Welcome to my world and beyond...

A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A to Z "W" is for Willow: willow-ware, blue willow

It was quite by accident that I started to collect it--much the way many collections begin.  You get two, someone notices, and then everyone start to pick up the items to give to you.

In my case, it was a couple of blue willow plates. Somewhere, buried in my memories, was a familiarity with the pattern.

So it began.  And one piece led to the next, each one scrounged up at flea markets...for a quarter here, a dollar there.  I can't ever sell any of it. I think back and I can see the proud and eager faces of my children when they approached me and held out a "prize" of a find...they had spent their allowance on blue willow for me.

 Photo credit: Teresa K Cypher copyright 2012 Visitor's eyes naturally gravitate toward the top of the cupboards.

Then the day came when I said, "Enough."  And it became a rule that no more blue willow was to be bought.  Still, for a while, occasionally an odd piece would trickle in. My children still managed to find some real unique things, and my husband, bless his heart, started going to antique stores looking for the stuff.  That was never the plan. I don't mean to sound ungrateful--because I am not.  But, it has been a very long time since a new piece of blue willow trickled into this house.  And that...is a very good thing.

The point is, I became a collector without meaning to. And in the process, became a collector of blue willow information, as well.

So, I will share with you what I think I know about it.

The Chinese were well ahead of the Europeans discovering under-glaze technology on pottery.  Suddenly, the western world was inundated with this new type of dinnerware--and it was waterproof.  And it had these great designs painted on--that didn't fade, wash off, or become part of your meal as you ate.

The western world couldn't get enough. Trade ship after ship were weighed down with plates from China.

 Photo credit: Teresa K Cypher copyright 2012 With my son's 6th grade artwork as a backdrop.

Blue dye for the under-glaze was more easily obtainable, thus the blue color.  And the potteries in the far east liked to paint landscape scenes.  Those scenes included their lotus trees and their willow trees, too.

The Europeans made haste to develop their under-glaze technology, and soon were producing fine, shiny, waterproof dinnerware that could rival that of China. Still, they were only cutting in on the oriental imports--not replacing them.  This blue and white pottery phenomenon was still going strong and people couldn't get enough of it.  The English potteries came up with an idea.

They injected a human element into the landscape design. In fact, they invented an entire story and changed the scheme to include some key elements that helped to tell the story.  The large palace, the two doves, the bridge with three men carrying weapons, clouds, and a boat.

Everyone loves a good love story, right?  And heartrendingly bittersweet makes it even better...like the kind of story where the lovers die for their love--then live on in eternity--together.

Thus, the English got it right.  There was a King whose daughter fell in love with his secretary.  The King forbade their love, so they fled. The King sent his henchmen after them but the young couple escaped in a boat. Heading out to sea, a storm blew in, and the lovers were never seen again BUT, the two doves appeared in the sky immediately following the storm.

It worked. The English potteries had a best-seller on their hands.  Blue Willow became the number one selling blue and white pattern EVER in the history of the world.

 Photo credit Teresa K Cypher Copyright 2012 Blue willow finds its way into every place at my house.

I know...Blue Onion is popular, and even Currier and Ives by Royal China...but neither came close.

Blue willow is not just one design. Every pottery in existence (world-over) that could design a blue willow pattern, did. And they changed things just enough so that customers couldn't look for the best buys from several potteries...such as a set of plates from Spode,  a sugar and creamer from Wedgewood, and a teapot by Minton. If they did that, then they would not have a matching set.  So, that is why it is sometimes difficult to identify a piece of blue willow.  There were so many versions made.  And that is why you will find pieces that miss one or more of the original elements. There is no particular design requirement for a pattern to be called blue willow.

About a decade ago, my mom gave me an oval bowl from the back of her china closet. It  was blue willow.  She told me that when she got married, one of my dad's old school teachers gave them a complete set of Blue Willow as a gift.  It came with everything--napkins, candles, service for eight plus completers. The oval bowl was the only surviving piece. I could not remember ever eating off of blue willow.  My mom and dad had been married for eleven years when I was born, and 6 older siblings preceded me.  I suspect that the dishes were long gone, then.  :-)  But...in spite of not being able to recall eating off of them, perhaps a few survived during my toddler years?  I must guess that that is where my sense of familiarity with the design came from.

We use blue willow everyday for our dishes.  No reason not to. Life is too short to eat off of plain old plates while saving the pretty ones for a special day. Every day must be special at our house ;-)

Have you ever collected a couple of things--and someone found out..and then it went  sort of bonkers--out of control?


  1. At least is nice to look at, though dangerous to play with... my collection is Superman figurines... which is a nice way to say toys. I am not aloud to play with them either, well cause I am over 40.

    You have done a great job on the A to Z Challenge...
    Jeremy [Retro-Zombie]
    A to Z Co-Host
    My New Book:
    Retro-Zombie: Art and Words

    1. Hi Jeremy! Not allowed to play with them?? Lol...jus because you are over 40? So not fair. :-) Thanks for visiting :-)

  2. We are fabulous at breaking china, although I have the remnants of two gold tea sets which are used for special tea times, and are inherited from Grans of Old. I have mostly refused to collect things but can't resist... bones! Skulls are my favourites- I don't have that many but, no one does, at first. Love the Blue Willow story :-)

    1. That is quite unique, Lily. Bones? We once invited a newly made friend (from the diving industry) to dinner. He was the most delightful man I think I have ever met. Wonderful, amusing tales of his life--and he was long in the tooth so he had amassed many tales. He was the curator of Zoology at a fairly large museum here in the states. Many of the bones he had personally acquired, painstakingly prepared for display, and then donated to the museum. I might have to blog about him some time. Dr. Paul Parmalee. Bone collectors... :-) Interesting group. :-) Thanks for visiting.

  3. Pretty! I have one piece in my home, but it doesn't really go with my furniture.

    1. Hi Jolie! You have a piece of history, then :-) I have discovered that a lot of people have at least one or two pieces...and usually it is because at some time, a local grocer gave them away as incentive for loyalty--or for spending a certain amount of money in their stores. Thank you for visiting :-)

  4. My grandmother has a full set of Blue Willow china. I don't know which company made hers. One of my sisters bought a Blue Willow set as well. Pretty sure hers came from Fingerhut.

  5. Hi Kate, the list of blue willow vendors is a long one, indeed. :-) And if has been made on every continent, too. :-) Thanks for visiting! :-)

  6. Very interest post... I don't collect anything but at one point my husband had a forced owl collection. Eventually people caught on that he didn't collect owls and the owl-gifts finally stopped. Thanks for stopping by my blog and following!

    1. You are welcome, Laurie, and thank you for the same! Collections have quite a way of taking off. And because others are well-intended, it is difficult to ask them to stop without sounding ungrateful--if that makes any sense!

  7. Hmmm...not much of a collector myself. Ali & I used to have quite a collection of stuffed toy animals, then the kids came along and appropriated them all :)

    That was so sweet of the children buying you little treasures with their allowances. They thought a lot of their mom.

    1. Awe, stuffed toys? That is so cute that your children appropriated them :-) !

      My children were (and still are) sweet...

      What a grand experience--being a parent. Makes it all worthwhile, Botanist, huh? :-)

      Thank you for visiting. :-)

  8. My mum liked elephants. She made the mistake of telling someone and suddenly she had a massive collection of them. She also had to call a stop to it.

  9. lol...I am not laughing at her, Lynda...I am laughing with her ;-) Thank you for visiting :-)

  10. You can't beat a nice willow pattern plate. I grew up using them, my dad used to buy tea plates at the local antique/junk market and we always had a few dozen in the cupboard. Unfortunately the buying of old china turned into a bit of an obsession until it took over the house ... looks like you have the same problem:-)
    thanks for sharing

    1. Hi Martine, yes, lol, they can take over things if they go unchecked!

      Thank you for visiting! :-)