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Frequently Asked Questions

How about a Brief Primer on Transferware?

What is transferware?
Transferware is pottery. It can be earthenware or porcelain, ironstone or bone china.  It’s most distinctive feature is a pattern that has been applied by transferring an etching onto the pottery.  This is done by inking an etching which has been engraved on a copper plate, applying a specially sized paper to the copper plate, and transferring the pattern left on the inked paper onto an undecorated piece of pottery.  The pottery is then dipped in water to float off the paper, glazed, and re-fired.

What was transferware used for?
When first introduced, transferware was an extremely utilitarian item. Cheap wares included dinner services, tea and coffee sets, wash sets, smoker sets, vases, cheese wheels etc.  As the middle class exploded in England there was a demand for these cheap wares which originally were made to imitate the more expensive Chinese exports.

Where was it made?
Most transferware, an estimated 90%, was made in the Staffordshire county of England, but it was also produced in other areas of Great Britain such as Leeds, Liverpool, Swansea and Scotland.  

When was it made?
Transferware first started appearing on the market in the late 18th century, and exploded in popularity in the 1820s and 1830s. Although the styles of the transfers changed over the years, it has been made continuously since then. It is only since the 1990s that the pottery industry has moved its production off shore and out of Great Britain.

How many patterns were made?
Thousands.  How many thousands?  Ten? Twenty? No one knows.

Where did the patterns come from?
At first the patterns were copied in style and detail from the Chinese.  As transferware became more popular it was anglicized and many patterns were copied directly from prints and etchings that were popular in the early nineteenth century.  In 1841, a  copyright law was passed protecting these sources and the designs on the pottery became less realistic. 

How do you date transferware?
Early transferware can be unsigned, have the maker’s name, the pattern name or have both makers and pattern name. Many patterns made between 1842 and 1883 were registered with the Patent Office in London, and exhibit a datable registration mark on the reverse.  Transferware made between 1890 and 1920 usually has ‘England’ printed on the back. After 1920 the mark is ‘Made In England’. There are numerous references in print, and of course there is the TCC Pattern Data Base, with thousands of patterns shown with information on the maker, date, etc.

Is it important for Transferware to have the maker’s name on it?
No, many pieces which are made by unknown makers are particularly collectible.  Value is determined by a variety of factors including:  demand, date, quality of the printing, and rarity.

Was transferware printed in many colors?
Yes. Although more blue was produced than other colors, colored transferware became popular in America in the 1830s and was exported in red, pink, purple, cranberry, brown, black, green, yellow, gray and various combinations of these colors.

Do color, damage, or restoration affect value?
Color  doesn’t. Damage does. Restoration may or may not, although a perfect piece is usually the most sought after. Some buyers will want perfect only, although these are getting harder and harder to find.  Some buyers don't care about invisible restoration if the pattern is just what they want. And a rare pattern or form may be extremely valuable even if damaged. There is no hard and fast rule.

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