Monday, October 12, 2015

Dinning on a Legend

Did your grandmother have a plate or platter with a blue picture covering the entire surface? An oriental design with a temple, a willow tree leaning over a stream, a man in a boat, a bridge, two birds, bushes, and a fence. If so she had an example of the china pattern that holds the record for the longest unbroken line of production -- Blue Willow.
   Somewhere in the world manufacturers are still making the pattern that began in the early 1700s, which over the years has changed very little, if at all.
Blue Plate Special
   The famous Blue Plate Special was so named because it was originally served on divided blue willow plates in railroad dinning cars. The example shows a standard menu of meatloaf, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans, and a corn muffin. The plate was manufactured by the Moriyama company of Japan with the special circle to hold the bread when the dinning car swayed. The cup and saucer are from the American manufacture Homer Laughlin of Newell, WVA restaurant line.
   The unique pattern has come to symbolize hearth, home, family, prosperity, and security. While watching television or a movie it is easy to spot when any of the players sit down to a mean or a snack. Most of the Western films made by John Wayne have blue willow on the table, Miss Ellie's kitchen on the original Dallas used this famous pattern as the film musical Gypsy. It was also in Jessica Fletcher's kitchen on Murder She Wrote. It is fun to watch a meal being eaten and see willow patterned china on the table. It is not always blue, Jimmy Stewart (Cheyenne Cattle Company) and the Cartwrights of Bonanza used red willow to drink their coffee.
   The willow pattern on china is found not only in blue, but a full rainbow of colors (red, green, pink, yellow, brown, black, burgundy, lavender, multi-colored, and fine gold inlay.) It has been manufactured in nearly every country in the world where the clay for fine china is obtained.
   The distinctive pattern is used on book covers, record album covers, napkins, flatware, etched on crystal, imprinted on bathroom sinks, engraved on brass bed warmers, clothing and upholstery, soap, wallpaper, thimbles, hairbrushes, shaving mugs, etc. and the list goes on and on.
   The pattern tells a story of a young man, the girl he loves, her father, their escape from her home, and their deaths. It is a tale that is associated with China, but it has original literary roots in the annals of the King Arthur legends of Tristan and Isolda. The willow story is told in song in Shakespeare as an old folksong. It is one of the major loves stories of the ages.
   Few pieces show up at garage sales or in antique malls today and those that do are invariably over priced on the extremely high side for perfectly ordinary ware that was produced by the tons in the Untied States, England, Japan, and China during the 19th and 20th centuries. In some cases it is easy to tell the country of origin by the birds, Japan's have fat birds where most of the US and others have skinny birds.
   Nash Black spent a week last summer in Dallas, TX visiting with other international willow collectors and have enjoyed their fellowship for twenty-five years. Somewhere in all their mysteries and ghost stories you will find willow mentioned.
   Jim Young was introduced as a character in Sandprints of Death when he finds a shard of the willow birds in the sand on a winter beach. Edisto Island, off the coast of South Carolina was struck by a hurricane and a hotel was swept into the ocean in 1893. Pieces of the broken china from the dinning room still wash  up on the beach after over 100 years.

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