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( Originally Published 2003 )
Flow blue is mainly an English transfer printed product which was begun around 1830 and was made for the middle class who for the first time could now afford to buy some form of china. Before transfer printing, only the wealthy could afford to have hand-decorated porcelain, which was very costly to produce. Flow blue was a popular export item to America and huge quantities were purchased by the "colonials" who loved its strong cobalt colors.
Although flow blue is often reputed to have been an accident, research shows that the potteries deliberately designed patterns to flow, the public clamored for the flowing blue. Different potteries had their own particular recipes for their flow blue. However, the degree of flow was hard to control and a completed set of dishes would have various degrees of flow. I think this adds to the charm and appeal of flow blue. Flow blue was achieved by adding lime or ammonia chloride to the kiln. The chemical reaction woud cause the blue to blur.
What are the characteristics of early Victorian (1830-1860) flow blue? Early Victorian flow blue was frequently angular and paneled. The basic body was ironstone. Three kiln or spur marks were often found on the front of the plate. The blue was usually an intense cobalt and the designs usually covered the entire piece. The most popular category was the Oriental one. Popular patterns were Cashmere, Amoy, Scinde by Alcock, and many more. Other categories were floral and scenic. Forms that are associated with this period are large sugar bowls (granulated sugar did not appear until after 1860), handle-less cups and saucers, cup plates, and mitten-shaped relish dishes.
What are the characteristics of mid-Victorian flow blue? The Mid-Victorian period was a transitional period. Patterns were mostly floral or dealt with nature. Apsley Plant is a good example of this period. The plates were more Scalloped rather than angular and usually had more gold. The design usually covered the entire ware. The ironstone might have been a trifle lighter.
What are the characteristics of the late-Victorian flow blue? The late Victorian period (1885-1920) was a prolific period for flow blue. There were very definite design changes. The ware was much lighter and was now called semi-porcelain. Most designs no longer covered the entire surface of the plate. Beading and embossing now decorated these pieces. The plates were now rounded or scalloped. Butter pats, bone dishes, smaller sugar bowls, and individual oval vegetable bowls are usually found in this period. Floral designs predominated. Examples are Waldorf, Devon, Florida by Grindley and, of course, Touraine.
The second most popular style of this period was the Art Nouveau form with its stylized flowers and curves. Some examples are Florida by Johnson Brothers, Burleigh, Oxford by Johnson brothers and others.