Early flow blue production started in the early 1800s (exact location unknown, but most historians seem to agree it was started by Josiah Wedgwood), and in the 1830s it started to become popular in America. It was popular because it resembled the oriental designs of the time. It was especially popular with the middle class because it was affordable and durable, while the upper class enjoyed it because it was tasteful enough to use at dinner parties. Flow blue remained popular until the early 1900s. After that techniques for reproducing china cheaper and more quickly made flow blue pieces obsolete.
In flow blue china production, blue ink was used in a design process known as transfer printing. The ink was forced to bleed through the piece when a volatizing agent like ammonia was added. The amount of flow was then controlled by the amount of a volatizing agent added during firing. There are three types of flow blue: Early Victorian (1835-1850), Mid Victorian (1860-1870), and Late Victorian (1880 - 1900s). These patterns started as oriental designs, and gradually transformed into more fancy scrolled vine designs.
Most flow blue patterns still around today were made in the Late Victorian period. Originally, the flow blue manufacturing process was considered cutting edge technique because the flow reduced the ability to notice any flaws or imperfections in the pattern. Soon however, the technique itself became obsolete as faster, more efficient ways to produce china were invented. Recently, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of flow blue patterns, and its popularity continues to increase, despite the fact that it is very rare now, and becoming harder to find.
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Sources: Replacements, Ltd. Internal Literature