While browsing a magazine about outdoor living, I came upon a picture of a beautifully prepared outdoor dining set. Although it seemed strange that this outside table was set with real china, instead of paper plates, the thing that really struck me was that they were using the good old blue-and-white plates of yesteryear.
So, I did some research and found that the popularity of blue-and-white ceramic pottery goes back more than three centuries, to the time when Chinese porcelain first arrived in Europe. Among its earliest admirers was Queen Mary II, in the late 1600’s. She must have started some kind of trend, because the demand for it became so great that, by the 18th century, blue-and-white china pieces were being shipped to England by the millions.
Even though the craze began with Chinese pieces, it was English potters who were able to mass produce similar items, using a printing technique that was developed around the middle of the 18th century, wherein designs could be transferred, instead of hand-painted, onto the pottery. This method was so much faster that factories could quickly churn out thousands of blue-and-white “transferware” plates, mugs, tea services, and dinnerware.
Of course, the blue-and-white tableware became a huge favorite in the United States as well; and, because it’s still popular today, it’s hard to believe that it was actually in its prime between 1815 and 1835.
Although there were tons of different designs, the Blue Willow pattern, which was introduced in the early 1900’s and sold at stores such as Sears, Roebuck, and Co. and Woolworth’s, was a best-seller. In fact, the use of this inexpensive tableware became so widespread in restaurants during the Depression, that it led to the term, “blue plate special.”
So, that’s how those familiar blue-and-white plates came to be. These days, however, there are a lot more color choices available – not just for the plates, but for tables as well. In fact, if you go to AllPicnicTables.com, you’ll find one of the largest selections of outdoor dining sets and picnic tables available anywhere, in a full spectrum of spectacular colors.
And what of those transferware plates that were so affordable way back when? They can now be found in antique stores, running anywhere from $50 for a teacup or saucer of a lighter blue, to $2,000 and above, for larger items, such as pitchers and platters, that have nicer patterns and more intense blues. That’s one special blue plate!