The original Blue Willow pattern was introduced by Thomas Turner in 1780 and designed and engraved by Thomas Minton. The design featured Chinese legend-inspired images that were created using a blue glaze. The images were originally engraved on copper plates. Originally sold by the Caughley Co. in 1784, the Blue Willow pattern was adopted by companies such as Adams, Davenport and Clews, as well as Wedgwood, which continues to sell this pattern today.
According to the website DishwareDepot, the legend depicted on Blue Willow dishware is that of two young Chinese lovers. Hong Shee was the daughter of a wealthy man who fell in love with her father's secretary, Chang. Disapproving of their union, the wealthy father banished Hong Shee to a palace, where she escaped with the help of her maid. Hong Shee and Chang ran together over a bridge, climbed into a boat and sailed away, but were caught in a storm at sea and drowned. The legend states that the spirits of Hong Shee and Chang appeared as lovebirds in the sky. Dishware with the Blue Willow design storyboards the two young lovers as they escape on the boat, get swept out to sea and become lovebirds after the storm.
As of May 2010, Blue Willow dishware was manufactured by Churchill China, which is known for its Blue Willow patterns with a rippled finish, and Johnson Brothers, whose Blue Willow dishware has a smooth finish. The rippled nature of the Johnson Brothers' china gives the dinnerware a bumpy texture.
Johnson Brothers was founded by the four Johnson brothers in England in 1883, and joined the Wedgwood Group in 1968, becoming one of the largest earthenware manufacturers in the world, according to the website DinnerwareDepot. Examples of Johnson Brothers' vast collection of Blue Willow dinnerware include fruit plates, teacups and saucers, teapots, square salad plates, footed cereal bowls and scalloped dishes.
Churchill China was founded in 1795 with its sister company, Sampson Bridgwood. Currently based in Stoke-on-Trent, England, Churchill China features the Blue Willow pattern as part of its Chelsea series, and its products are sold in more than 50 countries. Examples of Churchill dinnerware with the Blue Willow pattern that can be purchased as of May 2010 include dinner plates in various sizes, sugar bowls, teacups, milk jugs, gravy boats, cream jugs and salt and pepper figurines.