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  • What is willow?
    The Willow Pattern is an oriental landscape china pattern, most often seen in blue and white, that features common elements from manufacturer to manufacturer. These elements are a willow tree, an orange or apple tree, two birds, people on a bridge, a fence, a boat and a teahouse, which some collectors incorrectly call a pagoda. With these elements the pattern is called Standard (or Traditional) Willow. The Willow Pattern has been made by hundreds of companies in dozens of countries, and in colors from blue, to red, green, gold, yellow, purple, black, brown, multicolored and the list goes on with combinations. Did you know the Willow Pattern has earned a rather unique distinction? Because it has been in existence for more than 230 years, it is the china pattern with the longest continual production in history.
  • Where did the Willow Pattern come from?
    It finds its roots in China, where throughout the 15th through 18th centuries, the Chinese potters were exporting their porcelain wares decorated with hand-painted cobalt designs under glaze. In the 18th century, companies like the East India Company imported the blue and white Chinese porcelains into England. The porcelain tea services and dinnerware were purchased at auction by Chinamen (dealers in china) in London and sold to their wealthy customers. It was so popular that Queen Mary II started her own collection and even had a special cabinet made to house her porcelains from China. This is where we got the name for a “china cabinet.” By the mid-1700s the British potters were gaining the knowledge to produce wares in an effort to compete with the Chinese imports. In 1751, an Irishman named John Brooks is credited for inventing “transfer printing,” which allowed pieces to be mass-produced from patterns engraved on copper plates. He applied for a patent for “printing, impressing, and reversing upon enamel and china from engraved, etched and mezzotinted plates and from cuttings on wood and metal...” This eliminated the need for the time-consuming hand painting of each piece. His patent was unsuccessful. Factories elsewhere may subsequently have profited by use of the process. In the 1790s, the East India Company ceased its importation of Chinese porcelains to London. The Chinamen in London needed stock to supply the ever-growing demand for blue and white Chinese landscape patterns. The Caughley factory provided transfer-printed porcelains as engravers Thomas Turner and Thomas Minton copied Chinese patterns onto copper plates. Two of the patterns were named Willow-Nankin and Broseley. Josiah Spode developed an improved paper for transfer printing on pearlware and began a replacement service for Chinese porcelain patterns in addition to supplying complete dinner and tea services in many different Chinese landscape patterns. Spode wares could be sold much cheaper than the costly imported Chinese porcelains and Caughley porcelains, making the products available to the middle classes. It was in this climate that the Standard Willow Pattern was first produced on pearlware at the Spode factory around 1790. It was produced on dinnerware and was marked with impressed and printed marks. The Broseley pattern teawares were produced on pearlware as well as bone china. Most of the 19th century potteries in England produced a version of the Willow Pattern. The smaller factories purchased their copper plates from independent engravers. By 1830, there were about 200 makers of underglaze blue willow in England. Toward the end of the 19th century, other countries followed suit, and by 1905 the Buffalo Pottery in the USA began making standard willow pattern using the transfer printing method.
  • It kind of looks it willow?
    Not necessarily. There are a lot of Oriental motifs on china. You see floral to landscapes to other Chinese elements. Sometimes people will call anything that is blue and white, willow...that includes popular patterns like Spode’s Tower, Delft, etc. Just because it’s blue and white does not mean it’s willow. To learn more about what is willow, click here.
  • How do I know if my willow is old or new?
    This is one of the most-asked questions. The easiest way to determine if a piece is old or new is to see if the piece is marked. If it has a manufacturer’s mark, that is very helpful. You can look up these marks in several different books that cover marks or go online. You might at least get a rough idea of the age. If the country of origin is named in the mark (England, for example) the piece would date after 1891. You will also find willow pieces that are unmarked. Unmarked willow is not necessarily old. This is where it gets tricky. Beginner collectors will find it difficult to determine the age of pieces, simply because they have not had the chance to see a big variety of different pieces. You learn by looking, reading, touching and feeling the piece. After a while you’ll be able to look at a piece and know if it’s old or new. Some modern China-made pieces will carry fake marks, such as the English lion and unicorn mark, which are intended to deceive and make a buyer think they are buying a much older item. Don’t take the word of anyone who is selling you the piece, unless they specialize in early blue and white or willow. Many general antiques dealers are misinformed, by no fault of their own. It is hard to know everything about everything. Remember, the Willow Pattern has been made by hundreds of potters. There’s a lot of it out there. To date there have been more than 400 documented makers of the willow pattern in Great Britain alone, with more than 500 makers worldwide.
  • What if it is unmarked...does that make it old?
    No. While it is true many early pieces are unmarked, there are modern pieces that are unmarked, too. It comes down to having a feel for the older wares. You have to take into account the pottery, the glaze, the pattern and just the general feel of an unmarked piece to begin determining its age. And, of course, even then, and with the most knowledgeable collectors or dealers, it is still an estimated guess, because there is no mark. A piece that has a sales sticker that says “attributed to” is just a nice way of saying “I think maybe.”
  • What is the new willow on the market? Who’s making it now?
    There is nice quality willow being made in England. You can find blue and black patterns made by Royal Wessex, Queen’s by Churchill and Royal Stafford. There are also items made in China. Some are well made, with nice pattern transfers and blue colors. Others tend to be less refined. Many feature a design similar to the Two Temple pattern. Most all are marked Made in China, although some can be unmarked. Some pieces are exact copies in size and shape to the older Japan pieces made in the 1950s and 60s, such as children's toy pieces. You have to be careful. Most of the original, older Japanese pieces will be marked "Japan" or "Made in Japan." A quick search online will reveal much of the new willow available.
  • How can I get started collecting?
    Never before have collectors had so many resources online, so a good place to start is at your computer. You can also look in antique malls or in collectors books. You just have to start educating yourself with what is available. So first, get an idea of what’s out there and see if something grabs your attention. Second, start with what you can afford. Some collectors specialize in one certain type of willow, for example, cups and saucers. Some collect the newer China pieces or a particular English maker. Others collect anything and mix everything. Start small and simple, like with plates or platters or cups. Buy here and there until you begin to feel more comfortable with what you’re collecting and spending. As your confidence grows, so will your collection.
  • What should I collect?
    First, and most importantly, collect what you like. You have to live with it. Then collect what you can afford. And that’s easier said than done. For some collectors those two things don’t always go hand in hand! But collecting what you like and can afford is true with any collectible. There is some willow that is new and you’ll feel comfortable using it. There might be some willow that is older and more rare, and maybe you want to just display it. But because there was so much willow made, there are still older pieces you can buy and use every day. Ask yourself if you are collecting to display and fill your shelves...or do you maybe want pieces to serve with and use. Maybe you want both, which most collectors do.
  • Should I buy pieces that have damage or repairs?
    A lot depends on the it rare or common? A lot depends on the damage... is the whole handle missing or does it have a small nick? Whether or not to buy has to be a personal decision based on the rarity of the piece, the exact damage and the price. You have to view all these things together. The condition does affect the value, of course. Think of a few things...what would the piece cost in very good, undamaged condition versus what you are paying? Can I ever afford that or will I ever want to pay that price? If you find a nice English teapot with a chip for $ that okay with you when the same mint condition piece is $350? Is it worth saving $300? To some it is, to others the damaged teapot might not be worth buying. If you’re going to display it on a shelf and no one is ever going to see the chip, and it looks good, you might decide to buy it. As far as an investment, it may not be worth more than what you paid for it, but it’s serving its purpose as a display piece. Most all willow collectors have damaged or repaired pieces in their collection. For some collectors, a little bit of damage is part of the item’s journey.
  • What kind of willow will be worth more later? Should I buy willow as an investment?
    If only we had a crystal ball. We have seen the antiques business fluctuate so many times. As with any antique or collectible, no one knows, and there is no guarantee that any item will ever sell for more than you paid. Instead of buying as a financial investment, it’s best to collect willow that you can afford and enjoy. That’s the best investment!
  • I think I have a box of willow, or at least a lot of blue and white. How can I find out what I have?
    There are thousands and thousands of transferware patterns out there. To figure out what you have, and even if it is willow, can take a lot of your time. Begin with marked pieces where you can search online for the item and maker. Unmarked pieces might be more of a challenge, but a search with elements in the pattern might be a good start. A lot of people come across a box of family dishes and they think they might have some willow and they just don’t know. Honestly, it’s hard to expect anyone to spend the time looking at photos of each piece for you to identify what you have. You’ll have to do some initial leg work yourself. At least that is appreciated by the person being asked a question. You can also visit our Message Board here and ask for help. Remember it is manned by volunteers on their own time. Asking a question about an item or two is more likely to get a response than help with 50 pieces.
  • How can I learn more about willow?
    You’re in luck in that the Willow Pattern is well documented and researched and there are many ways to learn more. Attend an IWC convention and see a variety of willow. While there you’ll have the chance to talk with other collectors and dealers about collecting and buying. Many collectors also bring pieces of willow or photos to the conventions and ask about what they have in their collections. Look at the Resources & Info section on this site for books that can help. Also, search online. It’s a great place to see a lot of willow.
  • What’s willow worth?
    Let’s start by saying there’s no easy answer to this question. Smart collectors will try to learn as much about willow as possible before a purchase. You can buy older books on willow, visit our books list here, and get an idea of what was made. Some come with price guides, but please, don’t rely on those too heavily. Price guides are not the answer, but they may give you an idea of more common pieces versus more expensive pieces. Price guide information is outdated before it gets published and most certainly is outdated as the market changes over the years. Price guides can still have an educational purpose, especially to new collectors. But as beginner collectors start buying they will rely less on the books because they will begin to use the actual “market” to determine value. Remember, experience is everything. Just take your time and learn as you go. Do ask questions, poke around the internet not to shop, but to learn. Check eBay’s “sold” results and come to an IWC convention to learn even more!
  • How do I know if it’s worth what the price sticker says?
    Unless you have been collecting for awhile, you may not know. You’ll have to trust your instinct or the person selling it. We have all bought things that we later found out maybe weren’t worth what we paid. Collecting is a learning process no matter how long you have been doing it. Learn from what you buy...whether a bargain or not. Don’t be upset if you later find out it’s not worth what you paid. It’s happened to all of us. You’re not alone. Remember higher education can be expensive!
  • How do I know if I am addicted to willow collecting?
    If you’ve read through all these questions and answers, you most likely are. There is no known cure. Attending the annual IWC conventions offer you the opportunity to be shown sympathy, support and understanding by others who share your addiction.
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