Tag Archives: fat lava

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.

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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.

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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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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.

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