This Brown-and-White Transferware Collection Will Take You Back to the 19th Century

patterned ceramic transferware
Victor Schrager

"Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm," said Oscar Wilde, the Irish author, dandy, razor wit, and leader of the Aesthetic Movement in Britain (1860–1900). The period was a direct reaction to the utilitarian style of the industrial age, and an unabashed celebration of art for art's sake. If you've ever gazed in rapture at a James Abbott McNeill Whistler painting or a swath of William Morris wallpaper, you've experienced it firsthand.

Another transporting example is transferware ceramics. Developed in the mid-1700s in Staffordshire, England (and later produced in other European countries as well), the pottery was meant for everyday use among the middle class, and named for the technique involved: A design from an engraved and inked copper plate was transferred to tissue-thin paper and applied to a clay form, which was then glazed and fired. Unlike the pastoral scenes and historical sites depicted on other transferware of the time, Aesthetic Movement pieces were influenced by Japanese art and culture, featuring asymmetrical designs and icons like fans, cranes, and chrysanthemums.

Over the past three decades, New York City-based poet Kostas Anagnopoulos has amassed an exquisite collection. He and his husband, Jesse James, own Pidgin, an antiques shop in Oak Hill, New York, and a design consultancy called—you guessed it—Aesthetic Movement. Rather than hunting online, he visits antiques fairs and dealers who specialize in English "kitchenalia," a British term for kitchenware. "The ceramics have a certain feel—you need to examine them," he says, adding that "platters and serving pieces often present the most complex iteration of a set's design." Pieces generally cost $50 to $300, though some can fetch more than $1,000. "I flirt with selling my collection," says Anagnopoulos. "But then I think, Oh, my God, no, I can't. It's so great." Wilde would no doubt agree.

Provenance doesn't figure into Anagnopoulos's purchases. Many of his pieces are umarked, including a favorite plate with Greek imagery that reflects his heritage. He also appreciates defects like the erratic Greek-keyborder, and the fact that this plate was fixed by a previous owner—a detail he considers a poetic "nod to antiquity."

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Full Service

various brown and cream ceramic transferware
Victor Schrager

Kostas Anagnopoulos fell in love with English brown-and-cream transferware nearly 30 years ago. He's especially drawn to items with crazing (subtle surface cracks) and unique lidded dishes, like this Wedgwood Louise tureen. The rectangular Melbourne platter was made by Gildea & Walker; its design is identical to that of a polychrome one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The T&R Boote Blackberry pitcher is notable for its delicate spider web, and the Rangoon gravy boat is by manufacturer Emery Burslem.

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Plate Expectations

ceramic filled red wooden hutch
Victor Schrager

An early-American cabinet with its original seeded-glass doors holds an assortment of dishes. "Whether it has a lot of negative space or a dense pattern, each one demands your attention," says Anagnopoulos. Spare cylindrical vases and antique glass bottles bring contrast to his display.

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Pitcher This

patterned ceramic pitchers
Victor Schrager

An unmarked jug (left) features the branch of a citrus tree with sensuous fruit and leaves. Anagnopoulos treasures the J.D. & Co. Warwick ewer (right) because of its elaborate patterned borders and cartouche of a stag leaping off a cliff to escape a predator.

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Lovely Details

botanical motif ceramic transferware
Victor Schrager

One of Anagnopoulos's most prized finds is an unmarked platter with an intricate and very rare all over botanical motif. He adores the Pandora pitcher by Wallis Gimson & Co. for its unusual rectangular form, and often serves fruit and cheese on the unmarked compote (holding grapes) and honeysuckle pedestal plate when he entertains.

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Layered Looks

multicolored ceramic transferware
Victor Schrager

Polychrome, or multicolor, transferware is created by painting additional shades onto a single-color object and reglazing it. Here, Anagnopoulos has stacked three unmarked examples.

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