Tag Archives: fat lava

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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Bay Keramik, Bodo Mans, and What’s in a Name

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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.  Unfortunately, not all the information people have managed to gather has been widely shared, much less published.

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

However, there are far more items wrongly attributed to Mans than rightly.  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, and consider developing that eye and becoming a better beholder who isn’t beholden to a name.

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.  Of course, there’s a lot more to read in the blog.  If you don’t have time now, please come back when you can.  Meanwhile, tell your friends.  Ummm, I’d be beholden if you do.

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.