Friday, 16 November 2012


The Thames foreshore is littered with transferware. I just assumed they were all Victorian but of course many are much older, dating to Georgian times. A stepped change in the development of ceramics, it was a new industrialised process. Eventually transferware was far cheaper to produce than hand painted goods, allowing the middle classes to purchase matching full dinner services to grace their dining tables and wash sets for their bedrooms, with matching basin and ewer, a cup for brushing teeth, soap dish, sponge dish, and a chamber pot.

Some claim John Sadler and Guy Green in Liverpool invented transferware, others Ravenet and Hancock at the York House Battersea factory in 1756. Patterns or pictures were etched onto copper plates, these were inked up and the image was transferred to a special tissue. The tissue was placed on a bisque fired ceramic object  thus transferring the print. It  was removed before more glaze was applied, the object was then fired again. 

There are two types of transferware pattern, the most common are those with a border design and a separate picture in the middle of the plate. The amount of white space between them varied with fashion over the decades. The second type used sheet patterns which covered the whole object. Marble patterns were popular in the 1800s and between 1860 – 1900 floral patterns.
Mudlarking Find: Transferware border design & middle picture
Mudlarking Find: Sheet Transferware - marbled pattern?
The early transfers were fixed on top of the glaze (overglazed) as the earthenware bodies available could not withstand the high kiln temperatures required. 

In the 1760s the Caughley factory in Shropshire produced underglaze printing. Joseph Spode and Wedgwood further developed this technique at their potteries in Staffordshire. This area became associated with this new product and indeed became known as 'the potteries' . Its production heralded the start of the industrial revolution. Churned out in such vast quantities it was one reason why woollen cloth was knocked off the top of England’s export list. America was its primary overseas destination contributing to mainland Europe no longer being the main recipient of England’s goods.

Patterns were initially printed in just one colour. Tricky to find out exactly when different colours were introduced as information out there is contradictory. The most common on the foreshore is unsurprisingly blue which some claim was the only  colour until 1809 and then continued to dominate with dark navy blue being introduced in 1818, developed by Enoch Wood. I have to confess to accumulating a rather large mound of this stuff, not all of it displayed below. 

Green apparently was  used from 1828 and green is certainly the second most common find.

Mudlarking Finds: Green Transferware from 1829
Wedgwood began using brown printing on a cream background in 1835, although I've read brown was first used in 1809. The two brown rim pieces which I realised slotted together were found 5 months apart – I like that. Brown seems to be the third most common find.
Mudlarking Find: Brown Transferware from 1809
Other colours appeared after 1830, English pink, purple, mulberry, yellow and sepia. All of which are less common on the foreshore. Can’t work out when they starting producing transferwares in black, but they too are far and few between. 
There seem to be two ways of identifying whether a piece of pottery is transferware rather than handpainted. Sometimes if you look closely you can seen the small dots that make up the pattern. Secondly the designs tend to be far more intricate and detailed. However, I still have a few pieces where I'm flummoxed.


  1. Excellent article and informative. Shard collecting at Margate is becoming a big thing and this article is an excellent reference on a subject that has very little written about it. thanks

  2. Always so fascinating to read... Thank you for all your informative posts. They are a real pleasure and inspiration.

  3. My family and I are coming to England the end of you give "mudlarking" tours? It has been a dream of mine to dig for treasures there by the Thames River! My email is Thank you! Danielle Muller

  4. Hi good site.I also run the
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