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Glass and Pottery Sellers’ Association - November 2005, Volume 30

The Legend of Blue Willow China

by wgpaul Bill

Blue Willow plate treeOnce upon a time, a young princess lived in a giant castle with her father, the Emperor. Her father arranged for her marriage to a prince. But the princess was in love with someone else.


Blue Willow plate bridge The two lovers escaped across a bridge one night, only to be followed by her father.


Blue Willow plate boatThe lovers reached a boat which they took to the safety of a nearby island.


Blue Willow plate houseThe father and the fiancé found them there and burned the island, killing the lover. The princess, seeing the island burn and knowing her lover was dead, killed herself.


Blue Willow plate birds The two were reincarnated as lovebirds and will always remain together.


A Closer Look at History of Blue Willow China

The origins of blue willow china and the legend on which it was based are both somewhat murky. We have explored both and found conflicting but fascinating information about both.

The Legend

Blue Willow plate

Various versions of a legend of a princess and her lover have been found in Chinese tradition for generations. The legend varies, but the basic elements are always present—a princess, her father, a lover, an escape on a boat to an island and a tragic ending.

In some versions, the lovers meet under an apple tree before their escape, which is often depicted as a tree with rounded foliage on blue willow china pieces. In some versions, this is an orange tree. In one version, the boat sinks, rather than making it to an island. Sometimes it is the father who burns the island, sometimes it is the fiancé. Sometimes both lovers perish on the island. In some versions, the island is not burned; instead the lover is stabbed by the fiancé. And in some versions, there is no fiancé, only an irate father. In one variation, the gods intercede and transform the couple into birds before they are killed.

Ironically, even the legend itself has been questioned. Robert Copeland, writing in a 1978 article published in Antique Collector Magazine, questions whether the legend is, in fact, an ancient Chinese legend, or as he suspects, “an invention of an enterprising manufacturer in the 19th century to stimulate sales!”

The China

Like the legend, the question of who first produced the Blue Willow pattern with all of the elements of the legend remains somewhat obscured by history. For years, 19th century Blue Willow was thought to be an English reproduction of an ancient Chinese pattern. However, most researchers today agree that the Blue Willow pattern as we know it today was likely created by a Staffordshire company, most likely Josiah Spode around 1790. Others claim the design was first produced by Thomas Minton when he was working for the Caughley factory around that same time. The pattern remains popular today with hundreds of companies having made variations of the pattern.

Look for variations in the patterns that represent the variations of the legend. You will find as many as four people on the bridge (the two lovers, the father and the fiancé) and as few as two. Sometimes, the island is present, other times it is not. The earliest patterns had names like Mandarin, Chinoiserie, or Chinese Landscape. In recent years, most pattern names refer to the willow tree that features centrally in the pattern – Chinese Willow, Old Willow, Willow, etc… Whatever variations you may find, you will always see the magnificent willow tree with its wispy leaves hanging over the island and giving the china the name by which most people know it—Blue Willow.

For More on Blue Willow China

A scan of the 1978 Robert Copeland article on the Spode website:

A poem about the pattern


Blue Willow, Gaston, Mary Frank , Collector Books
A Collector's Guide to Willow Ware, Jennifer A. Lindbeck, Schiffer Publishing
Collecting Blue Willow: Identification & Value Guide, M. A. Harman ,Collector Books

Children’s books based on the blue willow story

Blue Willow, Doris Gates & Paul Lantz, Puffin Books
Blue Willow, Pam Conrad, Penguin Putnam Inc./Philomel

PLEASE NOTE: These photos can be printed for your own collection files, but are not to be used for any Internet auction listings, websites, or any other commercial purposes. The photos provided for this article are from the personal collection of the author or with permission from the owner.

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Featured Sellers

Recently Featured Sellers in the GPSA are roxannesebastian, 4evervintage, Lan5, fostoriack, gailsgoodthings, catladykate, cranberrymanor, shellysthings1, fanoffenton, and thetreasuredbutterfly. We encourage you to click on their seller IDs and visit their eBay auctions.

Annie's Attic

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Member’s Pick: Check out this Website!

by FanofFenton Sarah

Chinese Figurines from the 40s and 50s
Chinese Figurines from the 40s and 50s

This site is a little more specialized than some of the others that have been brought to your attention. But it is just full of information about oriental figurines dating from the 40s to the 50s. Included here you will find examples of figurines designed and produced by Kay Finch, Lefton, Josef, Hedi Schoop, and many other California potteries. The photos are excellent and because it actually is Mark’s collection there are often several versions of the same figurines. It certainly brings back the fascination that the United States had with all things Chinese after World War II. Enjoy!

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Don’t You Wish You Had One of These?

by wgpaul Bill

Photo Courtesy of djbenn
Rare Imperial Three Row Vase

A good memory, a sharp eye and some handy carnival glass books resulted in a great sale for eBay seller djbenn recently. This rare Imperial Three Row vase sold recently for $3,405. We’ll let the seller tell you the rest:

“As a long time collector and dealer I have always been interested in carnival glass; however, seeing this vase at the auction didn't really pique my interest at first glance. As the sale went on, the vase finally reached the front table and after looking at it for a while I realized that I hadn't seen that particular vase before. Luckily my carnival glass books were in my van, so I was able to look it up and was surprised to see it listed as a rare piece. Then, it was exciting to actually buy it as I wasn't sure if anyone else there knew what it was. It certainly was something all antique dealers dream about.”

Congratulations, David!

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It happens every day! You anticipate receiving an item you won at auction. It arrives, and you open the box to see...pottery shards or slivers of glass!

Have you noticed how some auction photos just seem to scream “BUY ME!” while others are so fuzzy and far away you’re not sure what is being offered?

We share a few practical tips on photo taking and packing to help you get that item safely to your buyer! Our GPSA website offers a more in-depth look at valuable packing and photo tips. Please visit and have a look around!

We're switching gears this time around with other helpful hints!

USPS postage rises in January 2006:

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No reserve clearance sales, less than TWO DOLLARS!

GPSA sellers are still listing clearance items. All items start at an opening bid of $1.99 or less. Don’t miss this opportunity to pick up a bargain from one of our reliable GPSA sellers! All sellers abide by the GPSA guidelines found on our home page.

Find a bargain! Deals and Steals!

To see Shazaam listings at any time, click here. Check back often — sellers add items all the time!


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Welcome New Members

We’re so happy to have you join us!!

The following eBay sellers became GPSA members in September and October 2005. As members of the GPSA, they have committed to upholding the standards of the Glass & Pottery Sellers’ Association.

  • charlotts
Welcome New Members
  • skyblue2u

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