If you grew up in a family that alternated between “everyday” and “fancy” dinnerware, chances are you know a little bit about one of the ultimate in plates, bowls, cups, and saucers: Blue Willow China. Because the timeless designs have been replicated on everything from clothing to stationery to wallpaper, it’s no wonder why the originals are still highly sought after today!
Here are 7 extraordinary facts about this beloved china.
- Wikipedia Commons
Thomas Minton, a fine china engraver from England, is credited with bringing the traditional Chinese designs to the West back in the late 1700’s. Though the designs were inspired by traditional Chinese pottery patterns, he decided to put his own spin on the fine dishware before releasing the line.
Fun fact: the iconic design wasn’t produced in China until the latter part of the 1980’s!
- sftreasuretrove via ebay
Although there have been plenty of imitators over the years, experts that sell and appraise Blue Willow China follow strict requirements. The first thing that appraisers consider is the design. If each piece doesn’t contain at least one of five features — a pagoda, a treehouse, a bridge with three crossing it, a fence, a Willow tree, or two flying birds — then it ain’t an original.
Interestingly enough, the dinnerware doesn’t need to be blue to meet these requirements. You can also find legit pieces that are red, green, or even multi-colored. Who knew?!
- Wildrose Primitives via Etsy
Although this iconic china has been produced in numerous countries, including the U.S., Puerto Rico, Poland, and Thailand, the plates manufactured in England are worth the most. If you happen to have pieces from 1780 to 1820 lying around, they could fetch you thousands of dollars!
- mpbaker01 I ebay via LittleThings
Because each country has cemented their own influence on the classic design, some have ended up deviating from Minter’s original more than others. For instance, the Japanese Blue Willow (widely considered to be the cheapest variety) features birds that are much fatter than those seen on the English Willow sets.
- Wikipedia Commons
If you are of a certain age, you likely remember heading to your local diner for a “blue plate special”, a home-style meal containing a meat, a starch, and a vegetable, served on Blue Willow. Over the years, many establishments have continued on with the tradition of the “Blue Plate Special”, but few still serve the dinners on their namesake China.
- woodship582012 via ebay
Since Blue Willow china was traditionally sold in sets, manufacturers were known to only mark the date on the bottoms of the plates—not the cups or saucers, which are only branded with the country name. This fact makes it particularly difficult for appraisers and is the very reason why full sets garner more cash.
- Sandra Garrets via Flickr
Pieces that feature the full Blue Willow design, like large plates or platters, usually reveal what is said to be a traditional Chinese legend, where two lovers are transformed into gods in the form of flying birds. Dreamy, huh?
Not so fast… The folk tale behind the design is actually completely bogus! While no Chinese story connects to the events shown on the iconic plates, the illustrated tale has become a legend in its own right.
Who knew that this china had such an interesting backstory?! Now that you have a new appreciation for this dinnerware, we’d love to hear from you! Do you own any of this special china? If so, how did you obtain it? Are you a fan of “occasion” dinnerware?