Underglaze blue printing
in Britain 

Blue transfer printing on earthenware began in England in about 1783-84.  But the very earliest blue printing on ceramics developed in Italy where a primitive form of transfer printing was applied to tin-glazed earthenware in mid-late 17th century Turin. A century later a more sophisticated kind of printing evolved at the Ginori factory in Doccia, near Florence, and underglaze blue printed porcelain teawares from that factory have survived dating from 1749-50. 

The process was first used in England a few years later, when it was introduced in the late-1750s at the Worcester porcelain factory. It took almost 30 years for Staffordshire potters to develop the appropriate earthenware body and glaze and for suitable transfer tissue to be available  to make underglaze blue printed pottery. While there is some uncertainty about the origins of the process in Staffordshire it is generally agreed that Josiah Spode was the first potter to manufacture blue printed pottery on a commercial scale, and that he was in production by 1784. 

From that time blue printing evolved in response to technical improvements, changes in fashion and the growth of British and overseas markets. 

Find links to more information on blue printing here

                                       A brief illustrated introduction to British underglaze blue printing on earthenware

Underglaze blue printed earthenware late 18th century.   Typically the pattern is composed of engraved lines, with little tonal range, and while Chinese-style designs are the most popular, other patterns including commemorative devices may be found.

Detail of engraving style typical of the late 18th century, with strong linear engraving cuts.

Made by Josiah Spode, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern known as Buffalo, or Boy on a Buffalo, c.1795

Made by John & William Turner, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern known as Traveller and duck c.1795

Made by George Harrison, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern known as a Fisherman Willow, c.1795

Attributed to the Cambrian Pottery, Swansea, printed with a pattern in support of the British monarchy 1793

Under-glaze blue printed earthenware early 19th century. Although Chinese-style designs continued to be popular, a wider range of subjects was gradually introduced.  These were made possible through technical advances with improvements in transfer printing paper, a growing refinement of cobalt blue and the increasing skill of the engraver. In addition to linear cuts and cross hatching, the dot punch was introduced which allowed a greater tonal range suited to the latest fashions which included the newly popular vogue for topographical scenes from home and abroad.

Detail of engraving style typical of the early 19th century with water depicted by linear engraving and the foliage of the trees created with a dot-punch.

Made by William & John Turner, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern known as Chinese Stag Hunt c.1800

Made by Josiah Spode, Staffordshire, printed with a view titled 'Colossal Sarcophagus near Castle Rosso’ from the Caramanian series introduced c.1810

Made by Davenport, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern known as a Chinese Ruins, c.1810-15

Made by Dunderdale, Castleford, Yorkshire, printed with a pattern depicting a Chinese river scene with bridge and buildings, c.1815

Underglaze blue printed earthenware 1820sDuring the 1820s blue printed pottery developed to meet a variety of customer tastes.  The pattern range continued to include Chinese-style subjects and topographical views but expanded to meet the ever-increasing demand for novelty.  The cobalt blue colour was also printed in a variety of shades from a sweet sky blue to a deep navy.  The latter was very much admired by customers in the USA.

Made by John Rogers & Son, Staffordshire, with an Eastern scene depicting the 'Gate Leading to a Musjed at Chunar Ghurth', c.1820

Made by Andrew Stevenson, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern known as Chinese Traders, c.1825

Made by Stubbs & Kent, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern from a series of fruit and flower designs, 1822-28

Made by Ralph & James Clews, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern titled 'Landing of Gen. La Fayette at Castle Garden New York 16 August 1824'

Made by Samuel Moore & Co, Sunderland, County Durham, printed with a view of Villa D'Este, home of Caroline the estranged wife of the future George IV, 1820-30

 Underglaze blue printed earthenware 1830-1850. Towards the end of the 1820s, consumer demands resulted in a new style of pattern and an increasingly ornate shape.  During the 1830s and 40s, alongside the standard, all-over rich blue designs, lighter blue patterns with more fanciful romantic subjects were produced, and ceramic shapes became more elaborate with ornate shapes often finished with heavy gadrooning at the rims.   

Made by Herculaneum Pottery, Liverpool, printed with a print known as Two Hunters and Two Pointers Flushing Birds from Herculaneum's Field Sports series of patterns, c.1830

Made by James Beech, Staffordshire, with a pattern in the 'Texian Campaign' series perhaps made to commemorate the Texas fight for independence from Mexico, 1835-36

Made by Minton, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern from a series of designs titled 'Chinese Marine', 1830-35

Made by William Ridgway, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern titled ‘Peekskill Landing Hudson River’ from the Narrow Lace Border series of American views c.1845

Made by George Phillips, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern titled 'Friburg' a pattern registered 5 November 1846

Underglaze blue printed earthenware 1850-1880During the mid-19th century, the production of blue printed earthenware continued to grow. Despite competition from the increasingly affordable bone china and the option to buy printed earthenware in many colours, the demand for blue printed earthenware dinner, toilet and souvenir ware expanded.  The majority of designs were in the romantic style introduced in the 1830s, but pattern were available in different shades of blue including a deep flowing blue that was particularly popular in the American market. Towards the end of this period, high end factories produced a number of patterns that were inspired by the contemporary aesthetic movement.

Made by John Alcock, Staffordshire, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern titled 'Priory', c.1855

Made by Joseph Clementson, Staffordshire, with a flow blue pattern titled 'Chusan' , c.1855

Made at Llanelly Pottery South Wales, printed with pattern titled 'Colandine', c.1855

Made by Robinson Kirkham & Co., Staffordshire, printed with pattern 'Pekin', c.1870

Made by Mintons, Staffordshire printed with an aesthetic design registered in December 1875, this plate with date mark for 1877.

Underglaze blue printed earthenware 1880-1900. As the 19th century drew to a close, new ways of decorating pottery became available, lithographs offered an inexpensive way to transfer full colour images in one easy process.  Despite the availability of a wide range of colours, blue transfer printing still enjoyed some popularity, with traditional patterns produced alongside the new aesthetic designs.  Production expanded and with a new awareness of the needs of hygiene, sanitary ware and tiles joined the ever increasing range of products that were available in perennially  popular blue and white

Made by T & R Boote, Staffordshire, printed with a pattern titled 'Tournay', registered in 1885

Made by Pinder Bourne & Co.,Staffordshire, printed with a with a Japonesque aesthetic pattern designed by Harry Slater c.1880

Made by Minton, Hollins & Co., Staffordshire printed with pattern depicting an Asian duck hunter, c.titled 'Colandine', c.1882

Made by Bovey Tracey Pottery Co., Devon, printed with a pattern titled 'Tonquin', c. 1880-1890

Made by Johnson Brothers, Staffordshire, this water closet is printed with classical scrolling foliage design and is titled 'The Imperial', c.1900