The Fable Behind Willow Pattern Pottery

In simpler times, a romantic tale emerged. The story was set in China, but actually came from an English designer named Thomas Minton. The English often romanticized far-off, exotic places in the 18th and 19th century, so it only made sense that the tale would come around at that time.

Minton designed the now-iconic blue and white porcelain in 1790 and it has stayed in vogue ever since. The traditional willow pattern always features a willow tree and a bridge. The popular story behind willow pattern pieces was based on the design itself, rather than basing the design on an already existing story.


A traditional willow pattern plate. Photograph CC 3.0


The story goes like this (via Wikipedia):

“Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father’s humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father. (It was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class.) He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree.
On the eve of the daughter’s wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves (possibly a later addition to the tale, since the birds do not appear on the earliest willow pattern plates).”

The style is so iconic that willow pattern pieces are often used in TV and film to imitate a classic 19th century setting. It’s truly a beautiful, traditional design that will doubtless stick around for a long, long time.

Photos from the Attic: Three Generations

A while ago, we posted an introduction to our old black and white photos lying unused. Many of these photos are conventional portraits, but among the piles, rare photographic gems stand out.

What are the stories behind these photos? Who is shown in the picture, why was it taken, who took the picture? No one can really know for sure, but each single shot offers thousands of possibilities.

What about these three photos of women from different generations? Each has a clear and distinct personality (and one could be a unique Coca-Cola advertisement).


The little girl in this photo clearly has the center stage – and she wouldn’t have it any other way. The perspective is such that she looks taller than she actually is, like she’s owning the sidewalk she stands on. She’s just a little girl – but her attitude says she’s so much more.

A few guesses of what the older lady thinks as she walks by this fabulous young girl. Though the older lady is wearing a nice suit, pearls and a fur stole, she’s got nothing on the girl taking center stage.


No clues as to why this girl is holding a lion cub – though Coca-Cola seems to be sponsoring the event. The lens’s focus centers on the now old-fashioned “Ice Cold” Coke sign, though the girl with the lion stands front and center in the foreground. Did the photographer intend to focus instead on the girl in the front? What an inconvenience that slipping fingers on a slippery lens had to change the image permanently.

She does look a little nervous to be holding a lion. She’s probably wondering how this happened to her. Does the cub belong to her, or is it a side show attraction? What do you think?


The last of these photos has the simplest but most beautiful subject. An old woman sits on a quaint wooden porch. She wears a floral-print blouse and a homemade apron. Her hands rest in her lap; she stares off into the distance in a pensive pose. What is she thinking about? Maybe she’s in the middle of telling a story, taking a pause to collect her thoughts. Or is she watching someone or something from her perch on the porch, like neighborhood kids playing?

All these photos have hidden histories. What do you think the people in these pictures are thinking?

Aesop’s Fables: The Milkmaid and Her Pail

This is not the first Aesop’s fable we’ve posted, and it won’t be the last. Aesop’s fables have stuck around for a reason; they always have something to teach us.

The story goes that Aesop, a slave in ancient Greece, “made use of humble incidents to teach great truths, and after serving up a story he adds to it the advice to do a thing or not to do it. Then, too, he was really more attached to truth than the poets are…” (Philostratus)

Only in the 18th century were the stories first marketed to children as useful moral tales.

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The Milkmaid and Her Pail

(From Project Gutenberg)

“A farmer’s daughter had been out to milk the cows, and was returning to the dairy carrying her pail of milk upon her head. As she walked along, she fell a-musing after this fashion: “The milk in this pail will provide me with cream, which I will make into butter and take to market to sell. With the money I will buy a number of eggs, and these, when hatched, will produce chickens, and by and by I shall have quite a large poultry-yard. Then I shall sell some of my fowls, and with the money which they will bring in I will buy myself a new gown, which I shall wear when I go to the fair; and all the young fellows will admire it, and come and make love to me, but I shall toss my head and have nothing to say to them.” Forgetting all about the pail, and suiting the action to the word, she tossed her head. Down went the pail, all the milk was spilled, and all her fine castles in the air vanished in a moment!

Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.”