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Newcastle pottery expert collects and writes about pink transferware

She has dished on the topic in three self-published books
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Newcastle’s Margie Williams has become an authority on pink transferware, including writing three books on the pottery with the distinctive, intricate patterns. Mixing history, antiques and a thirst for knowledge on a particular niche in the collecting world, Williams has self-published three large-format, illustrated books — “Collecting English Pink,” “The Charm of English Pink” and “American Historical (English Pink)” — through her own Altarfire Publishing business. Her Web site — englishpink.net — has become a popular destination for collectors in both the U.S. and Great Britain, where the transferware industry first started in the 1700s. Williams’ English pink collection started in the mid-1960s with a gift of three pieces of ironstone transferware from a friend. All three pieces were pink. One of her favorite colors is pink so it was natural for Williams to start looking for more. “I couldn’t believe how well new pieces matched,” Williams said. “I was soon buying every chance I could. But I was very poor at the time so I added a little at a time.” Transferware is described at collectors’ site transcollectorsclub.org as earthenware, porcelain, ironstone china or bone china that has a pattern applied by transferring an etching onto the pottery. It was first sold in the late 18th century and initially mimicked Chinese originals. For more than 200 years it was made in Britain but has only in the past decade or so been manufactured “offshore” — this time going back full-circle to China. Today, collectors can start off with newer examples and then reach back into the lure and lore of historical patterns as they begin to learn more. Newer transferware is relatively inexpensive and one of the advantages is that collectors and their families can use them as dining ware, Williams said. “We do eat off it, but we don’t really eat off the older examples,” Williams said. Williams’ collection caught the eye of Roseville’s Carol Davis while some of the outstanding examples were displayed at this past weekend’s 49er Bottle and Antiques Show in Auburn. “This kind of stuff is so beautiful,” Davis said. “I can admire the different scenes and the colors and the history of it.” By 1980, Williams had amassed a collection of several dozen pieces but was devastated when, living in Dallas at the time, a burglar stole all but two pieces. Discouraged, she stopped collecting for several years. In 1988, she met Newcastle resident Kent Williams, who shared a love of collecting antiques. That rekindled her fire for collecting pink transferware. With a common bond of collecting, the two were married in 1990. Kent, who has a passion for collecting music devices, said both came to the marriage with a love of collecting that hadn’t been shared by their previous spouses. With a mutual interest in antiques and collectibles, they’ve been able to expand into esoteric collections such as ice-cream scoops and ceremonial masks. “Collecting is in our blood,” Kent said. A year after marrying Kent, at age 53, Williams suffered a serious bruise to her spinal column in a runway accident just before takeoff of a light airplane at Durham, near Chico. The plane unexpectedly started taxiing while she was inside and her pilot husband was outside. At the hospital she suffered a stroke. Williams, who now uses a wheelchair, said the accident turned out to be the reason she got into the publishing business. Encouraged by several people, she wrote the story of her ordeal and journey to recovery in “Journey to Well: Learning to Live After Spinal Cord Injury.” She self-published the book in 1997 and has since written three more books, with another on the way. The first pink transferware publication came out two years ago. The first publication was written to accompany a talk she made to the Transferware Collectors Club in Philadelphia. Transferware comes in a rainbow of colors — red, purple, cranberry, brown, black, green, yellow, gray and multi-colored, as well as pink. Prices have been rising, with some pieces selling for up to $1,000, Williams said. “But I wouldn’t collect anything unless I enjoyed it,” she said. For Williams, the transferware color of choice has always been pink. And that love for collecting it over more than four decades has made her an authority. Blue is the most popular color, both for manufacturing and collecting. Pink transferware collecting represents about 5 percent of the transferware-collecting world. Williams said she knew that she had gained a large degree of credibility when major collectors started contacting her for information and she found out that she even had a nickname. “He said I was known as the Pink Lady,” Williams said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com. ---------- Fast facts: Transferware How is it made: An etching on an engraved copper plate is inked and then transferred to a piece of paper, which is then applied to the undecorated piece of pottery. The pottery is dipped into water to float off the paper, glazed and re-fired. What was it used for: It was a cheap, British-made version of Chinese exports and used at the table for dinner services, tea and coffee sets, wash sets, cheese wheels and even dog bowls. Where was it made: Nine out of 10 pieces were made in the Staffordshire region of England. – Information from the transcollectorsclub.org Web site