The Many Colors of Willow

By Hugh Sykes
Posted November 2016

To many of us, the color of the Blue Willow Pattern is just that, blue against a white background. However, the Blue Willow Pattern comes not only in the traditional blue and white that we are so familiar with but also in a multitude of other colors. While we’re also used to the Blue Willow Pattern being regularly seen on ceramic mediums such as plates and cups, its use does not stop there. The pattern can be found on glassware, metal objects, clothing, book covers, clocks, kitchen utensils and advertising pieces.

This exciting Doulton vase was found not in England where the piece was made, but at a flea market in the city of Auckland, New Zealand. The thing about collecting the Blue Willow Pattern is that it is so wide and varied that collecting the pattern often crosses into many other collecting groups, in this instance, Doulton chinaware. Made according to the maker’s mark between 1902 and 1922, the vase featuring the Blue Willow Pattern in green and gold has been considered by Doulton collectors as being very rare. How it arrived at being found in Auckland remains to be answered. That said, several English china makers did produce specific ranges for the Australasian market.

From the green and gold seen on the Doulton piece, featured here is a multi-colored biscuit barrel. While it is unmarked as to maker, it would have been made in England during the 1930s.

Time and the Blue Willow Pattern do not escape each other; there are many examples where clockmakers have used and still use the Blue Willow Pattern as a decorative clock face. In these examples, the pattern has been used by American clockmaker Seth Thomas on a pendulum clock and British clockmaker Smiths on a tin plate clock. The application of the pattern to the Seth Thomas clock face is interesting as it has been applied on paper and lacquered.

The Blue Willow Pattern has been used on numerous forms of glassware over the years. In some forms of glassware, the pattern has been molded into the glass so it appears either etched or impressed; add to that, the glass can either be clear or colored. In other forms, such as this Japanese decanter set made in the 1960s, the Blue Willow Pattern is seen in gold against a blue-colored glass. Again, the Blue Willow Pattern crosses into another collecting group, being the world of decanters.

Collectors of gold sovereigns will more than likely have a sovereign case to hold some of their precious gold coins, be this for practical storage or display. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, the Blue Willow Pattern in enamel has been used to decorate this silver sovereign case. Being silver and having British hallmarks, this sovereign case comes from the British city of Birmingham and was made in 1909.

This yellow pitcher and wash bowl with a blue undertone also features the Blue Willow Pattern in a multi-colored pattern. While being very decorative, these unmarked English-made pieces from the 1930s would have been accompanied by a chamber pot and used in a practical sense—the pitcher and bowl resting on a wash stand with the chamber pot most likely being out of sight, perhaps under a bed.

In addition to being found in different colors, the Blue Willow Pattern has been modified to a “parody pattern.” With this piece, on first glance the theme of the pattern looks pretty regular, but on closer examination, you’ll see that aspects of the pattern have been replaced. Pictured here is a plate produced by Gladstone Pottery of England which has produced a number of Blue Willow Pattern-inspired souvenir plates and ornaments for towns and cities across Britain. With the plates, the Blue Willow Pattern has been used but varied to incorporate local attractions.

In this plate representing the English city of Lincoln, aspects of the Blue Willow Pattern have been varied to show Lincoln Cathedral and a World War II Lancaster bomber (which were flown from nearby airfields).

Here is a Toby Jug where the Blue Willow Pattern has been used. Again, we see collecting of the Blue Willow Pattern crossing over into another collecting group. I have personally seen around 20 Toby jugs with different versions of the Blue Willow Pattern on them. That said, Toby collectors will confirm these jugs have been made by hundreds of makers in different countries, so there could be quite a few more. For those interested in Toby jugs, there is an American Toby Jug Museum which can be found in Evanston, Illinois, or at

The use of the Blue Willow Pattern to decorate biscuit tins over the years has been quite prevalent. In my books, Advertising A To Z Featuring The Blue Willow, Parts 1 and 2, I show biscuit tins from the USA, UK and South Africa; all of which feature the Blue Willow Pattern. Here we have a biscuit tin made and printed in the 1950s by Wilson Bros Pty Ltd of Melbourne, Australia, for the Phoenix Biscuit Company Pty Ltd, also of Melbourne. As many collectors of tins will know, Wilson Bros are better known today by their simple brand name of Willow, and yes, in their own right have also produced their own range of tins featuring the Blue Willow Pattern. As for the Phoenix Biscuit Company, they later became part of Weston’s Biscuits, a multi-national biscuit brand.

Whatever you are collecting, it is always great when you find an item that has been incorrectly made, and because of this, it is quite rare and sometimes has an additional value. At first glance, this shaving mug on the one side shows a variant of the Blue Willow Pattern, but when turned around, it shows something quite different: “Simple Simon went a-fishing.” It is probably a one-off or part of a limited production.

The fun of collecting is looking for the story or history behind the piece. These 12-inch-high tins contained Victory V Lozenges and are decorated with the Blue Willow Pattern. The lozenges were first made by Thomas Fryer of England in 1864, he being inspired by the famous British Naval Admiral Horatio Nelson and his Royal Navy Ship Victory. As a palliative for the common cold, the lozenges contained chlorodyne, a mix of chloroform and cannabis, which proved to be very popular. These tins were probably made around the 1920s when the lozenges were available globally. Victory V Lozenges—without chlorodyne—are still available today in Britain.

Found in Australia, this small metal plate measuring about 3.5 inches across, which was made in England, is unusual as the Blue Willow Pattern is pressed into the metal as opposed to being etched.

Novelty, Japanese, Fish and the Blue Willow Pattern all come together in the form of these open-mouth fish and whale-shaped ashtrays. Made during the 1960s and ‘70s, they can usually be found in most antique malls across the country. Use of the Blue Willow Pattern has not been limited to novelty fish and whales, it has also been used with cats, dogs, pigs, birds and rabbits.


Hugh Sykes is a past president of International Willow Collectors, a group based in the USA; details of which may be found on the website He has also written two books on how the Blue Willow Pattern has been used in advertising. Information on his books may be found at Both books are proudly held in the Smithsonian Library.




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