My mother was born in 1933 and I know that my grandparents didn't have very much. Times were hard. I don't know if they bought this little set for her or if it was a premium that came in sacks of flour or sugar. It is possible that one of the several childless aunts and uncles that doted on my mother gave it to her. It is also possible that just like with paying for her piano lessons by driving the teacher around to other lessons that my grandmother paid for it by bartering. I will never know, but I played with it as a child during those priceless visits to my grandparents home.
My mother treasured this little set and had brought what remained of it home with her when they cleaned out her parents house. Sadly, most of the remaining pieces have a chip or two and both surviving cups have no handles. I also treasure this little set and brought it home with me when we closed my parents house. Most pieces bear the mark, "Made in Japan" which indicates it was made between 1921 and 1940; there is no manufacturer mark, but it is of relatively good quality. I found a very similar set in my reference book where the shapes of the pieces are identical, but the pattern appears differently.
The plates tell a version of the Romeo and Juliet story. There are many versions of the Blue Willow legend but it involves two young lovers who are denied permission to marry. In one legend the father's are kings of adjoining kingdoms and bitter enemies. The fathers refuse to allow their children to marry and you know the end of the story. The two birds are the young lovers, turned into turtle doves by the gods so they can fly away to happiness. There are many symbols in the designs and the band around the edge is a story in itself with many different patterns. While most people attribute the legend and the pattern to the Chinese, the pattern was developed by the British and the legends later assembled by the British and Americans!
I had purchased a few small plates, a Homer Laughlin platter, and a cup and saucer in local antique stores before I purchased my first dinner plate. I brought it home and was about to proudly hang it on the wall in a grouping of plates when I flipped it over and, gasp, looked at the mark for the first time: it was a Johnson Bros. pattern, oven, microwave, and dishwasher safe. It was not an antique, but a fairly recently made plate! I still laugh at myself about that one, but as it was the plate only cost $15 and later went into the cabinet for daily use. Shortly afterward Albertson's had a promotion that offered Blue Willow dishes as the premium. I saved my stamps and managed to assemble an 8 place setting of Churchill Blue Willow for a very reasonable sum. As they were discontinuing the promotion I was short on stamps, but noticed that they still had a good quantity on hand, so I negotiated for the tea pot at the premium price! I wish I could have afforded more, but I could only buy so many groceries in a week.
I don't know what it is about this pattern that enchants me. I find it so soothing and so natural and it seems timeless. Now with the growing family I really do need to expand my set. I can't think of eating off of anything but Blue Willow!