8 Things You Need to Know About West German Art Pottery

What is it about West German Pottery that attracted you at the onset?

One of the advantages of having an internet business is that stock can double as home decor, a rotating collection.  Items in this picture show 13 different companies, including Scheurich, , Ruscha, Gramann, ES, Karlsruhe, van Daalen, Jasba, Hutschenreuther, Otto, Sawa, and Carstens.  The two floor vases on the rear of the wood stove are in the permanent collection since they arrived badly damaged but are far too lovely to discard.
One of the advantages of having an internet business is that stock can double as home decor, a rotating collection.  Items in this picture show 13 different companies, including Scheurich,  Ruscha, Gramann, ES, Karlsruhe, van Daalen, Jasba, Hutschenreuther, Otto, Sawa, and Carstens.  The two floor vases on the rear of the wood stove are in the permanent collection since they arrived badly damaged but are far too lovely to discard.
Photo courtesy Forrest Poston

It really wasn’t love at first site. My wife Ginny and I first started seeing West German vases in antique malls in the early 90s, along with Italian vases from the same era, and we played a game of “Funky German or Funky Italian” to see if we could tell the difference. However, what we were seeing were the tourist items, not the best design or execution, and we played the game but left the vases behind.

A few years later, I ran into a Scheurich glaze that I couldn’t pass up, although at $50 it was far and away the most expensive piece of mid century German pottery I had seen so far. That got me to pay more attention on eBay, and I found some of the sellers in Germany who were offering a wide variety of West German pottery. The main attractions were still the same: unusual colors and forms, but the quality was higher than what was in the U.S. antique malls. Also, the prices were low, often under $15 for good pieces, even if it meant waiting four weeks for the box to arrive .. .and a box usually held 8-15 vases.

What prices can the beginner collector expect to pay for a piece of West German Pottery in mint condition? 

Prices are really still all over the map since the market hasn’t matured. There’s also a wide difference between price in Europe and the United States and a wider than usual gap between flea market prices and shop prices. Dealers are also still not educated on the subject and many have no idea of the differences in quality or availability. That means it’s still possible to find some great bargains, but I’ve also seen circa 1990 Scheurich vases on a New York City site priced $2,000 and incorrectly dated to 1960. The date puts it outside collector interest and the quality was poor.

Still, there’s a lot of low to medium level West German pottery out there, an enormous variety. A beginning collector in the United States can still build a collection spending $15-50 per item, but it’s usually necessary to buy from Germany to get those prices, so shipping is an issue. A number of items can also be found in Canada, but those are primarily lower end items and almost entirely Scheurich, Carstens, or Dümler & Breiden since those are the companies that exported most heavily to Canada.

Buying from shops or shows, prices are going to be more in the $35-75 range for similar items, but there are still exceptions. A lot just depends on what quality level a collector wants. As you move up in quality, there’s a fairly significant drop in availability and increase in price.

Is there any hope of being the one kid on the block to “collect the whole set?

For the field of West German pottery overall, the whole set would be tens of thousands of items. However, there are lots of “sets” that can be collected. Many of the forms were made with numerous glazes or in several sizes, so a collector could go after the over 200 different glazes on Scheurich shape 414, or they could go after the widely produced Fabiola glaze on each of the forms it decorates.

A collector may collect by designer as that information becomes more available, perhaps the different designs done by Cari Zalloni, or just those that he did for Steuler. There are already some who look for items designed by Bodo Mans.

With some of the smaller companies, such as Silberdistel, a collector might be able to collect an example of every form or glaze the company did, but that would be a challenge since production numbers were lower and documentation is still incomplete.

I’ve known collectors who have trouble deciding whether to collect by company, glaze, the best item available, or many of the other options created by the variety in the field. Some also collect more by time period, choosing either the earlier work from about 1954-64 or the often fancier glazes from 1965-80.

What are a few of the most prolific makers collectors should look for?

Far and away, the most prolific company was Scheurich (still in business but not making any real art pottery). Other companies that produced fairly large quantities include Bay, Carstens, Dümler & Breiden, ES Keramik, Jasba, Jopeko, Roth, Ruscha, Steuler, and Ü-Keramik as well as several others that are often found but not as often properly attributed. Kevin Graham has so far documented more than 100 companies that made art pottery in the mid century style/period, not including all of the studio potters also producing significant work. 

Is West German Pottery something anyone can find across the United States or is was this mainly imported to the West Coast?

Almost no West German pottery was imported anywhere in the United States. The tourist items that started to come back in the 60s and 70s can be find in most parts of the country, though not in great quantity. A few companies exported significant amounts to Canada, so some of that is finding its way to the US as popularity grows, but that was generally mid-range quality or lower.

Far and away, most of the pottery remains in Germany, but more dealers are buying it, so it’s starting to show up more at shows, brick and mortar shops and Internet shops. It is usually identified only as West German pottery with little information about the company, designer, or period.  Larger selection is still limited to the big cities, especially New York City, which was the first city where dealers really embraced the field.

Some of the designs are so over the top Mid-Century Modern they appear fanciful. What were the main design trends West German Pottery makers were trying to capture in their works?

I once thought the styles in West German pottery could be put into a fairly tidy order, but the more I’ve seen, the more I’ve realized that it’s a bit of an illusion. There are trends, but at any given time there are counter-trends just as strong. The base influence remains the Bauhaus, but the ceramics department there emphasized experimentation more than most of the school. I also believe that the decades of repression by the Nazis before the war resulted in even greater creativity after the war and a mix of styles from the present plus the decades that got skipped.

There was a determination after the war to focus on joy and happier things than the ruins around them. It might be called the aesthetics of insistent joy. Shapes are often playful, colors increasingly exhuberant, and combinations outlandish, sometimes successfully blending, sometimes not. At the same time, companies were making subtly complex earthtones that were soothing but not dull, and I have a Jasba pitcher with a matte glaze that could easily pass for Arts & Crafts, and some of the forms we find so modern aren’t that far from some Roman and Egyptian forms, while the really classic forms are right out of Chinese ceramics. I think that’s part of the attraction in collecting pottery, that sense of history embodied in every piece in so many ways.

The introduction of volcanic glazes among the commercial companies around 1965 certainly took texture to a new level, the Fat Lava subcategory that has become well known, and with the Pop Art era, colors became more saturated. Forms perhaps moved more from the Art Deco influence to what’s sometimes called Space Age, with bubble forms becoming more common. People also need to realize that many of the glazes are rooted in the same influences as some of Otto Natzler’s work.

I don’t think the artists and designers were worried so much about particular styles as they were just releasing a tremendous amount of pent up creative energy. They wanted to do everything and dared to try anything. Neither the previous war nor the Cold War could really slow them down, although time and economics eventually ended the rush. The companies that didn’t close completely and turned to more mundane production.

Can you list some the most popular colors used in the glazes? The least common? 

Whatever color or color combination you prefer, you’ll find it in West German Pottery. Reds, blues, oranges, and earthtones are frequently found. Greens seem to be a little less common. You’ll find yellow in mottled forms or as an accent, but as a significant part of the glaze, it’s uncommon.  (True monotone glazes are generally uncommon in any color.)

You’ll find more purples and related colors in West German pottery than anywhere else, but they are still somewhat difficult to find. Otto, Roth, and Scheurich were among those to make especially striking use of purples.

You have to remember that this period was about experimentation, and as a result almost any color or color combination you want to collect is out there.

When did you launch Ginforsodditiques.com?

We started the site in September of 2002. My wife Ginny and I had been selling online, in malls, and at shows for several years before then, just using the name ginfor. The Gin-For’s Odditiques name developed mostly for the site. Of course, I wanted top billing, but somehow “For-Gin” seemed to generate the wrong impression for this business.

Forrest Poston has specialized in West German pottery for the last 12 years. He discovered the genre while looking for a collecting field that wasn’t dominated by other dealers. His time is divided among his wife Ginny, their beloved cats and his extensive retail website, Ginforsodditiques.com, which features pottery from dozens of makers, styles and glazes.

More from West German Pottery expert Forrest Poston

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