Unterstaub East German Studio Pottery

Unterstab Art Pottery mark
KTU mark for Kunsttöpferei Unterstab (Unterstab Art Pottery run by Ralf and Gudrun Unterstab)

I’m increasingly frustrated by how poor some of the early research into West and East German pottery turns out to be, but I’m also frustrated that changes in information are often not widely shared, just in whatever group they first get revealed in.  I would love to be doing my own research, but the necessary materials remain in Germany, leaving me to rely on those people in Germany who research the subjects.

The latest foul up involves Unterstab studio pottery from East Germany.  The last time I had work from that “family”, word was that one mark was from husband and wife team, Ralf and Gudrun

Ralf and Gudrun Unterstab vase with crystalline glaze
Ralf and Gudrun Unterstab vase, circa 1970.

Unterstab, while the simple KTU mark was Kerstin, their child.  Not much more information seemed to be available.

So I get the lovely crystalline glaze vase pictured here and decide to ask for a few more details and confirm some information.  It turns out that KTU stands for Kunsttöpferei Unterstab (translation Unterstab Art Pottery), and not only is it not by Kerstin, but there is and never was such a person.  Just how bad does research have to be to create a person who never existed just to match letters in a name?  I apologize to anyone I ever passed that information along to.  While I know where I got the wrong information, I don’t know if that was the “source”, so I’ll leave that be for now…but a lot of wrong and very wrong information has come from that same route.

So Unterstab pottery is Ralf and Gudrun (which I think is still accurate).  Luckily, this vase, which I believe is circa 1970, is just as lovely since good or bad research affects only the attribution, not the aesthetics.

If you reached this blog without going through the main site, you can get there by clicking here ginforsodditiques.com to see more information plus items for sale.

Ruscha 313, Iconic and Redesigned

I still consider the introduction of the Ruscha shape 313 in 1954 to be the beginning of the golden age of West German pottery.  The Kurt Tschörner from was elegant, whimsical, daring and a delight to the eye with its spout thrust forward and every line following that forward line.  It captured everything that the post-war pottery seemed intent on doing, lifting spirits and looking forward.  I’ve been pushing the 313 as an icon for over a decade, and the idea has caught on.  There is, however, a problem because there are two versions of the 313.

Somewhere in the 1960s, the form was modified.  Imagine someone

The original 313 form with its low, forward shape and a sharp angle where the handle meets the throat.
The original 313 form with its low, forward shape and a sharp angle where the handle meets the throat.

grabbing the top of the vase and pulling upward.  The resulting “pitcher” is not only a bit taller but a bit less “forward”, less elegant, less whimsical.  So why change what seemed to be one of the perfect art pottery forms?  I suspect that the answer is an old one, commerce.

The redesigned Ruscha 313, less forward thrust and room to fit a finger under the top of the handle.
The redesigned Ruscha 313, less forward thrust and room to fit a finger under the top of the handle.

All of the things that made the original

313 special would almost certainly have made it difficult to produce.  Several of the angles were such that they probably didn’t come out of the mold well on a regular basis.  That would mean some were lost then, while others would require additional hand sanding to be worth glazing.  Also, the handle was probably prone to breaking somewhere between the kiln and the store shelf.

Quite possibly, the 313 was a victim of success, and it may have been the need to produce greater quantity that required the redesign.  The later version is certainly a fine form, and some of the glazes are among the best of the era, but it’s really only the original that’s the true icon in terms of form.  (No word on who did the redesign.)

If you got here without going through the main site, you can get there by clicking here:  ginforsodditiques.com.  You’ll find more information plus items for sale…not just the usual suspects.

Scheurich and the Shape Number Problem

Horst Makus and Kevin Graham have both published extensive lists of shape numbers and height combinations and which companies produced them.  You may also get results simply by entering a shape number and size into a Google search.  However, the lists and searches can be deceptive.  Aside from the issues of accuracy (and much of the information on the net is out of date or simply wrong), many companies re-used shape numbers.

Since Scheurich produced tremendous quantity for most of the W. German era, many glazes, many shapes, and many sizes, they were the “worst” about re-using numbers.  After all, they had the choice of going up and up in shape numbers or re-using numbers.  Companies often used particular series for particular shapes (such as something in the 800 range for non-handled vases by Ruscha for many years), it was more convenient for them to re-use numbers.  After all, companies weren’t concerned with what would help or hinder collectors decades later.

So a Scheurich 201, 275, 414 and others may appear in two, three, even four shape variations.  In some cases, the shapes are quite similar.  With two versions of shape 275, the primary difference is simply whether the top of the handle is curved (earlier version) or straight.  In other cases, the the shapes bear little resemblance to one another.  We’re taught to trust numbers, those things that supposedly never lie, but when collecting West German pottery, keep in mind that even if the numbers don’t lie, they can certainly be deceptive.  When trying to identify W. German pottery, numbers, glazes, forms, clay color, even the style of the numbers and their placement should all be considered before declaring, “I know who made this one.”  Even then, mistakes can be made.  I know.  I’ve made at least one or two….or so.

For more information and items for sale, visit http://ginforsodditiques.com,  not just the usual suspects.

Bay, Bodo Mans, and What’s in a Name

Bodo Mans is one of the few designers who had established some reputation before he designed for a West German pottery company, and collectors were seeking his works for Bay years before W. German pottery became a popular collectible.  Indeed, some of them sold higher then as Bodo Mans items than they do now as Bay or West German.  Although this early popularity has not translated into higher prices today, it has certainly become a hot keyword with the usual results.

Based on information in the Horst Makus books, there are a few decors in the early 1960s attributed to Mans, including Reims in 1960, Istanbul in 1961, and Ravenna, also 1961.  I believe some others in that era have also been documented, but I’m not certain.

Bay Keramik vase 575
Bay shape 575 with a circa 1960 decor, no current attribution to designer.

However, I tend to doubt that Mans designed every work that gets attributed to him on the internet.  It seems that every embossed design gets attributed to Mans, even if it was designed after Mans had switched to freelance work (which makes it possible but less likely for a Bay design to be by Mans).

Of course, the reality is that the name of the designer has no more effect on the aesthetics of an item than does the name of the company.  Yes, it’s of interest to know who made the items, and it certainly makes searches easier.  The great advantage and disadvantage of the internet is the importance of being able to run a precise search.  However, we can’t let ourselves be tricked into raising market values based on names….not the name of the designer, not the name of the company, and not the name of

someone who goes on tv and says a particular item is interesting (more on that eventually in a Roth entry).  We say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I believe that the beholder has a responsibility to train that eye.  Collect what you want, but respect and appreciate it for what it is, good, bad, or indifferent.

If you got here without going to the main site, you can get there by clicking here: ginforsodditiques.com. You’ll find more information plus items for sale…….not just the usual suspects.

From Jopeko to Stein: A Major Attribution Change in West German Pottery

Unfortunately, when research and documentation first began in West German pottery, it wasn’t always done with stringent Stein Keramik shape 4 20documentation.  There were assumptions that became accepted as gospel, and now that more documentation is being done along with more conversation, better exchange of information, it’s sometimes an uphill battle to not simply prove an item was made by a particular company but to prove that it wasn’t made by the company everyone believed.  Such is the case with the Jopeko to Stein shift.

Until early 2016, Stein was a very little known company, and even those of us who knew it existed thought the company had stein.4.20.botproduced a small amount of pleasant but uninspired pottery.  Then, some people started pointing out that certain forms attributed to Jopeko had never been found with a company mark or label.  In particular, Günther Heinrich Stein Keramik Shape 9 20Wulf and Guido Van den Heule started digging, pushing, and exchanging pictures on Facebook.  The result was that while none of these forms turned up confirmed as Jopeko, some shapes were found with a Stein mark.

Now, Stein is one of the big players with some very impressive glazes.  Jopeko remains a major company with great forms and glazes, but a few of their best are suddenly on a new team.  In particular, shape numbers 6, 7, 9, 11, 40, 42, 44, 47, 50, 56,  70, 80, and 92 are Stein.  stein.9.20.mark.gunther

It will likely be another year or two before the proper attributions start showing up around the internet, but it’s always more important to buy the item, not the name.  The aesthetics don’t change when the attribution does, but it still comes under the heading of keeping an open mind and checking your resources.  We’ve made huge strides in learning which company made what, but there is a lot more to learn in what is certainly the widest, deepest, most varied pottery period in history.

If you got here without visiting the main site, you can get there by clicking here: ginforsodditiques.com.  You’ll find more information plus items for sale……not just the usual suspects.

Photos of shape 9/20 and the base courtesy of Günther Heinrich Wulf.  Much appreciated.

The Fat Lava Insanity

For my first post, I’m jumping right in with pet peeve time.  While I ES Keramik glaze, excellent fat lava examplelove the phrase fat lava, it is terribly over-used, misused, and abused.  First of all, “fat lava” and “W. German pottery” are not synonymous.  Depending on how tightly you define fat lava, I would guess that less than 15% of W. German pottery qualifies.

The phrase became an overnight sensation when Mark Hill published the expanded show catalog with the name “Fat Lava”, and some people think that’s where the phrase began.  Like most overnight sensations, this one was actually years in the making since eBay sellers had been using the phrase for a long time before the show or catalog.  There are disagreements over Carstens vase with rough texture but not fat lavathe origin, and it will never really be known, but based on the glazes sellers were trying to describe, my guess remains that it’s a computer translation problem.

The glazes described were sometimes volcanic, often “runny” or “drip” glazes.  However, while early 20th century drip glazes are the same level as the surrounding glazes, these “fat” glazes are significantly thicker than the glaze level they cover, sticking up from the body of the vase.  I believe that “thick” got translated as “fat”, Steuler vase designed by Heiner Balzaarand the phrase worked so well that it stuck.

Then, it worked so well after the release of “Fat Lava” that sellers began using it as a keyword to get attention, and it got applied to everything, thicScheurich Keramik vase with volcanic fat lava glazek or thin.  I’ll still use the phrase when needed, but it’s rather like a friend that insisted on hanging around enough to become an irritant.  If you love West and East German pottery, give it enough respect to call the pieces by their own name, as close as  possible with what we know so far, anyway.

If you reached this blog without going to the main site, you can get there by clicking here: ginforsodditiques.com.  You’ll find more information plus items for sale…….not just the usual suspects.