The most common dinnerware pattern we find in estates is Willow – not surprising since it has been around since 1780 (Thomas Minton is credited with the original design). Willow holds the title of the most popular china pattern ever made and is still in production today. So, how do you know what you’ve got? Is it old or is it new?
To determine what you have you need two pieces of information. The first is the manufacturer’s mark found on the back of the plates or bottom of cups and other pieces. There are over 200 manufacturers – Johnson Brothers and Churchill have probably the widest distribution now. If there is no mark it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s particularly old but it is worth looking into. Of course, an obvious giveaway as to whether your pieces are old or new is the indication of dishwasher and microwave safe.
Common to all patterns is the willow tree in the centre, an ornate house with a fence, a bridge with three people crossing, a boat, and an island with a smaller house The two doves and the apple tree are absent in the earlier versions – they were added after the legend was created.
A long time ago in a land far away a boy and a girl fell in love much to the disapproval of her father the Mandarin. The boy, Chang, the Mandarin’s clerk was banished. The daughter, Koong-See, was kept at the home surrounded by a fence. The Mandarin arranged for a suitable man, a duke, to marry his daughter. However, on the eve of the wedding Chang came back for his love and they ran away – but not before being seen by her father. He gave chase as the two lovers fled across the bridge. They escaped by boat and lived in exile on an island. The father discovered this and sent his men to kill them. The gods, inspired by their love, immortalized the pair as doves who could fly the skies together forever. (Condensed version.)
Although based on Chinese porcelain designs of the time both the pattern and story are actually British. The legend soon followed as a brilliant marketing idea. Copies of the pattern were later produced in China for export to Europe further enhancing the myth of the ancient design. Willow is most commonly found in blue but pink, green, brown, and multi-coloured can also be found.
The popularity of Willow has waxed and waned over the years but has always been collectible. Currently it’s experiencing a bit of an upswing and is available in many forms, from the popular dinnerware to linens and drapery.