What is Real Blue Willow? And Other Frequently Asked Questions

You’ve probably seen the Blue Willow china pattern in your grandma’s kitchen cabinets on a high shelf, only ever making an appearance on special occasions, if at all. The real thing can be worth thousands of dollars, but how can you tell if it’s real?

Blue Willow is a transferware china pattern, developed around 1780. This pattern is based on a Chinese legend, with a design inspired by many Chinese landscape patterns. Though there are many variations, it is easy to find a Blue Willow pattern by a couple of elements that are always present.

In this article, we’ll discuss what Blue Willow is, how to identify it, and several other frequently asked questions about this gorgeous china pattern.

Blue Willow - Ridgway England 1832 Platter
Blue Willow – Ridgway England 1832 Platter from PriorTime on Etsy

What is Real Blue Willow?

Real Blue Willow is a specific pattern found on china. The design for this pattern is based on a Chinese legend (read the Blue Willow Story here) and was inspired by several different Chinese landscape patterns. That being said, many people don’t believe that this legend is actually a traditional Chinese legend. Instead, these people consider it to be a story created by Englishmen to sell their product because Blue Willow was actually created in England.

Real, authentic Blue Willow is hard to come by nowadays, as it was first developed in the late 1700s, but variations have continued to be mass-produced throughout the years in England, China, Japan, and America.

Modern Johnson Brother’s Blue Willow Set on Amazon

How Do I Identify Blue Willow?

There are many ways to identify the Blue Willow pattern, but an important thing to know before you start trying to do so is that there are many, many different variations. This is because, since the time the Blue Willow pattern was created, there have been at least 500 manufacturers that have participated in the production of the pattern, each with slight variations from the original.

However, there are a few elements found in the pattern that can always be found on Blue Willow pieces. These elements are also significant components in the legend associated with the pattern, so if you know the story, you can more easily remember them. But, if you don’t, no worries! Here are a couple things that will always be found in a Blue Willow pattern.

  • A fence enclosing the property.
  • A bridge with three people on it.
  • Two doves.
  • A willow tree.
  • A stream or river.
  • A boat on the river.
  • An orange or apple tree.
  • A tea house or pagoda.

While identifying these symbols will be the easiest way to identify a Blue Willow pattern, you can also look for other things, such as date clues, inconsistencies in the pattern (smudges or white spots that don’t look intentional), or other markings.

For example, Blue Willow patterned pieces will sometimes be marked with the country of origin, initials of the manufacturer, or more. Some common date clues include the “made in China” stamp (which means that the piece is more modern), or soft glaze and a lighter feel (older Blue Willow pieces). Another important thing to remember: if the piece says it was made in America, remember that American manufacturers didn’t start producing Blue Willow china until 1905.

What Color is Blue Willow?

While the Blue Willow pattern is most commonly found with the classic blue and white color combination, the pattern has been produced in several other colors as well. These color combinations include pink and white, black and white, brown and white, green and white, and there are even multicolored pieces, though those are much harder to find.

Pink Willow Pattern by Homer Laughlin From HillhomeTreasures on Etsy

Is Blue Willow Transferware?

Transferware is made when an engraved plate or other piece is inked and then pressed onto a tissue. This tissue is pressed onto blank pieces, thus transferring the design to the blank piece. This is a very delicate process, but well worth it after seeing the beautiful design it produces. Blue Willow is transferware. Be aware, though, that because it is transferware, you may see inconsistencies in the design, where the tissue might have been crinkled, or where motifs join together.

Is Blue Willow Chinoiserie?

Chinoiserie is the imitation or evocation of Chinese motifs and techniques in Western art, furniture, and architecture, especially in the 18th century. Chinoiserie is also considered the European interpretation of Chinese patterns. As the Blue Willow pattern was created by an Englishman in the late 18th century, the term “chinoiserie” does accurately describe Blue Willow pieces.

Is the Willow Pattern Chinese or Japanese?

Though the Blue Willow pattern derives from several Chinese landscape patterns, the design was actually created in England. It was developed in 1779 by Thomas Turner, based on a Chinese legend, which goes as follows.

The beautiful daughter of a powerful man fell in love with her father’s secretary, but when the father found out, he banished his secretary and built a large, long fence around his property to keep his daughter contained near the water and the willows. She was very sad until she got a message from the secretary that included a plan to rescue her.

When the secretary rescued her, the father noticed and chased them across the bridge. The lovers escaped, but the father continued searching for them. Eventually, he did find them, and he killed them both. When the gods saw this, they turned the lovers into doves so they could fly together forever.

Set of Blue Willow plates
Set of Blue Willow plates from GlamourandGrace15 on Etsy

Does Blue Willow Contain Lead?

It’s hard to say whether or not Blue Willow contains lead. Older pieces may contain lead because at the time it was created, lead had not been associated with as many health problems as it is today. If you have a newer Blue Willow piece, it doesn’t have lead in it.

What Goes with Blue Willow China?

The best thing about classic, blue and white, Blue Willow china is that it looks positively regal with any kind of decor you’ve chosen to use on your table or in the display cabinet. Other colors of Blue Willow china are also easy to pair with virtually any theme you can imagine.

Recent Posts