Monday, November 30, 2009

The Perfect Piece: Blue Willow Platter circa 1830

After a rather perfect Thanksgiving, two Thanksgiving dinners in one day to be precise, I have discovered what is missing from many Thanksgiving tables.

Why is it that all of the Thanksgiving commercials we see on television have long holiday tables, laden with food and beautiful china, when we most often (as I have deduced from looking through countless Thanksgiving photographs on facebook, yes, you may laugh) opt to set up a Thanksgiving buffet, laden with plain pyrex dishes and in some cases, less than lovely aluminum pans?

What is missing from Thanksgiving, you ask? The Blue Willow Platter. What better piece of history and artwork to hold your turkey than an antique Blue Willow platter? The Blue Willow pattern was influenced by Chinese pottery discovered by the British when they began trading with China. As the British made strides in their own pottery making, their trade with China ended; however, the British created the Blue Willow pattern and continue to produce this pottery using the transfer method.

The transfer technique was first practiced in England in the 1750s. The transfer method is a type of decoration that allows one to use the same design or pattern multiple times. A transferred decoration can be applied over or under the glaze and is a more productive and less expensive method than hand-painting. It was not until the 1760s that the English mastered the transfer technique under the glaze, a more permanent process.

The story of the Blue Willow pattern begins with a Mandarin man and his beautiful daughter, Koong-se. The Mandarin man’s secretary, Chang, falls in love with Koong-se and is banished from the estate. With the help of her maid, Koong-se is reunited with Chang and the two hide from her father until they are finally discovered. Chang is caught and killed and Koong-se kills herself so that the two are not separated by death. The gods who are touched by their deep love for each other, turn Koong-se and Chang into immortal doves who fly eternally together.

The Blue Willow pattern shows the estate and the fence built around it to keep Chang, an unworthy man, away from Koong-se. On the left, you see the willow tree and the boat that Chang and Koong-se use to escape together. Below the willow tree is a bridge with three men marching over it. And finally, flying high above are the two lovers, reincarnated as doves. The pattern has exquisite details. Each little space is covered with tiny, perfect patterns. There have been many adaptations to the patterns by different potteries; however, this platter features the traditional Blue Willow Pattern.

Coming in all sizes, the Blue Willow platter is a more than adequate centerpiece for your holiday table. Imagine, this beautiful platter holding a turkey surrounded by all of its trimmings. It is just the right depth for holding a little au jus and the rich cobalt blue tones in the pattern are a wonderful match to the golden brown of the turkey. It is as if the Blue Willow platter was made simply for the holiday table. While I do not believe the original Thanksgiving table was set with fine china, crystal, and silver, what better way to honor our forefathers than to pull out all the stops. The Blue Willow platter is the perfect centerpiece for your holiday table. And the best news of all…it’s not too late to find a blue willow platter for your holiday table.

For information about this Perfect Piece and others like it please e-mail Elizabeth at


  1. I was just eyeing a gorgeous blue willow platter with a pyramid of clove-studded oranges on a stack of books...festive!

  2. Well, I have a small set of dinnerware and cups which looks beautiful. One of my favorite... Love them.

    Blue Willow China