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Collecting Transferware: A Brief History, Tips and Patterns

The resurgence of French antiques and the Shabby Chic trend has brought toile and transferware back into the forefront of home decorating again! Although toile refers to type of fabric pattern, and transferware refers to a style of collectible ceramics, the two are quite similar and are often seen paired together. For example, a kitchen wall featuring a collection of transferware plates is often complemented by toile window treatments or wallpaper. In addition, toile and transferware patterns have cropped up in the most unusual places, on clocks, desk accessories, and even pet bowls! But let us begin with a bit of history.


A Brief History of Transferware

"English transferware" refers to ceramics (china, ironstone, etc.) which has been glazed using a specific decorative treatment, and traditionally produced in Staffordshire, England. Popular manufacturers of transferware include Spode, Ridgway, Adams, Clews, Johnson Brothers, and Wedgwood. The transfer printing process was developed by John Sadler and Guy Green of Liverpool in 1756. The process uses copper plates on which a pattern or design is etched. The copper plate is inked and the pattern "transferred" to a special tissue. The inked tissue is then laid onto a bisque-fired ceramic item, which is then glazed and fired again. Initially, patterns were transferred to the ceramic items after glazing, but the ink often wore off. This "underprinting" is characteristic to transferware; if you look closely at a transferware item, you can often see where the transfer design ends. Often these are the areas where the pattern doesn't quite match.

The transfer printing process caught on quickly was later adopted by Josiah Wedgwood to create his popular, ivory based "Creamware". Prior to the development of transfer printing, only the most affluent English families could afford complete dinnerware sets, becyase every dish was carefully handpainted by an artisan and thus, very expensive. Transfer printing allowed hundreds of sets of plateware to be produced in a fraction of the time and cost of their handpainted counterparts, and allowed middle-class families to have both utilitarian and decorative pieces for their homes. Transfer printing was originally produced in single-color items only, with the favorite hues in blue, red, black, brown, purple and green. Brown tended to be rather a common and inexpensive color, while blue was the most sought after and expensive color. Later, technology developed to allow double or triple color transfers. Often, the rim of a plate was in one color and the center design in another. The first transferware patterns were inspired by the Orient, often featuring pagods; Cobalt Blue pieces exported from China were favorites among the Victorians in particular, perhaps to designate wealth as only the affluent could afford to travel to the East. Commemorative wares depicting scenes of historical significance, like royal coronations or the launching of ships, were also popular. Pastoral themes featured scenes of rural life, farming, cattle, and animals. Today, the most identifiable transferware patterns are French-inspired and romantic, often featuring a woman in a long dress with a parasol, with a young suitor by her side, placed in a garden or gazebo.


Tips on Collecting Transferware

When collecting transferware, you may be curious as to how to date an original. Dating and identifying pieces can be simple, if the items were registered under the British system (similar to the copyright system in the United States). From 1842 to 1883, English items carried a diamond shaped mark which could be deciphered to reveal the actual day a pattern was registered. After 1884, the registry adopted a single number series, e.g., "Rd. No. 12342", which today can be used to determine a pattern registration date to within approximately one year. Registration numbers greater than 360,000 indicate a date after 1900. Other marks that can provide clues to the date of a piece were printed, incised or impressed, stamped, or hand-painted onto items. The word "Limited" (or an abbreviation such as "Ld." or "Ltd.") in the pottery firm's name indicates a date after 1860 and was not generally used until the 1880s. Any piece having the word "Trade Mark" was manufactured after the Trade Mark Act of 1862, and generally denote a manufacture date after 1875. The word "England" often appeared on items after 1891 to comply with the Mckinley Tariff Act. "Made In England" indicates 20th Century origins. Unmarked items, as you might imagine, can be more difficult to trace in terms of their origin, but you can often make an educated guess based on the type of body, glaze, styling and decoration technique. Today, many popular manufacturers produce transferware, as well as have re-relased their popular patterns of the past. For example, learn more about one of our favorite English manufacturers, by visiting the official Spode History site.


Decorating with Transferware

Transferware (especially paired with toile fabrics) make beautiful accent pieces for your kitchen. Remember to always group similar items together based on color or theme. Try hanging a collection of varied black and white transferware plates, for example, on a plain wall using plate hangers adorned with black satin ribbons. Or group traditional blue transferware plates on a blank wall, and then accent with transferware pitchers and other pieces arranged below. Or dress up a countertop or niche above your cupboards by displaying a transferware vase, saucer or gravy boat, paired with a few plates. For your kitchen table, try displaying a single transferware pitcher filled with fresh flowers as a centerpiece, and then complement the look with toile placemats in the same color scheme.

You can also use toile and transferware in other areas of the home. A transferware milk jug is a perfect vase for flowers on a bedside table or bath, and toile makes a lovely, Shabby Chic statement as a bedspread or slipcover material. Use toile on upholstered furniture for a regal yet casual look. Toile has a special quality about it that expresses elegance without being too formal or fancy. You can always feel free to mix toile with items from a thrift shop or a flea market. Wherever your creativity takes you, toile and transferware will undoubtedly add a peaceful, pastoral feel to any room of your house.


A Gallery of 19th Century Transferware Patterns - Blue

Looking for the perfect transferware pattern to adorn a blank wall in your kitchen or provide a Victorian country table setting? Our gallery of transferware patterns from renowned manufacturers such as Spode, Johnson Brothers, and Villeroy & Boch, can help you get started in collecting transferware pieces. Note that some of these patterns may have been reissued in other colors. Click on the thumbnails to view a larger picture of each pattern.


H. Aynsley & Co. England's Heritage
Year Unavailable

Johnson Brothers Asiatic Pheasant
Introduced 1835

Johnson Brothers Nordic
Year Unavailable

Johnson Brothers Old Britain Castles
Year Unavailable

Johnson Brothers Willow
Introduced 1790s

Ralph & James Clews Doctor Syntax Star Gazing
Introduced 1820s

Royal Sphinx Old England Cambridge
Year Unavailable

Spode Camilla
Introduced 1833

Spode Blue Italian
Introduced 1816

Spode Tower
Introduced 1814

Spode Turkey
Year Unavailable

Staffordshire Abbey
Year Unavailable

Thomas Dimmock Isola Bella
Introduced 1820s

Villeroy & Boch Burgenland
Year Unavailable

Villeroy & Boch Burgenland
Year Unavailable

Villeroy & Boch Burgenland
Year Unavailable

Wood & Sons English Cabbage Rose
Year Unavailable

Wedgwood Chinoiserie
Introduced 1830s

Wedgwood Huddington Court
Year Unavailable

Wedgwood Unidentified Pattern
Introduced 1880s


A Gallery of 19th Century Transferware Patterns - Red

Looking for the perfect transferware pattern to adorn a blank wall in your kitchen or provide a Victorian country table setting? Our gallery of transferware patterns from renowned manufacturers such as Spode, Johnson Brothers, and Villeroy & Boch, can help you get started in collecting transferware pieces. Note that some of these patterns may have been reissued in other colors. Click on the thumbnails to view a larger picture of each pattern.


Spode Castle
Introduced 1806

Spode Greek
Introduced 1806

Spode Caramanian
Introduced 1809

Spode Girl at Well
Introduced 1823

Spode Trophies
Introduced 1825

Spode Warwick Vase
Introduced 1833

Spode Continental Views
Introduced 1845

Staffordshire Palestine
Introduced 1834

Staffordshire Africana
1830

Enoch Wood's The Sun of Righteousness
1835

William Adams' Andalusia
1830s

William Adams' American Views
1830

Staffordshire Sicilian
Introduced 1830s

Enoch Woods & Sons European Scenery
Introduced 1830s

Johnson Brothers Old Britain Castles
Year Unavailable

Wood's Seaforth
Year Unavailable