This small green transfer-printed tray is among the few individual artifacts recovered from the SS Republic wreck site. Transfer printing is the process by which a pattern or design is first engraved on a copper plate. The plate is then inked with a metallic oxide pigment and the pattern printed onto a special tissue; the inked tissue is used to transfer the design onto a biscuit-fired ceramic object. The object is then glazed and fired again, which vitrifies the glaze and transforms the metallic oxide pigment to the desired color.
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 economically. The only methods previously known to potters for decorating their wares was by laborious hand 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 hand painted by an artisan. Transfer printing in effect, allowed hundreds of sets of dinnerware to be produced at a fraction of the time hand painting required and for a fraction of the cost, thus making such table wares more readily accessible to middle class families.