Is it Flow Blue?

Often someone will ask, “is this flow blue?” The color and the amount of ‘flow’ vary greatly from piece to piece. The blue color under the glaze blur’s naturally in the kiln, but it is the process of instilling lime and/or ammonium chloride in the kiln, which make the colors flow. Flow blue china was extremely popular during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, with the color ‘cobalt blue’ the most desirable but also the most expensive.  The original purpose of making the color flow was to cover up printing mistakes, stilt marks, and other irregularities so common in transfer printing.

Many manufacturers experimented with the blue flow glaze trying to perfect the cobalt blue color by adding other pigments to the mix. This made grayer, lighter, or even blacker shades of blue. Today, some collectors prefer the gray or black colors.  Flow blue plates are turned over to determine if the blue is on the bottom because the glaze does not go through the china. If a broken piece of china is examined, you will observe the color does not penetrate through the piece. If the color is present on the bottom of the plate, then it came from the plate stacked below it. The bottom plate would then have no blue on the bottom. However, the answer to the question, “is this flow blue?” does not depend solely on the color, evidence of blue on the bottom, or the amount of flow.

England was the first and largest producer of this type of ware. There are hundreds of manufacturers and thousands of patterns. Some of the most common makers are Henry Alcock, Davenport, Ford & Son, W. H. Grindley, Johnson Bros., J & G Meakin, New Wharf Pottery, Ridgways, Wood & Son.  Generally, a printed mark on the bottom of a piece of china identifies the maker, even though the marks are often blurry, the shape of a mark is usually easy to recognize. There are many books documenting the patterns and their makers and makers’ marks written on the subject. Petra William was one of the first authors to publish a book on the subject in 1971. I still find her three books most helpful in identification of patterns.  Two other authors of reference books on patterns and makers are Mary Frank Gaston and Jeffrey B. Snyder.

Today, we value flow blue above many of the other printed china pieces. A 1902 Ward’s catalog advertises a service for 12 for $15.79. These dishes were cheap and were used everyday. Much of the surviving flow blue china shows signs of such use. Many collectors are often trying to complete sets inherited from ancestors, and others just think it is lovely and collect a variety of patterns.

There is still a multitude of flow blue available at reasonable prices. Some patterns are rare and command a high price. As with every desirable collectible, reproductions are everywhere. Be informed and be careful.

By Judith McAllister of Judy's Lovelies on Ruby Lane

To view Judy's selection of flow blue china click here.

Judy’s Lovelies, a Ruby Lane shop since 2002, carries a wonderful selection of flow blue china, transferware, British tins, Pyrographic boxes, tole painted trays and many other beautiful antiques and collectibles.

Flow Blue China on Ruby Lane,ipp=200,ss=flow%20blue,style=4

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