I’ve noticed a lot of traffic to this older essay recently so I’m reposting while on vacation this week.

Tangible Good

First, what is it? To a connoisseur, flow blue is a generic term that refers to the ironstone china manufactured in England from the 1830s to the turn of the next century.  The Flow Blue International Collectors Club classifies patterns in three phases: early (1835-1860), middle (1860s-1870s) and late (1870s-early1900s). Modern flow blue refers to pieces made after 1910.

Favorite subjects include historical scenes, English landscapes, Asian-inspired floral motifs and famous buildings.  The term emerged to describe the process of cobalt coloration overflowing its borders during firing (a popular legend says it resulted from a happy accident but in fact it was a carefully executed transfer process).  It’s a bit of a misnomer, too, because the genre can encompass green, sepia and purple (mulberry) wares.

That’s what the term means to a connoisseur.  But it is widely and casually used to refer to any smudgy blue and white china, whether antique or contemporary.  Fakes are common and reproductions are…

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