WHAT IS WILLOW?
Along with “Is it old?,” “Is it willow?” is a commonly asked question for both collectors and non-collectors. One might be surprised to learn there is actually just one true Willow Pattern, called the Standard (or Traditional) Willow Pattern. Thomas Minton, who engraved many patterns for London potteries, is credited with designing and engraving the Standard Willow Pattern for the Spode factory in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, around 1790. It was not the first Chinese-inspired, blue-and-white-transfer design created by British potteries, but it proved to be the most popular.
During this same time, the word “willow” began to be used as a more generic term to describe any blue and white oriental landscape patterns. In some instances, especially if the pattern featured a willow tree, the designation can be understandable. On the other hand, doing so has opened the door to many misinterpretations on what actually is considered to be the willow pattern.
Below are descriptions of Standard Willow, 10 main willow variants, plus additional patterns of interest.
STANDARD WILLOW PATTERN
When one speaks of or makes reference to the Willow Pattern, this is it. The main elements are a willow tree in the center that leans over a bridge with three people on it; a teahouse (no, it’s not a pagoda!) with three pillars; a large orange or apple (or maybe stylized pine) tree behind the teahouse; an island on the left with a boat in a lake with a man in it; two birds flying towards each other near the top; and a fence crossing the path at the bottom. Most pieces have the two distinctive borders, although some do not. All of these elements must be included in the design to be considered Standard Willow.
ADDITIONAL EXAMPLES OF STANDARD WILLOW
10 MAIN WILLOW VARIANTS
Other patterns that are close in design and features are considered a willow variant. In her book, “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of British Willow Ware,” Connie Rogers identifies 10 main British willow variants because they are the most popular and well-known to collectors of willow. These include Two Temples I, Two Temples II, Mandarin, Booths, Burleigh, John Turner, Worcester, Canton, Border Only and Simplified/Motif.
Remember, although collectors will generically refer to many variants as willow, there is still only one true Willow Pattern.
ADDITIONAL LANDSCAPE PATTERNS
There are certainly many other oriental landscape patterns that are popular with willow collectors, some often referred to as willow variants. While many of these patterns are of British origin, other countries and potteries produced designs as well. Although not considered the Willow Pattern or a close variant, they are still enjoyed by many who collect willow.