This particular china pattern has a mystery concerning its origin. Some say this wonderfully beautiful transfer ware china stems from a legend told in China more than a thousand years ago. It is believed that all the original Willow Pattern plates were destroyed by the Manchu rulers in China after they discovered that members of the illegal Hung Society defied them. The blue and white design is said to have been smuggled into England in the 19th Century and reintroduced back into China in the 19th Century.
No matter where or when this pattern appeared, no one can deny that this is one of the most recognizable china patterns in the world. The romantic fable is one that involves a wealthy Mandarin with a beautiful daughter. She fell in love with her father's humble accounting assistant which did not make her father happy. (It was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social classes). The father built a high fence around his house to keep them apart. The father planned the marriage of his daughter to a Duke. The Duke arrived by a boat to wed his bride and brought with him a gift box full of jewels. The day of the wedding was set when the blossom fell from the willow tree.
The night before the planned wedding, the accounting assistant dressed as a servant and entered the palace unnoticed. As the “bride” and the servant/accounting assistant escaped with Duke's jewels, the father chased them over a bridge with a whip in hand. The lovers used the Duke's ship and sailed to a secluded island where they lived happily for many years. The Duke eventually figured out where his bride was and sent soldiers that captured the lovers and put them to death. The Gods were moved by this, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves. (Early willow pattern plates do not have the doves and therefore this is believed to have been added to the tale at a later date).
There is a poem called “Old Poem” that narrates the markings on the blue willow china:
Two birds flying high,
A chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o'er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.