BLUE WILLOW

Do you have any “Blue Willow” dinnerware in your cupboards, or maybe tucked away in the attic?  The “Blue Willow” pattern in dinnerware is one of the most popular patterns ever produced.  At one time, most every household in the U.K. and U.S. had a set.  Early on, it was used only for special occasions, but then as pieces were lost or broken, damaged or chipped, it ended up relegated to the kitchen cupboards.  I know, growing up, we had a set (and I still have a few cups and saucers in my attic).

This dinnerware was not delicate porcelain or bone china, but a more sturdy, mass produced ceramic ware, with an infinite number of pieces, from salt and pepper shakers and gravy boats, to butter dishes, creamers, pitchers, teapots, etc.  Today, Blue Willow dishware continues to be very popular, but now as a highly popular collectible … even Martha Stewart boasts of having a cupboard full of antique pieces.

Although called “Blue Willow”, this nostalgic dinnerware was not always made in ‘blue’, occasionally it was also made in red or brown.  I’m sure you’ve heard the term “blue plate special” typically used in diners to indicate a great meal for a low price.  Yup, Blue Willow was the plate!

I actually remember “dish night” at the movie theaters.  A very popular promotional event where movie theaters would give away a dish to get theater goers to come in on a slow night.  If you went to the movies often enough, it was possible to collect a complete set.  In the 1970s supermarkets used this same type of promotion with “Blue Willow”, giving away a different piece each week based upon how much money you spent.  Before long, you had the complete set.  Blue Willow wasn’t the only pattern given away.  Another very popular chinaware was various scenes from Currier & Ives, as well as Blue Liberty.

You may have pieces of Blue Willow and love the detailed Asian pattern, but do you know the romantic legend behind the design?  Simply put, it is the story of a beautiful daughter of a powerful Chinese Mandarin.  The daughter fell in love with her father’s clerk, but the father felt the young man was not worthy of his daughter and erected a fence to keep the two apart.  The young man came by boat and found the young woman on a bridge looking for him.  The couple escaped and settled on an island.  The father eventually found them and ordered the young man killed.  Upon hearing this, the young woman killed herself.  The gods, touched by their love and devotion, transformed the couple into doves and they flew off into the sunset. (The original legend follows.)

Neither the pottery, nor the design, however, was made in China.  The pottery originated in the UK in 1779 by Thomas Turner at the Caughley Pottery Works in Shropshire.  Turner, a creative artist, designer and engraver, took over the pottery factory in 1754 and made it into a well-respected manufacturer of fine china, specializing in finely detailed blue transferware on white plates.

Thomas Turner by Lemuel Francis Abbott, oil on canvas, circa 1790

This particular Chinese-inspired design was created by Thomas Minton on copper plate.  The original of which is on view at the Coalport China Museum in Shropshire.  The intricate image needed a romantic legend and so the story of the two star-crossed lovers was created.  The pottery became a huge success and wanted by everyone.  By the end of the 18th century, not only the Caughley Pottery Works made it, but several other English potteries.  Since that time, it has been determined that there have been over 400 manufacturers of Blue Willow worldwide … and still available today.  Take a look at Amazon!

If you have some of original English-made Blue Willow, it does command a hefty price at auction.  Weather you are buying or selling, turn the piece over and take a look at the potter’s mark or back stamp. There are many sites which will give you information on each mark, and if the piece is in good condition, with no chips or glazing, you may have yourself a little treasure.

~~ The Willow Legend ~~

There was once a Mandarin who had a beautiful daughter, Koong-se. He employed a secretary, Chang, who, while he was attending to his master’s accounts, fell in love with Koong-se, much to the anger of the Mandarin, who regarded the secretary as unworthy of his daughter.

The secretary was banished and a fence constructed around the gardens of the Mandarin’s estate so that Chang could not see his daughter and Koong-se could only walk in the gardens and to the water’s edge. One day a shell fitted with sails containing a poem, and a bead which Koong-se had given to Chang, floated to the water’s edge. Koong-se knew that her lover was not far away.

She was soon dismayed to learn that she had been betrothed to Ta-jin, a noble warrior Duke. She was full of despair when it was announced that her future husband, the noble Duke, was arriving, bearing a gift of jewels to celebrate his betrothal.

However, after the banquet, borrowing the robes of a servant, Chang passed through the guests unseen and came to Koong-se’s room. They embraced and vowed to run away together. The Mandarin, the Duke, the guests, and all the servants had drunk so much wine that the couple almost got away without detection, but Koong-se’s father saw her at the last minute and gave chase across the bridge.

The couple escaped and stayed with the maid that Koong-se’s father had dismissed for conspiring with the lovers. Koong-se had given the casket of jewels to Chang and the Mandarin, who was also a magistrate, swore that he would use the jewels as a pretext to execute Chang when he caught him.

One night the Mandarin’s spies reported that a man was hiding in a house by the river and the Mandarin’s guards raided the house. But Chang had jumped into the ragging torrent and Koong-se thought that he had drowned. Some days later the guards returned to search the house again. While Koong-se’s maid talked to them, Chang came by boat to the window and took Koong-se away to safety.

They settled on a distant island, and over the years Chang became famous for his writings. This was to prove his undoing. The Mandarin heard about him and sent guards to destroy him. Chang was put to the sword and Koong-se set fire to the house while she was still inside.

Thus they both perished and the gods, touched by their love, immortalised them as two doves, eternally flying together in the sky.

 

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References:  The Willow Collection, Home & Garden, Country Living, Simple Most, Food Notes, Wikipedia

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Not for “All the Tea in China” . . .

Who remembers this phrase?  “No way, no sir, not for all the Tea in China!”  That phrase was not to be challenged.  You meant ‘no’ and you were standing firm.

I believe the phrase began around the turn of the century.  China was the largest producer and exporter of the world’s most popular beverage and everyone knew it.  With more than 45 countries producing tea today, China still continues to produce more tea than any of the other tea-growing countries.  They have, however, dropped to No. 3 in exporting.  India, Kenya and Sri Lanka have taken over as the largest exporters of tea. These three countries alone produce the more popular CTC (crushed, torn, curled) grade of tea, which is blended and appears in your grocery stores as tea bags.  But apparently India, Kenya and Sri Lanka are producing too much black tea because now there appears to be a glut of tea in the marketplace and prices are falling.  It seems consumers (especially Millennials) are finally demanding higher-quality teas, green teas, oolongs and specialty teas.

Who is drinking all this tea?  According to Quartz, the biggest tea drinkers in the world live in Turkey!  Which is amazing to me.  I would definitely have thought it was the U.K.  Having been to Turkey, I did not notice an overwhelming tea-drinking culture.  Tea was served in restaurants, cafes, and always offered in upscale retail shops and tourist areas, but statistics don’t lie.  They report that each person in Turkey drinks, on average, 6.96 pounds of tea each year, whereas a U.K. tea drinker enjoys 4.83 pounds each year.  Could it be that in Turkey they use twice as much “tea” to make a cup?

So how much tea does the average American drink?  In 2014 AmFotolia cover man drinking teaericans enjoyed over 80 BILLION cups of tea!   But this research is also flawed, because Americans drink more ready-to-drink bottled tea than any other country, not to mention powdered tea-drink mixes. According to the Tea Market Report by the American Botanical Council tea-drinking Americans still prefer black tea –  84% drink black tea – while only 15% drink green and the remainder drink oolong, white, etc.

It’s almost impossible today to watch television and not see an advertisement for one bottled tea or another.  Lipton may be the leader in most ad dollars spent, but six years ago Snapple introduced an ad that had everyone talking about tea.  See if you remember this ……

The ready-to-drink, bottled tea market is huge today and negatively impacting the soft drink market.  Sales of carbonated soda beverages have dropped steadily for the past nine years as consumers are choosing healthier alternatives in a ready-to-drink beverage.  Chai concentrates are another way of enjoying convenient, prepared tea and are very popular.  Another fast growing segment of today’s tea drinking society is actually not tea at all, but herbal beverages.   (Yes, I know, everyone still calls it “tea”.)  The herbal ready-to-drink market is also growing rapidly, with the most popular herbs being chamomile, ginger, echinacea, mint, dandelion and valerian root.

Matcha-flavored KitKat Bars

Matcha-flavored KitKat Bars

But it’s not all about tea drinking.  When was the last time you went into CVS or Target and noticed all the ‘tea-related’ products.  Not only can you buy green tea concentrates and capsules to supplement your diet and help you lose weight, you can choose from a variety of green tea shampoos and conditioners.  Green teas and white teas are incorporated into soaps and body washes, face and body creams.  Have you tried green tea ice cream?  It has been around for years and is delicious!  How about Earl Grey-infused truffles?  Matcha-infused KitKat bars?  Not to mention Tea-smoked duck and Lapsang Souchong bbq sauce?

Green Tea Mint Julep

Green Tea Mint Julep

Mixologists in all the upscale hotels and restaurants are using tea concentrates in their cocktails.  Tea-tini anyone?  According to the Sterling Rice Group, a Boulder, Colorado-based communications firm, TEA is one of the top food trends this year.  Chefs everywhere are incorporating TEA into their recipes.  If you haven’t already, you’ll soon be seeing tea on menus in everything from appetizers to entrees.

There are cookbooks now dedicated to using “tea” as an integral part of the recipe.   CULINARY TEA by local chef Cynthia Gold is fabulous with over 150 recipes using “tea”.  TEA COOKBOOK by Tonia George is another great cookbook using whole leaf tea in its recipes.  Whether sweet or savory, tea is a versatile ingredient that can be used in many recipes …… and we haven’t even talked about how good it is for you!

So jump on the “tea trend” and enjoy your tea.  It’s not just about “All the Tea in China” anymore.  It’s tea anyway you can get it!

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Top 10 Tea Producing Countries

and the amount of tea they produce*

1. China = 1,000,130 tons  –  2. India  = 900,000 tons  –  3. Kenya = 303,000 tons
4. Sri Lanka = 295,000 tons  –  5. Turkey = 175,000 tons – 6. Indonesia = 157,000 tons
7. Vietnam  = 117,000 tons  –  8. Japan = 89,000 tons  –  9. Argentina = 69,000 tons
10. Iran = 84,000 tons

* These figures are lower than the overall high production of 2013.

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References:  World Tea News, Tea Market Report, Quartz, TEA USA

“China” enters Britain

It’s the late 1600’s and people are asking “What is this fine, white porcelain that is coming in from China on the tea boats?”  Crates of this porcelain is being offloaded from the ships and stacked on the piers.  But, what is it?  What is it for?  These crates would be stacked on the bottom of the hold in the ships to provide ballast as well as to provide a dry floor for the tea crates to sit on.

Dutch East India Company c.1620

Dutch East India Company c.1620

Although the Dutch East India Company did not import these items at that time, the ships’ captains realized their value to the newly-enamored, wealthy tea drinkers and began profiting from their sale on the black market.

As early as 1530, fine Chinese porcelain in the form of vases, figurines and bowls were given as gifts to the Aristocracy (and are still on display in various museums around the world).  Exotic items such as ostrich eggs, Turkish and Russian pottery, and Chinese porcelain were among Queen Mary’s and then Elizabeth’s most prized possessions.  The delicacy of fine Chinese porcelain was valued and appreciated over the rough, heavy British earthenware.

It was about this time that the word “Chinaware” was incorporated into the English language to describe these porcelain bowls, pots and cups.  By the 1700’s the demand for this fine porcelain had reached record numbers and the term “China” was being used by most people.  From the records of the Fleet Frigate, “205 chests of China and Japan ware and a great deal loose earthenware, was packed on board.”

In 1724 in “Tour Thru the Whole Island of Great Britain” Defoe wrote, “The Queen brought in the custom, as I may call it, of furnishing Houses with China-ware….piling their China upon the tops of cabinets, structures and every chimney piece.”  China-mania had begun!!

Painting by Arthur Devis, c. 1750

Painting by Arthur Devis, c. 1750

By the end of the 1700’s most of Europe had obtained a few pieces of this fine “China” and the practice of displaying these luxurious pieces came into play, hence the “China closet“.  Louis XIV was so enamored of this decorative tableware he ordered a complete set consisting of hundreds of pieces.

Although a few other colors were imported from China, it was the very popular blue and white porcelain bowls, pots and cups that were the most popular. The Dutch East India Company was now the sole importer for everything from the East, and as a result, all imports came through the ports in Holland. Dutch potters, observing the demand for these items, became inspired and began to create their own pottery, which became known as Delftware.  Colors, patterns and designs were copied directly from the Chinese, but slowly European images began to be used …. windmills, fish, swans, etc., and the first of new shapes took form. The best known was the creation of the “plate“.

English potters were desperate to create this fine white porcelain.  European potters had created a soft porcelain made with white clay and ground glass.  But how to create a hard porcelain that would stand up to the heat requirements of tea?  It was discovered that the ashes of calcined bones could act as a strengthening agent in the paste.  This then became known as fine “English porcelain” now identified as “bone China“.

Worcester porcelain teacup and saucer c.1700

Worcester porcelain teacup and saucer c.1700

The development of the pottery district in England came after bone China was perfected.  From Davenport to Spode to Minton to Wedgewood, most of the successful potters located in the area of Stoke-upon-Trent.

I’ve seen other blogs which credit Robert Adams as the inventor of the tea cup handle.  Unfortunately, I’ve never found any documentation to support that theory.  Handles on tea cups came into use as soon as the Chinese realized that Europeans drank their tea much hotter than they did and in larger ‘bowls’.  Handles started appearing on ‘tea bowls’ as early as the 1700’s.  It was quite common before then to simply pour the tea from the ‘tea bowl’ into the accompanying saucer to cool, and then to drink from that.  After tea cups had handles, it was deemed only the lower class would ever drink from the saucer.

Needless to say, “tea” and “tea equipage” at this point in history was only for the upper classes.  A London magazine in 1744 noted, “it could cost more to maintain a fashionable tea table, with its expensive tea and utensils, than to keep two children and a nurse.” Despite this expense, tea continued to play an essential role in the social life of the British and the world.
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References:  Antique English Pottery, TEA East and West by Rupert Faulkner, Comparative Arts & Media Studies, Specialization in Design Culturesby Irene Maldini

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