Saturday, April 20, 2013


In the late 19th-century, my great-grandparents built a summer home in East Boothbay, Maine. These days, fifth-generation family members still vacation there – one from as far away as California – to beat the heat and spend time lounging on the back porch watching the ebb and flow of the Atlantic in Linekin Bay.

These days, we recycle our glass and haul our trash to the landfill, but in my great-grandparents’ day, a lot of stuff – especially bottles and broken china – were loaded onto a skiff, rowed offshore and unceremoniously dumped into the ocean. But the constant tug and pull of the tides, the churning of waves, causes great upheaval on the bottom of the bay, and bits and pieces of glass and china come back to shore; what my great-grandparents dumped is all coming back to us!

Most of what we find is English transferware, hugely popular in this area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Master patterns were etched in copper; color was applied, and then printed onto thin tissue paper; the paper was then applied to the ceramic piece, where the wet ink “transferred” the colored image to the ceramic. Colors included blue (most expensive), brown (most common and least expensive), black, green, red.

The repeating border patterns were applied to earthenware pieces in sections – sometimes nearly perfectly, but sometimes not – I’ve found pieces where the borders have occasional jags where the transfer was not applied accurately.

Some of the central patterns, found on whole plates, bowls and platters, were amazingly detailed – country estates with elaborate houses and outbuildings, men and women strolling through gardens, cattle drives down tree-lined rural lanes, fields of livestock. Village scenes appeared, too, and cottages with thatched roofs; also city-scapes, with taller buildings, trains, horse-drawn public transportation (great on a platter, but a tough sell on smaller items) and bridges. There was a whole series of Biblical images, too!

Manufacturers? I’ve found several, but a few notables are Staffordshire, Johnson Brothers, Spode, Ridgway, Adams, and Clews.

I’m happy enough spending long periods of time prowling the shoreline for the smaller pieces – oddball shards of plates and cups and salvers and teapots that have washed up over the years. My cousin Bob, though, goes for bigger stuff: when we have exceptionally low tides, he puts on his nastiest pair of sneakers and mucks around in the mud below the seawall; he’s found some great chunks of things over the years.

Gives whole new meaning to the term “transfer station,” doesn’t it?


  1. Hi Deb ... this is so cool! I have heard and seen transferware, but I didn't realize that it was called that due to the way that they made it.

    What treasures that you receive from the ocean. I can envision making a tile mosaic out of these pieces ... in a table top or a wall hanging.

    Hope that you are doing great and healing up nicely.

    Kathy M.

    1. Hi, Kathy -- a table top or wall hanging is too much for me; I've got a few old glass canning jars filled to the brim with colorful pieces. I also fill low bowls with pieces of transferware, beach glass and force bulbs in them over the winter months. They're beautiful! And, yes, I'm healing very well; thanks for asking!