Only three individual examples of transfer-printed wares (two circular plates and a sauce boat) were recovered from the Jacksonville “Blue China” wreck. These few examples 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.
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.
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 transfer-printed earthenware sauce boat recovered from the “Blue China” wreck site has a a broken handle, and is printed with a light blue design on a white ground depicting cows in a country setting. The original name of this pattern has yet to be identified, but it is similar to the pastoral genre produced during this era. While the early transfer-printed wares typically featured popular oriental themes, historical events and pastoral settings depicting scenes from rural life with farming, soon after, cattle and others animals became fashionable as well. No tally or maker’s mark is visible on this piece.