All posts by Forrest Poston

Keys to the Company: Ruscha

cropped-catswho.largecanvas.jpgA Few Things to Know About Ruscha (1948-96)

1. Vases with no handles are numbered in the 800 sequence; jugs in the 300 sequence; and two-handled vases most likely to be in the 60 sequence.

2. Early work tends to have hand “painted” marks that often include the company name. Later work will often have an embossed “Ruscha”. In between, it was

The original 313 form had lines that were perhaps a little too close to Murano glass in ways that molded pottery couldn't handle.
The original 313 form had lines that were perhaps a little too close to Murano glass in ways that molded pottery couldn’t handle.

common to have only numbers or number and country.

3. Ruscha mostly used white/buff clay but did use red clay from time to time, apparently most often in the late 50s to early 60s. The same shape in red clay tends to be slightly smaller with finer detailing than a version with white clay.

4. Many top form designers and glaze artists worked at Ruscha at

ruscha.333.mug

one time or another, including Kurt Tschoerner, Otto Gerharz, Hanns Welling, and Adele Bölz

5. Otto Keramik owns some of the molds, including the steer/bull and has issued items in various glazes. In most cases, new versions are fairly easy to pick out if you are familiar with older glazes. However, they seem to have reproduced a few early glazes well, not

surprising since Otto Gerharz Sr. developed many of them at Ruscha. (Contemporary volcanic glazes tend to be “flatter” than originals and may have less distinct coloring.)

6. My understanding is that Scheurich now owns the Ruscha name. Since Scheurich has taken advantage of interest in vintage items by re-issuing some of their own successes, they may try to use the Ruscha name in the same way. Always buy pottery based on quality, not “name”.

bianca.ruscha.2.5.177. The iconic Ruscha 313 form was revised at some point, although when remains unclear. Shape changes made the 313 easier to produce in larger numbers, which is likely a main reason why the revised version is more common. Some of the later glazes, however, are still spectacular.

For more information and items for sale, please visit our home page.

Photos used show an original form 313, a later version of shape 333 (Ruscha did re-use some numbers.), and a Quadriga plaque….Bianca not included.

Keys to the Company: Scheurich Keramik

sch.cop  1. They were better at glazes than shapes. While Scheurich designers produced a few excellent forms, many of the shapes ranged from poor to only fair. Some, such as the classic 517, were very good in terms of proportions but not inventive.

2. The number of glazes produced from the mid 1950s through the mid 1980s is almost beyond imagining or counting. With such numbers, there were many mediocre results, but Scheurich also produced some of the most impressive glazes of the era. “Market” value is almost entirely based on glaze with the exception of a few shapes with better design. A shape such as 271 designed by Heinz Siery is very commonly available, and common or lesser decorations should usually be in the $15 range. The best and rarest so far known can justify a price in the $150 range.

3. Scheurich re-used form numbers more than other companies. Searching or identifying Scheurich based on the shape number and size is problematic at best because many numbers were used 2-4 times. Shapes are sometimes similar, sometimes barely related.

4. Scheurich number placement varies, sometimes around the edge, sometimes centered. Form numbers are 3 digits, and the following number is the approximate size in centimeters. Until the late 1970s or 80s, Scheurich never included the company name. A little later they started using an embossed “three-circle” mark. Most items with this mark are lesser quality and unlikely to become collectible. If you see an item with only “Germany” and the three-circle mark, it’s almost certainly post-reunification.sch.vol.bl

5. Scheurich used white/buff clay. I am not aware of a single piece of Scheurich in any other clay, but the glaze does sometimes stain the clay slightly.

6. Some of the embossed designs and a few other forms have their own name. These include Vienna/Wien, Ceramos, Jura, and Coral/Koralle. Be aware that some items have “collector” names that were given before the company names were known. A prime example is Amsterdam, which was dubbed Onion since the design looks like a cut onion. However, the name Amsterdam reveals that the design is actually based on the image of a tulip bulb.

7. Scheurich floor vases with animals are among the most popular scheurich.267.20.botwith collectors, but the quality varies, especially when the primary glaze overruns the decoration. Value should take both the glaze and the quality of the individual piece into consideration. This is always true but applies particularly strongly with these items.

8. Scheurich was by far the largest producer, so most items are common. The company is still in business and has released the 271 shape (now marked with a clear plastic label) and has re-issued Amsterdam, but the design does not continue to the rim as it did on the originals.

Pictures show a fairly common Scheurich floor vase shape with an uncommon  glaze, one of Scheurich’s “all over” volcanic glazes, and example of “fat lava”, and a fairly typical Scheurich base, keeping in mind that  the bases were almost as numerous as the glazes….or so it seems when trying to sort them out.

For more information plus items for sale, visit our home page…..not just the usual suspects.

Keys to the Company: Bay Keramik

Bay items from the 1950s and early 60s were very popular before cropped-catswho.largecanvas.jpgW. German pottery itself became popular. Some of the Bodo Mans designs fit into the decorative styles collectors wanted in the late 1980s and into the mid 1990s. The Bodo Mans items were actually more valuable then in that collector group than they are now as W.

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

German collectibles, which is also partly why the Bodo Mans name still resonates with collectors.

Things to Know About Bay Keramik

1. The 1950s and early 60s items remain the most popular, along with some of the embossed designs. Quality of decoration with the “painted” glazes varies widely, so select carefully and don’t overpay for a sloppy example.

2. Bay kept up when designs began changing in the early 60s, but their overall design quality began falling after that. A large percentage of Bay items are in the lower “tourist” and “kitsch” categories.

3. Despite the abundance of lesser designs and glazes, Bay still produced some excellent items into the 1980s. Reports that they ceased art pottery production in 1972 are inaccurate. They do seem

bay.575.bot

to have changed emphasis, but there are some late examples that stand as some of the best work Bay produced.

4. Bay only used white/buff clay. I am not aware of a single example in a red/brown clay. Lettering/numbering style varied widely, so not all Bay items have the lower case “y”, but it remains true that if you see the lower case “y” on an item with white clay, Bay is the first company to check…..keeping in mind that Fohr and a few other companies used that combination at times.

5. Don’t assume that every Bodo Mans design will be valuable, and don’t believe every attribution to Mans. He only worked at Bay for a fairly short time.

For more information plus items for sale, check our home page…..not just the usual suspects.

(Photos are of a Bay vase circa 1960.  Use of the full West-Germany was used part of the time in the 50s and very early 60s.)

Keys to the Company: Ceramano

This is part of a series giving a few of the key things to know about individual companies.

1. Ceramano started in 1959 and was created by Jacob Schwadderlap (also owner of Jasba) to focus more specifically on cer.polarishigher quality art pottery. (While many commercial potteries have produced art pottery lines, most of them also produced other lines that were less expensive to produce and sell in larger quantities. In many cases, art pottery lines were only possible because the more decorative and utilitarian items made enough profit to experiment with “art”.

2. The original designer was Hanns Welling. Gerda Heuckeroth also did design work.cer.polaris.mark

3. Ceramano used brown to red-brown clay with the exception of some blanks purchased from Ruscha in the very early years (possibly just wallplates).

4. Marks on Ceramano are almost always hand done, usually incised through the glaze and may include company, decor/glaze name, country, and shape number. In some cases, only the shape number is used. Some items include artist initials, but nothing is yet known about actual names. (The same is cer.achattrue with most companies.)

5. Just what a decor/glaze name refers to can vary to the point that items with the same name may look quite different. In other cases, the name actually refers to color rather than anything else. “Polaris” is the white version of a given form series, while the same design in red is “Fire” and in yellow is “Sunset”.  (Polaris is pictured.)

6.  Ceramano also produced some hand made items.  An example with the “Achat” or Agate glaze is pictured.  Lines on the bottom show where the pot was removed by sliding a wire back and forth, which is the case with all the “studio” items from Ceramano.  (This technique shows up on studio work from other artists and times and is not exclusive to Ceramano.)

7.  Some of the best known items include Pergamon and Rubin.  cer.achat.markOverall, Pergamon and a few others are fairly common, but form and quality of decoration can vary widely, which should be taken into account when considering “market value”.  Better decorated, harder to find shapes or sizes can still be of significant “worth”.  Rubin is harder to find and typically sells high, but there are also a variety of rare, impressive glazes of greater aesthetic value that may sell at a relative bargain….if you find them.

Visit our home page for other essays and videos plus West and East German pottery for sale……and other goodies.

Kurt Tschoerner Ruscha Designs

The original 313 form had lines that were perhaps a little too close to Murano glass in ways that molded pottery couldn't handle.
The original 313 form had lines that were perhaps a little too close to Murano glass in ways that molded pottery couldn’t handle.

Some of the earliest designs that Kurt Tschoerner did for Ruscha show his experience with glass and strong influences from Murano glass. This is clearly seen in the original and iconic 313 shape and bowl shape 417, both circa 1954.
The curves on these items are elegant and well-proportioned, but they are better suited to handmade glass than to molded pottery. That may well be why shape 313 was eventually redesigned with lines more like a ceramic pitcher and less like Murano glass.
Full documentation of which shapes Tschoerner designed for Ruscha and possibly for Otto Keramik is still lacking, so it’s difficult to judge when and how Tschoerner

Ruscha bowl shape 417.
Ruscha bowl shape 417.

adapted to pottery design, but the glass-like curves disappear from West German pottery fairly quickly. Luckily, pottery has the potential for great shapes of its own and some things can be done with molds that can’t be done by hand, so even though certain elements were lost, their place was taken by other excellent aesthetics…when at their best.

Visit our home page for more information plus above average West German pottery and other items for sale….not just the usual suspects.

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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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.