We Call It West German Pottery

I’ve written many times and in many places about the problems with the term “fat lava”, especially when people act as if “fat lava” and “West German pottery” were synonymous, but the real problem begins with the term “West German pottery itself”. It might be marginally better if we said W. German “art” pottery, just as we say American art pottery rather than simply American pottery, but that would also open new problems.

Of course, when W. German pottery began getting attention from collectors, almost nothing was known, or known to only a few who weren’t sharing. The only well known marking was the country designation, and so that became the name of the collecting category. At the time, no one worried about how many companies or styles might be included, much less the variety of shapes, glazes……and quality.

By the time we realized that there were perhaps 100 companies involved and thousands or tens of thousands of shape and glaze combinations ranging from utter schlock to items fine and rare enough to stand beside the best ever art pottery made, the term W. German pottery was well rooted. Even now, most collectors don’t know the company names, and even collectors of W. German pottery often have no knowledge of, sometimes no respect for, the range of quality or rarity.

In some cases, this means that many people equate “W. German pottery” with kitsch or tourist level pottery, and a high percentage does fall into that category, still quite collectible but never destined to have much value. In other cases, medium range, fairly easy to find items get the right publicity, and prices skyrocket well beyond a “fair market value” that takes into account the value of comparable items in better known, established categories. Most of the Roth “petal” vases fall into this category, in my opinion.

And what this all adds up to is a collecting field that remains ragged, better documented than before but largely not better known. In the past, this would be corrected by a series of books, although covering the field well would mean at least a dozen or so books, general and company-specific. Unfortunately, the publishing industry has been hit hard by the internet, and getting a book published requires either showing that a book on the subject has already done well or being willing and able to pay the publisher $5000 or more up front and even then perhaps having to sell the books yourself.

There are a few sites that have informative materials, some more trustworthy than others, but even in the so-called Information Age, that doesn’t have the same influence that a full-sized book did and can have. The books so far printed (and all or most were self-funded), have a variety of limitations in scope and quality, and they have not been of a type to inspire confidence in publishers. So we plug along with less-than satisfactory terms while hoping and working for better times. (Sample pics coming later to show some of the quality and style range.)

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