Attributed to being developed by Josiah S. Spode, the Blue Willow pattern was quite possible the most popular and most widely produced china pattern of all time. Josiah Spode was a potter in the Staffordshire area of England. Around 1790, the Spode factory created their first version of the Blue Willow pattern. At that time, the Chinese influence was evident in the fashion world of Europe and Spode used that influence in creating the Blue Willow pattern.
The first Blue Willow pattern was so popular that very quickly other English potters began producing their own version. By the early 1900s, there were approximately 200 different pottery companies in England producing the Willow pattern. Consequently, each factory changed the design just a little to make it their own. Some versions of the Willow pattern have 3 people on the bridge, some only 2 or even 1. Most, but not all, have the 2 love birds. Usually, there is a willow tree, orange trees, a bridge with people, an island, a boat in the lake, a fence, and a tea house. Usually, but not always.
The borders might be different also. Some borders are decorated with butterflies and moths, some with fish eggs and some have a fleur-de-lis design. All love birds should be facing each other, but, their distance apart really is of no importance.
Willow was also made in several different colors including brown, pink, multicolor, and the ever popular blue.
Antique English Blue Willow never seems to go out of favor and is extremely collectible with some pieces costing only a few dollars to some rare pieces costing in the thousands of dollars.
The Story Of The Willow Pattern:
Once upon a time a Chinese Mandarin of high degree lived in a Pagoda behind a strong fence and under the branches of a large orange tree. Nearby, a weeping willow hung over the river. This nobleman had a very beautiful daughter named Kong-Shee, whon he had promised in marriage to an old, but wealthy merchant, Tan-Jin. The girl however had fallen in love with her Fathers secretary, Chang, whom whe met in secret and to whom she had sworn eternal fidelity. When her Father discovered these meetings, he dismissed Chang from his service and threatened him with a lingering death, while he imprisoned his erring Daughter in her room overhanging the river until she should promise to forget her lover and marry the eldly merchant.
One day a coconut shell came floating past her window bearing a love letter from Chang. He mourned their fate and declared that life without her was worthless, and that if she married another he would commit suicide. In her reply Kong-Shee proclaimed her devotion and told her lover that he must gather the fruit he coveted (herself) when the willow blossom ws dropping on the bough. This hint gave him the approximate date of the wedding.
The wedding day arrived and Chang mingled among the numerous guests. He saw Kong-Shee and persuaded her to elope with him, but they were soon discovered, and as the pair were crossing the bridge her Father almost caught them. Kong-Shee is carrying a distaff (emblem of her virginity), Chang a box containing hew jewels, and the persuing father a whip. The lovers found a temporary hiding place in the small house at the end of the bridge, and signalled to the little boat on the water to take them to Changs home in the upper portion of the design, but the angry father noticed them, and knocked at the door intending to beat them to death with his whip. At this moment of danger, the Gods intervened to save the lovers, and changed them into turtle doves, which can be seen flying in company from the paternal vengeance. They lived happily ever after.