some manufacturers in America have produced their own versions of the classic Blue Willow pattern, often with slight variations in the design or color. American Blue Willow china is often prized for its distinctive style and historical significance.
  •  Japanese Blue Willow china. Japanese potters have also produced their own versions of the Blue Willow pattern, often with a more delicate and intricate style than the traditional English designs. Japanese Blue Willow china is highly sought-after by collectors for its unique beauty and cultural significance.
  •  Limited edition Blue Willow china. Some manufacturers have produced limited edition Blue Willow china sets featuring unique designs and high-quality craftsmanship. For example, Royal Doulton has released a limited edition Blue Willow china set that is hand-painted by skilled artists and comes in a beautiful presentation box.
  • Vintage Blue Willow china. Collectors often seek out vintage Blue Willow china, particularly pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries. These pieces are highly sought-after for their rarity and historical significance.
19th century plate with willow ware pattern
Chinese Willowware Plate, c. 1870, via Yale University Art Gallery

Blue Willow vs. Flow Blue

 While both flow blue and blue willow china are types of blue and white dishware, there are some critical differences between the two.

 Flow blue china is characterized by a soft, hazy blue color that appears to “flow” over the piece’s surface. This effect is created by a chemical reaction that occurs during the glazing process. The result is a somewhat uneven coloration. Flow blue china is often decorated with floral or scenic patterns and was popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

 On the other hand, Blue Willow china has a crisp, clear blue color and is decorated with a specific pattern. Unlike flow blue china, which is known for its soft, blurry color, willowware is known for its precise, detailed designs. Both types of china are collectible and can hold value. However, the differences in their appearance and history make them distinct from one another.

How to Collect Blue Willow China

Collecting Blue Willow china can be a rewarding and enjoyable hobby. With these tips in mind, you can begin to build a beautiful and valuable collection of Blue Willow china.

  • Start by researching the different types of willowware that have been produced over the years. This will help you understand the range of styles and designs available and give you a sense of what to look for when collecting.
  •  Look for pieces that are in good condition and have unique features or historical significance. Older pieces, particularly those made by well-known manufacturers like Spode and Johnson Brothers, are often more valuable and collectible.
  •  Consider the size and shape of the pieces you collect. Blue Willow china is available in a range of sizes and shapes, from small saucers to large platters. Consider the size and shape of your collection and how the pieces will fit together.
  •  Be aware of fakes and reproductions. Some sellers may try to pass off fake or reproduction Blue Willow china as the real thing. Look for identifying marks and do your research to ensure that you are buying genuine Blue Willow china.
  •  Take care of your collection. Blue Willow china is delicate and should be handled with care. Avoid using harsh detergents or abrasive cleaning tools. Also, store your pieces carefully to avoid damage.

Annual Conference for Blue Willow China Collectors

For those who love Blue Willow china, the annual conference for collectors is a must-attend event. The event is held in a different city each year since 1986. More importantly, the conference brings together collectors from all over the world to share their passion and learn from experts in the field.

The conference features a range of activities, including lectures and seminars on the history, value, and care of this collectible, as well as a large exhibit hall where collectors can buy, sell, and trade pieces from their collections. There are also social events, such as dinner parties and cocktail receptions, where collectors can meet and mingle.

Attending the annual conference is a great way for collectors to learn more and to connect with others who share their interests. It is an opportunity to expand your knowledge, grow your collection, and make lasting friendships with other enthusiasts.

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