The Country Child's Toy China
I have been in love with miniature 19th century plates, cups and serving pieces ever since I first discovered the beauty of English transferware. I have bought, sold and colle
Both before and after the American Revolution the British flooded the American market with underglaze transfer printed earthenware. Americans were convinced that it was the finest in the world, primarily because the British told them so. It was very cheap to make, and America became a very important market for the potteries of Staffordshire. This is why it is appropriate to include 19th century English transferware in collections of American antiques of the period. We didn't make much dinner china in this country until the 20th century.
The question is, why did parents buy china as toys for children? Because it was cheap and children loved it. Parents could often find miniature versions of their own favorite patterns to give to their children. Little girls love tea parties, and there were plenty of tiny tea sets available just for them.
All of the 19th century children's pieces were made in England until very late in the century when the Japanese started to produce quantities of Blue Willow to export into this country. American manufacturers made a lot of Blue Willow in the 1920s and 1930s. Blue Willow toy sets are very common, but the earlier English-made pieces are most collectible.
The miniature p
So, what should you look for when collecting toy china? The earliest found in this country date from the 1820s or so, but they are not porcelain - they are most likely earthenware. You can tell because porcelain is translucent, and earthenware is more opaque. English transfer printed pieces are more valuable than Japanese or American pieces which are much later. Not many have maker's marks, so you just have to learn how to tell one from another by handling them.
There seems to be an endless number of patterns produced by the English potters. Picking a pattern you really like, and then looking for pieces in that pattern is a great way to collect toy china.
I fell in love with a relatively rare pattern by John Rogers, dating from around 1825, called Monopteros. I collected a few plates and then discovered a miniature plate in the pattern one day. I became obsessed. I spent 10 years in a ceaseless hunt for toy Monopteros pieces. I found them on Ebay, in flea markets, at high end shows, low end shows and in England. The picture above shows a regular size Monopteros soup bowl surrounded by 3 sizes of miniature plates in the same pattern. You can see how very tiny the toy ones are relative to the full size.
What you look for is the same as what you look for in a full size plate - condition being foremost. Look for hairlines, little chips, "flea bites" (tiny little nicks), and crazing. Then look at the quality of the transfer print. These were done in quantity, so the guy transferring the print didn't always get it straight, and sometimes the colors ran, or the prin
Look at this pair of miniature Monopteros plates: the ones on the left are not as clear nor are the colors as intense as the ones on the right. They were done late in the use of the transfer print, but I bought them anyway because they were otherwise in good condition.
These little dinner and tea sets had all the pieces - teapot, sugar pot, cream
This is my whole collection of miniature Monopteros pieces:
I found a bird pattern set once - I never could identify the name of the pattern or the maker. I know it was made around 1840 - can just tell by the shapes and quality. I still have several piec
es and I love it, particularly for its intricate detail - note the acorn finials and the branch-shaped handles. Amazing!
That's the thing about English transferware. You can study it all your life and you are still surprised with patterns you've never seen before. The Transferware Collector's Club (www.transferwarecollectorsclub.org) has identified 12, 521 patterns as of August of 2015. They are documenting them all in a database open to members. I should research this bird pattern. It may be there.
A big splurge for me was buying a 44 piece child's dinner service made by Minton, one of the finest makers of transferware, and porcelain, for that matter. I bought it 18 years ago and I never get tired of looking at it. The pattern is English Views. The pieces have many different views, but the shapes and rim decorations are consistent. I did find this one in England.
I love blue anything, so I tend to go for the blue and white pieces. But there are other colors:
And lots of patterns - sheet patterns, animals, you name it:
I love them all. Some have chips, no lids, stains, cracks, and other blemishes, but that just means that they were used and loved by the children of the 1800s.
For more information look for the following: Understanding Miniature British Pottery and Porcelain by Maurice and Evelyn Milbourn; English Toy China by Doris Anderson Lechler, and Gifts for Good Children by Noel Riley.