Only three individual examples of transfer-printed wares were recovered from the Jacksonville “Blue China” wreck, including the 'Willow' ware soup plate featured here. These few select items may hint at the presence of a larger consignment of decorated cargo wares not identified during the limited on-site recovery of surface material; quite plausibly the result of loss through bottom trawling impacts.
One of the two transfer-printed plates recovered from the Jacksonville “Blue China” wreck site is a soup plate decorated in the standard ‘Willow’ pattern, perhaps the best known design on early 19th-century pottery. By 1814 it was the least expensive transfer-printed pattern available in the potters’ price fixing lists. It apparently retained that position throughout the 19th century.
The technique of transfer printing designs under the glaze on ceramics represents one of the great 18th-century English innovations that revolutionized the Staffordshire ceramic industry, enabling the application of complex decoration both quickly and relatively inexpensively. It also permitted uniformity of design between vessels that had previously not been possible. Transfer printing developed at a time when businesses were searching for ways to produce more economic goods by mechanical processes. Until then, the only methods known to potters for decorating their wares was painting, which was not only labor intensive but also costly. Only the most affluent could afford complete sets of dinnerware since every dish had to be carefully painted by an artisan. Transfer printing in effect allowed hundreds of sets of dinnerware to be produced at a fraction of the time painting took and for a fraction of the cost, thus making such table wares more readily accessible to middle class families.
The standard ‘Willow’ pattern, produced after 1810, was developed by Josiah Spode in his Staffordshire Stoke-upon-Trent pottery and was derived from an original Chinese pattern called Mandarin. However, apparently no Chinese pattern contained all of the features of the standard ‘Willow’ pattern created by Spode. Spode may have produced an earlier version of the ‘Willow’ pattern c. 1790 and a second ‘Willow’ pattern engraved from copper plates about the same period, but of a finer quality. His third version became what is now known as the true ‘Willow’ pattern. The design is based on oriental temple landscape patterns and consists of the following principal features: a bridge with three people crossing it, the willow tree, the boat, the main tea house, two birds and a fence across the foreground of the garden (Copeland, 1980: 33-5). The dainty little design instantly became popular and for nearly two centuries thereafter remained the stock-pattern of virtually every British pottery manufacturer and among potters in other countries as well.
The ‘Blue China’ soup plate decorated in this transfer-printed style bears a maker’s mark containing the words ‘STONE WARE / B H & Co.’ This mark has been identified as deriving from Beech, Hancock & Co., a Staffordshire pottery that began production at the Swan Bank Works in Burslem. Research indicates this mark was used between 1851 and 1855.