Over the past year, I have come to greatly admire Blue Willow china, and I guess I'm not alone. Many claim that it is the most widely collected china pattern in history. It's sort of hard not to like, with it's blue pagodas and Chinese hillsides, the two doves kissing at the top and the geometric chinoiserie trim.
The famous Blue Willow pattern originated in Staffordshire, England in 1790. Thomas Minton, owner of the Thomas Minton & Sons factory, specialized in domestic tableware, specifically blue and white transferware on bone china. At the time, Chinese themed objects were extremely popular (sounds familiar), so it didn't take long for this widely sought after pattern to reach the states.
Of course, there is a Chinese legend that tells the story of the Blue Willow pattern. Whether this pattern was created to tell the story, or the story created to fit the pattern, we will never know. But, the story is a charming one and the synopsis is this:
The large house located toward the right side of the pattern (nestled among a variety of trees) is the home of a wealthy Mandarin man who had a beautiful daughter. His daughter mistakenly fell in love with her father's humble assistant, a boy within a lower social class (who lived in the small servants quarters across the bridge, toward the lower left side of the pattern). Since the young girl was arranged to marry the powerful Duke, her father dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart (this fence is seen at the lower edge of the pattern).
The Duke would occasionally visit his future bride, and on one occasion, he brought her a jewelry box full of jewels as a gift. Defying the rules of her father, the young girl would escape to meet her lover at the base of the willow tree, near the bridge (which is near the center of the plate), and one night, she gave him the box of jewels that the wealthy Duke had given her. To represent the story, there are three figures on the bridge: the angry Mandarin father (carrying a whip), the young boy (with the jewelry box) and the young daughter.
By springtime, the wedding was to take place, and the Duke arrived to claim his bride. However, it was too late-- the two had taken the jewels and escaped. They settled in a small house on an island (pictured in the top left of the pattern). When the Duke discovered that his bride was gone, he became furious and ordered the two to be put to death.
To protect the young lovers, the Gods transformed both of them into a pair of turtle doves, so that they could be together for eternity (pictured at the top center of the pattern).
This pattern has a romantic story, which makes it even more special to own. Whether you use it as dinnerware, or hang it on the wall to decorate your dining space, the blue and white chinoiserie makes a striking impression. I try to collect as much Blue Willow as I can afford, and right now I have 6 dinner plates, 2 side plates, and a set of nesting bowls listed in my shop.
Vintage Blue Willow dinnerware, including dinner plates, side plates, and a pair of nesting bowls, prices range from $12.00 to $38.00
Williams-Sonoma Home has recently launched their new line of Blue Willow reproductions. New pieces include footed bowls, gravy boats, pitchers, covered dishes, and square salad bowls... all are gorgeous and would make for a complete serving set.
If you only have a few pieces of Blue Willow china, I think using them as wall decor will make the biggest impact.
image from Absolutely Beautiful Things
None of these plates are Blue Willow, but wouldn't it be beautiful if they were?