China Patterns are designs that decorate sets of Dinnerware, Tea Sets, Chocolate Sets and other Tableware or Chinaware. Most China Patterns come in a Series and some are individual patterns that are issued by a China Manufacturer or Porcelain maker. A large number of China Patterns are issued on several occasions over time by a company, either in identical format or by varying some elements such the pattern color or the border shape. However, China Patterns are not unique to any individual china company and are often duplicated or copied by several other manufacturers.
In the past, especially ca 19thC, most China Patterns were officially registered and were issued a Patent or Design Number. This was especially true for China Patterns created in England but it is rarely the case nowadays. Originally, most China Patterns were simple and used only one to two colors, such as in the cases of patterns that imitated Chinese or Oriental scenes or themes. Most famous of these are of course the Blue Willow pattern and other Blue & White china patterns such as Flow Blue. Not all china was made of Porcelain or Bone China. Most of the early designs and patterns were made on Stoneware or Earthenware, especially in Europe and America.
China Patterns must not be confused with Style. Although some Patterns clearly imitated a certain “look”, such as Imari from Japan or Delft from Holland (which was in itself an imitation of older Blue & White china patterns from the Orient), most china patterns have a distinct design that adds to their decorative appeal. Therefore, it is often the case that a certain number of Dinnerware Designs or China Patterns are of a particular Style but display different themes. For example, the Imari style is available in many different china patterns such as those made by Royal Crown Derby, Coalport, Noritake, Mason’s Ironstone and a huge number of other china manufacturers. And although most of these companies called their pattern as Imari, the term “Imari” remains a style that we find in many other Porcelain items. “Imari” derives its name from a particular location in Japan where white porcelain decorated with rich blue and gold colors was developed and perfected many centuries ago.
There were many techniques used to create china patterns we see on Tableware and other Dinnerware Sets. The vast majority of china patterns were designed using Transfer-ware, a method that involved creating a decal and then applying it on individual dishes or china items. An Artist carefully designed this transfer-ware decal in advance and it was then re-created in large numbers of very thin film-like sheets that were applied on each dish, plate, cup & saucer or teapot. In some instances, and especially for more expensive china patterns, the maker would have its artists apply hand-painted accents or decorative elements to enhance the overall design. These extra decorative details helped in making some china patterns more pronounced and appealing, since Transfer-ware was limited to using one color only, especially in the older days. Today’s transfer-ware methods at a manufacturing setting allow for multiple layers in different colors, much like industrial Printing, that help create more vibrant china patterns without the need for manual decorative enhancements.
Most china patterns feature design arrangements that represent floral or animal kingdom themes like birds or animals, historical places or persons, popular tourist destinations, stories & fables (Blue Willow), or abstract and geometric drawings in colorful combinations. Most china patterns are named by the theme they represent, which, along with the manufacturer, identifies them and usually dates them. The vast majority of china patterns, especially those made in England during the 19h and early part of 20th centuries, typically include the china pattern name next to or near the actual porcelain mark used by the manufacturer. Spelling of certain china patterns has changed over the years or was deliberately varied by certain manufacturers to distinguish them from the competition. Therefore, the china pattern “Pekin” is also available as “Peking” or “Pek-ing” or “Pek-in” etc, all used by different china manufacturers but representing very similar designs related to the Chinese city of Peking (now called Beijing).
We must also not confuse china patterns with designs applied on Decorative Plates that were meant for display, either in a cabinet or hung on a wall. Most famous of these are decorative plates were made in Vienna, Austria, and of course the numerous decorative plates made for the Tourist industry depicting places, bridges, rivers, mountains etc. These decorative plates, especially those from Vienna, were decorated almost exclusively by hand and by mostly accomplished and renowned Artists, some of whom also worked in other media such oil on canvas or watercolor. Although some of these decorative plates came in a Series, for example the Four Seasons or Royal Family of such and such country or Olympian Gods & Goddesses etc, these are not patterns as used in normal utilitarian chinaware. In the case of Decorative Plates, the artist usually signs their work and there are very few of each made, each having some slight variations due to each being practically a unique piece of work. After 1930s, industrial methods to reproduce these designs in full color were vastly improved, so most such Decorative Plates made ca mid-20thC and beyond were not necessarily painted by hand, regardless of whether there is a signature on the plate or not. In these recent examples, the signature is that of the Artist that made the original design (the “master”) and which was then reproduced en masse.
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