Transferware, the art of transferring prints to pottery is most often associated with the English as a means of developing a more affordable mass produced pottery. Wendy W. Erlich, in the magazine “Antiques” raises the question of whether Benjamin Franklin actually invented transferware.
In 1773 Franklin wrote a letter to Peter Perez Burdett, a young engraver based in Liverpool, thanking him for sending his recently produced specimen of transfer-printed chinaware. According to Franklin he had pursued his idea of transferring pictures to pottery twenty years earlier to the English pottery trade who had laughed at him. Although long debated by academics, credit for developing this process as a means to compete with Chinese export porcelain was ultimately given to Saddler & Green of Liverpool.
The district of Staffordshire had been the center of the pottery industry in England. In 1830, an estimated 50,000 people worked in the potteries in Stoke-Upon-Trent, the major city in Staffordshire. Potteries were also located in the surrounding towns of Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Cobridge, Fenton and Longton.
Following the Revolution and War of 1812, many of the citizens of the new republic wanted to show their patriotism to the United States. The English potters recognizing this potentially new large market began producing wares with historical views on china. Although this process involved obtaining drawings of the buildings, engravers to prepare the copperplates, and a separate engraved copperplate for each shape and size of ceramic ware to be decorated, multiple firings, transfer paper and glazing, these wares were soon available in America. Initially the transfers were applied over the glaze. This was not found to be satisfactory as the design rapidly deteriorated and frequently disappeared over a period of time. The underglaze technique prevented damage to the design and many of these wares remain in mint condition.
Early transferware exported to the United States featured designs portraying prominent individuals in the cause for independence. Other patterns found on early transferware included those of banks, college buildings, courthouses, hospitals and battle monuments. Initially transferware was blue and white, but J & J Jackson of Burslem perfected the use of black, brown, green, purple, pink, yellow, mulberry and light blue.
For more information on transferware visit the Transferware Collector’s Club website. A special exhibition of spode ceramics is available free of charge at http://spodeceramics.com., a Web-based interactive online exhibition.
Like all collectibles value reflects condition, desirability, maker, and the current market.