Stories from the Past and Present: Antique Flow Blue

At Past and Present Home Gallery, we know that antiques and vintage items are viewed very differently than they were a few decades ago. As collections are passed from generation to generation, sometimes the stories that made these collectibles so interesting are lost. That’s why we love telling these stories from the past so they can be appreciated in the present. One such story we stumbled upon recently is the unique history of “flow blue”, which, put simply, is a type of china with a specific decorative glaze. While items within this category can be incredibly different from one another, they all share the same origin:

Flow Blue: A Very Beautiful “Oops”

 "Flow Blue" are white and blue china pieces where the blue glaze bled, or "flowed" during the firing process.

"Flow Blue" are white and blue china pieces where the blue glaze bled, or "flowed" during the firing process.

As trade between the East and West grew in the 1700’s, Western markets fell in love with the beautiful blue and white china being imported from the Orient. These hand painted pieces depicted a variety of romanticized scenes in a bold, cobalt glaze on top of stunningly white porcelains. Imported pieces were extremely expensive and so only the higher classes could afford them. To capture a part of this growing trend, European potters were determined to recreate the process for their customers.

Some historians state that it took 100 years for the Western manufacturers to create a white porcelain and cobalt glaze that could compete against the Eastern china. And even though it may have taken that long, things didn’t turn out exactly as they had planned. When European potters finally found the right salt-glazed earthenware that sparkled like its Eastern cousin, they eagerly applied the newly formulated cobalt oxide glaze. But when fired in the kiln, the blue glaze bled out of its stencil or “flowed” creating a blurry effect. Although this was definitely not the intended result, the public adored these items and snatched them up in a hurry. During its peak in the mid and late 1800’s it is estimated that more than 1,500 different “flow blue” patterns were created and manufactured.

 More than 1,500 flow blue patterns have been manufactured. Styles of patterns range from floral to pastoral scenes, oriental scenes, and brush stroke designs.

More than 1,500 flow blue patterns have been manufactured. Styles of patterns range from floral to pastoral scenes, oriental scenes, and brush stroke designs.

Antique and Vintage Flow Blue in America

Here in America, we often saw the “factory seconds” of the European potters. These items bled “too much” out of their original stencils and the European public was not as thrilled by them but American markets were eager to add them to their collections. However, during World War I, the flow blue market decreased significantly all around the world and many European manufacturers stopped shipping to North America altogether. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the trend was rediscovered in American markets and items were re-manufactured, sold, and collected.

Stop by Past and Present Home Gallery to view our own collection of flow blue—some pieces dating all the way back to the late 1800’s, along with other collectibles like Red Wing. Also, “like” our Facebook page to keep in touch with us and be the first to learn more about the one-of-a-kind items we have.

Can’t wait to see you at Past and Present Home Gallery, the antique store with character!