What is transferware?
Transferware is a pottery decorating process invented about 200 years ago. Potters learned to transfer a pattern from an engraved metal plate to china. When the item is heated in a kiln (a super-hot oven) the pattern ingredients fuse with the surface and the pattern becomes a permanent part of the plate.
Where did most transferware originate?
British potters invented the transferware process and had the market tied up for all of the 1800s because no one else could compete on quality and price. Their potteries (mostly in the county of Staffordshire) exported to America in vast quantities...as much as 250,000 pieces in a single shipload. The fraction that survive today give us a unique physical link with our forebears. Think of the generations that have shared their homes with each item! Staffordshire Romantic transferware (with classical, oriental, and scenic themes like the three plates at the top of the page) is the most sought after category and was mostly made early in the reign of Queen Victoria: 1830s to 1850s.
What is flow blue?
Flow Blue (example above) is simply a modified transferware process. The molten pattern ingredients were encouraged to bleed into the surrounding areas to form a halo effect. It was attractive as well as hiding minor faults. Flow Blue is avidly collected in the USA and in the 1980s and 90s prices went very high.
Online trading flattens prices
For a while online trading made selling antiques much more profitable for owners by cutting out dealers. A lot of flow blue came onto the market. Prices fell sharply until demand and supply came back into balance. eBay auction prices now approximate wholesale level. Antique flow blue is once again a solid long term investment (they aren't making it any more!)
Conventional Victorian Staffordshire transferware has been steadier in price than flow blue (which has a mostly American market) and demand is international, making prices more stable In many ways conventional transferware is technically superior to flow blue, demanding great attention to detail since there is no "flow" to hide faults. Some patterns are extremely complex and beautiful.
Where can I find Staffordshire transferware?
You can browse through a great selection just by simply entering "Staffordshire transferware" or "flow blue" in your eBay Search. On eBay USA you will find a huge selection under Pottery & Glass> Pottery & China> Art Pottery> Staffordshire. Strictly speaking transferware is not "art pottery" ...it was made for the dining table, but the word Staffordshire attracts both sellers and buyers to this section. You can also search for individual pottery names like Wedgwood, Ridgway, Wood, Adams (note these correct spellings)
Should I buy from an online dealer?
Online dealers usually source their antique china from conventional off-line estate auctions or directly from England. Their items tend to be bid higher than small sellers, since their credibility is better (and they are usually honest about faults: repeat business is important to them). But competition keeps prices keen, substandard dealers are quickly exposed both by eBay's feedback system and by competing sellers who are quick to report misleading listings. But you still need to find good sellers who date and describe china accurately, give reference sources where possible, pack well and ship quickly and offer refunds if you are unhappy with an item. Read feedback comments and you will quickly get a good sense of a dealer's standards. An eBay "Powerseller" logo next a china seller's name is a good sign: they have to maintain a steady level of sales and at at least 98% positive feedback from their customers.
Should I worry about faults/damage?
Antique transferware has been in use for 100 years -- often much more. Small signs of use (like subtle utensil scratches and faint crazing of the glazed surface) come with the territory. So do three small (1/4 inch) unglazed dots on the base and top-- called stilt marks -- where the item rested under others in the kiln. But what about chips, cracks and hairlines (thin, tight cracks) rim nibbles (little chips at the rim) and repairs? Do they matter? Items with nibbles, hairlines, and chips under the rim, or repairs, often display perfectly well. But damage often affects value. For significant faults -- for instance a large chip under the rim -- expect to pay less than half than you otherwise would, even less if damage is visible from above. But don't shy away from damaged items: they are a great way to learn inexpensively: Handling a variety of items, touching them, feeling their heft, seeing patterns up close, this is how the experts learned. As you build your collection, your knowledge and an instinctive "feel", you can gradually sell damaged pieces (on eBay of course!) and upgrade. Damaged pieces also act as placeholders in a collection until the collector finally tracks down an elusive near-perfect example. With truly rare pieces minor damage has almost no affect on value.
For more research and useful links, enter this address in your Web broswer: transferwarecollectorsclub.org (eBay won't allow "live" links to a non-eBay page.) This is an excellent, non-commercial source of unbiased information.