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Willow Ware Platter

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Artifact Description

The excavation of the SS Republic produced one platter decorated in the standard "Blue Willow" pattern, perhaps the best known transfer-printed design on early 19th-century pottery. 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 "Willow" pattern, derived from the western fascination with Chinese-style porcelains, is said to be a composite of two or more Chinese porcelain patterns. Alive with pagodas, weeping willows, rivers, bridges and flying birds, the decorative theme is based on a story about two faithful lovers. The dainty little design instantly became popular and for two centuries thereafter remained the stock-pattern of nearly every British pottery manufacturer. Sometimes copied with slight variation in detail, ‘Willow’ would be produced in a dozen countries by hundreds of different manufacturers. As the ultimate sign of success, even the Chinese copied it in their hand-painted decoration.

According to a number of sources, the "Willow" pattern was first introduced by Josiah Spode in 1790 at his Staffordshire Stoke-on-Trent pottery. Spode had introduced transfer-printing into Stoke in 1784 and applied the process largely for producing the "Willow" pattern. However, others attribute the pattern to Thomas Turner’s Caughley pottery in Shropshire, England, which specialized in Chinese designs in blue under-glaze and is said to have first introduced the famous "Willow" in 1780, engraved for Turner by his gifted apprentice Thomas Minton. Like Spode, Minton who would later found his own Stoke-on-Trent pottery, no doubt was aware of the strong demand for exotic goods from the Far East, including the beautiful blue pottery exports of Canton and Nanking. The
Republic ‘Blue Willow’ platter bears no visible maker’s mark, making it nearly impossible to determine the identity of the pottery that produced it.


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