Webster defines color in two ways: first, as “a sensation evoked as a response to the stimulation of the eye and its attached nervous mechanisms by radiant energy of certain wave lengths and intensities” and, second, as “a quality of visible phenomena, distinct from form and from light and shade.” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1953, G. & C. Merriam Co.) Indeed, color is an ice-cream sundae for the eyes.
By 1825, English transferware manufacturers had developed methods that allowed them to produce wares in colors other than the consistent cobalt on which they had relied since the latter years of the 18th century. At that time, there appeared, of course, English Pink, but there were also others.
To quote the introduction to the Transferware Rainbow, which can be found on the final few pages of each of Margie Williams’ books on English Pink, “There are so many pictorial references to cobalt, it was felt the other glorious colors should, if only once, be at center stage. So, black, brown, light blue, green, mulberry, purple and yellow, this is your turn.”
Green was initially introduced about 1825 by the Spode Company of Stoke-upon-Trent; Spode green is vibrant and alive and fairly tingles with vitality. A few of the other greens, though nonetheless lovely, tend to be more olive, almost muddier. Still others have the freshness of new apples and the clarity of motionless pools. Though every collector has, at one time or another, been tempted to gather green only to select, in the end, another of the appealing hues. Their withdrawal has proved indeed fortunately for those who did choose green; although not as rare as yellow, green is somewhat difficult to locate and commands high prices, especially for the older transferware.
Although black is thought to be a lack of color and may remind us of newspapers, bad novels or old movies, the shade is extremely charming on a piece of English transferware. There is evidence that black was used on the first printed wares. “Richard Sadler had been practicing it as early as 1752, and though, for many years, only black was used yet blue was found to run equally as well.” (Moore, The Old China Book, 1903, pg 13)
The assumption is that other early potters also employed this hue. However, cobalt blue, the color that mimicked Chinese porcelain and, “on account of its cheapness and durability” (Moore, The Old China Book, 1903, pg 13), later catapulted the English industry to prominence, was certainly more popular, successfully limiting the role of black. Although early black wares can be located, the majority found was produced much later. The color was often used during the Aesthetic movement, its appealing nature extending until the present day.
About 1845, the deep cobalt was replaced with the newer synthetic blues, gracing the potter’s palette with soft, clear hues of pastel blues. The world’s favorite color was reborn, appealing anew to English transferware aficionados, both consumers of the 19th and 20th centuries and transferware collectors today.
Brown was added to the color scheme in 1852 and later, during the Aesthetic Movement, became a primary hue for the potters. As one contemporary collector remarked about the transferware produced at that time, “Brown was the only color they (the potteries) did very well.”
Purple encompasses a myriad of shades from a quite bluish pink through lavender and puce to deep wine. Although many collectors refer to the ware as “mulberry,” the color is correctly known as purple. The inks used to produce this hue simply do not flow. Instead, they offer us a violet rainbow that continually feeds us new surprises.
During the 1820s, blue was found to naturally blur; the next obvious step was to enhance this look “by instilling lime or chloride of ammonia in the sagger while glazing.” (Williams, Flow Blue China, 1971, pg 5) This blurry transferware is held in the highest regard by multitudes of collectors and abhorred by many others. Large quantities of the ware were exported to this country and today there are countless collectors within our borders. A number of books deal with flow blue alone; Author Petra Williams, known for her transferware books, has herself published three volumes. One individual who sorely disliked flow blue was Mrs. N Hudson Moore, who lamented, “Of all the discouragements which a china collector has to meet, the very worst is flowing blue.” (The Old China Book, 1903
Flowing ware was manufactured in three colors other than blue: puce (a purplish brown), sepia (a reddish, gray-brown), and mulberry, which actually encompasses the other two in most collector’s definitions. (Not so in the trade.) Puce and mulberry both contain blue, which we know flows. The jury is still out on sepia. All three, however, do contain red, and red does not flow.
Mulberry, a lovely purple, was a favorite in Victorian homes, but more rare than flow blue. The delicate color was deliberate and not simply a variant of the red or blue. Most of the mulberry was made between 1835 and 1855 in Staffordshire, and since it appeared during the period of peak popularity of colors other than blue, we can only guess that mulberry was introduced as another answer the public’s desire for something new. The attractive ware was intimately related to flow-blue, and much ware was blurred in the same way cobalt was. It was made by the same potters who were producing flow blue, often in the same patterns.
In Victorian times, the English defined mulberry as the color of the berries on the black mulberry tree that grew in the British Isles. The English black mulberry was native to central Asia and was first introduced to England a thousand years ago. The tree is different from the American red mulberry (which itself is a very dark purple) and the white mulberry. In describing an experiment with the berries of the American mulberry, Petra Williams says, “… the warmth of red is always present in these shades. Since the English Mulberry is much darker… it can be surmised that the colors obtained from pressing the English mulberries would be darker, but the lighter shades from both are like the gradations of the color, which can range from warm brown to gray brown and on to purplish brown.” (Williams, Flow Blue China and Mulberry Ware (132) The very darkest mulberry is a slightly purplish black. It should not, however, be mistaken for black; mulberry flows; black does not.
In an article featuring her colonial-farmhouse home is a lovely photo of an American woman’s display of mulberry transferware, which fills a walnut cupboard in the kitchen. The author explains that “… light maroon is certainly similar to one of the colour shades encompassed in the word ‘mulberry’.” (Williams, Flow Blue China and Mulberry Ware (132) She describes her collection as including “patterns in a wide spectrum of colours from almost black to light brownish red, but all are mulberry variants.”
The article goes on to say the homeowner’s “painterly eye is drawn to the unusual, so it’s no surprise that she finds this scarce English ceramic more interesting than its familiar blue counterparts.” (June 1993, Country Living Magazine)
Early multicolored ware was achieved by the laborious process known as clobbering, or hand-painting applied over the glaze. In 1848, an advanced technique allowed three colors to be applied in a single transfer with only one firing. Although pink was often used in conjunction with another shade or, occasionally, two or three shades, other combinations were also employed. Among them are blue and black, brown and green and purple and green.
Many of the additional colors found on English transferware are actually close cousins of the previously mentioned common hues, produced because a worker mistakenly added a bit too much of one ingredient, causing a shade change during the final, or glost, firing or because the temperature in the glost kiln varied. Yellow, unlike the others, is true and also very rare. To quote Margie Williams’ chapter on color (Margie Williams, Collecting English Pink, 2004), “Representative pieces have been found, not only in the popular sharp blue cobalt, flow-blue cobalt, steel blue, brilliant medium blue, and the rarer powder blue and turquoise, but also in bronze, forest green, mint green, pale lemon yellow, rich gold, purple, violet, plum, grape, lavender, orchid, mulberry, black, dove gray, steel gray, chocolate brown, warm brown, walnut, sepia, tan and, of course, pink, rose, and red.”
Another clever method for adding color to transferware was the use of luster. Late in the eighteenth century the potters discovered that, by applying a colored glaze to the ware, they were able to bring a very different appearance to their products. The use of lustre in decoration is an English adaptation of a method of producing an Hispano-Moresque type of pottery using brush-applied metallic oxides mixed with balsam of sulphur and oil of turpentine thinned to the required consistency with oil of lavender. Lustred wares are known to come in several colors – pink, copper, gold, purple, silver and yellow. Lustre decoration was normally applied to earthenware rather than porcelain.