Tag Archives: identifying W. German pottery

Art Therapy For an Entire Country

Like many people, I first got hooked on West German pottery more like a magpie than a real collector, eyes caught by the bright colors.  Eventually, I got to know the forms and a wider variety of glazes, becoming amazed by the range and depth, the variety surpassing any other art pottery field.  Still, what came to impress me most of all was the history, the art as social commentary, flourishing under conditions that might well have crushed the creative spirit or, at the very least, turned it onto a dark, depressing path.  Instead, the result was a 30 year period of unmatched creativity in the art pottery industry, often with a strong sense of whimsy and an insistence on a positive outlook, art as therapy on a massive scale.

ES Keramik Shape 883

The land and the people had already been ravaged by WWI, leaving scars and holes both physical and emotional, as well as literal and metaphorical.  The world changed, and artists, already re-visualizing the world before the war, insisted that art must change.  Things could not, should not be viewed or thought of in the same, insufficient way.  By 1917, Marcel Duchamp had “told” his visual pun with a urinal, and non-representational movements, Dadaism, Surrealism, Cubism, and others grew stronger, sometimes darker, more challenging, and more aggressive.

But the postwar power vacuum and economic problems helped Hitler and the Nazi party rise.  They were certainly darker and more aggressive, and they didn’t like challenging art.  Repression began early, and in many respects, Germany itself was the first country conquered by the Nazis.  By the time WWII ended, the art world in Germany, like much of the culture and people, had endured over two decades of increasing repression, topped off by the destruction brought on by the Nazi aggression.

Ruscha Jug, Milano Decoration

By 1947, Picasso was working with ceramics in France, while in Italy mid century modern designs were appearing in both pottery and glass, but German designers, almost as if the country’s central location acted as a magnet, pulled inspiration from all around, generating a breadth and depth almost beyond imagining.  Much of the early post-war pottery looked a lot like the pre-war pottery, which is no surprise, and some of these lines continued through much of the 1950s.  However, once freed, the creative spirit that had been repressed and punished, but not broken, rose and blossomed.

Rosenthal was working with asymmetry and slight exaggeration in their porcelain as early as 1950, but I mark 1954 as the dawning of the golden era of W. German pottery because Ruscha introduced two eventual icons, the 313 shape by Kurt Tschörner and the Milano decor by Cilli Wörsdörfer.  They captured much of what would be the dominant design elements for the 1950s and into the early 60s.

Ruscha Shape 313, original form

The 313 began with a jug-form that was exaggerated into an elegant, whimsical shape with a profile suggesting forward motion and determination, particularly in that lip and neck, like a jaw jutting forth.  Many of the other forms from that era would be based on jugs or pitchers/ewers, a form also common in earlier pottery, but now the shapes became playful, with exaggerated handles, twisted bodies, ballooning bellies, and a general movement from physical utility toward aesthetic motility and utility.  The concept of form follows function was transformed into form is function as designers created turned everyday items into sculpture, making aesthetics part of the household more than ever before.

Ruscha plate, engobe series, “Reiher” decoration

Many of the decors, including Milano/Domino and into the Bodo Mans era at Bay with Paris, Rheims and others, echoed the Art Deco era but also were part of the larger art movement away from traditional representational art toward geometric abstracts.  And the representational motifs (Reiher/heron) tended to show either Oriental influences or were simplified, playful images (Fische/fish, the Keto version of Paris) Some included influence from Cubism and other movements that had roots before the war (Torero from Ruscha).  The stems may have been chopped by Nazi repression, but the roots survived to grow again.

Ruscha Wall Plate, Engobe Series, Paris Decoration

The Ruscha version of “Paris” was something of an exception.  Even though it was also from Hanns Welling, the same designer who created a similar but light and playful “Paris” for Keto, the Ruscha version had an underlying darker commentary.  The three primary elements of the motif are the streetlight, the cat, and the young woman.  Some versions became more suggestive with the addition of a young man, and there’s a less common version that labels one of the buildings in the background as “Hotel” just in case anyone wasn’t sure of the suggestions in less overt versions.

In the early 1960’s designs began moving from the organic, whimsical forms toward more angular looks and sharper edges, as seen in “Tunis” and related designs for Bay by Bodo Mans as early as 1960.  Variations and exaggerations that might prove troublesome when being removed from the mold were minimized or eliminated, making it possible to produce more items faster and cheaper.  At the same time, the amount of hand work in the decoration diminished.  Designs such as “Rheims” and “Paris” by Bay and “Milano/Domino” by Ruscha required skilled hands, and you can see a sloppiness, especially in some of the Bay lines, that may have indicated less-skilled (less expensive) decorators were being used, or pressure was increasing to get more items done.

Carstens, Manila Vase, Later, fewer curves, Less hand work

And the popular “engobe” designs such as “Maske” and “Paris” from Ruscha, and those from Keto and Kiechle required a skilled hand to incise the basic design pattern through the black glaze plus someone to apply the enamel well, with the personalized touches that meant no two items were likely to be the same.  All of this took time and skill, especially a complex design such as “Filigrana” by Adele Bölz, which may have been the last gasp of the incised work. Of course, a good design/form can still create great aesthetic appeal.

Clearly, there was a push to increase production numbers and decrease the number of specially skilled workers.  The push for profit was pushing out the time consuming aesthetics.  Not surprisingly, this is about the time that the classic Ruscha 313 began undergoing design changes, changes that would allow Ruscha to continue the popular form but reduce the cost.  The original design by Kurt Tschörner was an aesthetic joy but a practical problem.  Exaggerated lines and a thin body meant increased loss through items coming out of the mold wrong or just being more fragile all through production and shipping.

Ruscha 313 Redesigned Form

In some respects, the original 313 may have been almost an accident, an aesthetic pleasure but a production problem that a designer more versed in ceramics might never have designed.  (According to Horst Makus in 50er Jahre Keramik, Tschörner’s training at that point was more in glass which shows in the lines that echo Murano glass.)  And Ruscha’s administrators must not have imagined the eventually demand for increased production, or they would never have approved the design.

The first re-design was fairly It’s actually not clear if the 313 form was redesigned once or twice, with a possible early adjustment so minor that it’s still not clear if it’s real or simply variations in production. At any rate, a more radical change was eventually made. This change kept only the suggestion of the original form and became just a slightly modified jug-form.  The area under the handle is very open, the “back” now curved rather than straight, the spout no longer thrust so far forward, the opening much bigger, the body more “upright” and the entire piece thicker. Fortunately, Ruscha produced some particularly fascinating glazes after the switch to Version Three, which is what kept the 313 a big seller then and now.

By comparison, Scheurich’s shape 271 designed by Heinz Siery was a commercial delight.  It used many of the styles of the period, asymmetry, angled mouth, angular handle, but none were particularly distinctive or exaggerated.  It was a shape that could be enjoyed by many, easily recognized, and also easily produced. The shape is still popular with collectors, but the aesthetics lack the power of some of the more daring forms.

Scheurich Wein/Vienna Shape with handle

Another victim of the push for production was the handle itself.  The 1950s and early 60s saw numerous interesting handles and some designs that were absolutely amazing, and amazing that they survived, which likely led to their demise.  Handles that looked great but were hard to produce and likely to break came under the heading of aesthetics that became unprofitable.  Certainly, handles continued to be a significant feature, but the drama was largely gone, replaced mostly by simple ring handles, vestigial nubs, and similar variants. Some worked, some, such as on the larger versions of the Scheurich “Vienna” form, were more of an intrusion than an artistic statement.

Certainly, these were changes crucial to keeping the art pottery industry alive and growing, and the results included marvelous forms and some unbelievable glazes as well as a staggering quantity.  Meanwhile, production also included an enormous amount of kitsch to sell to the growing crowds of tourists.  It also marked a shift from the survival era, when the aesthetics were as much about coping with conditions after the war as they were about economics.  The next stage was about economics first and design second, but the need to fill a hungry market still created, even insisted upon, new shapes and new glazes that kept designers reaching further, pushing boundaries, and coming up with results the Nazis would have never allowed.  Success may well be the best revenge, and the artists in Germany had their revenge in a glorious way that the rest of us can also enjoy for generations.

If you would like to see the West and East German pottery we currently have for sale, you can start at http://www.ginforsodditiques.com/west-german-pottery.bay.carstens.ceramano.html

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.

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

(To see our current Bay Pottery for sale, click here. Page will open in a new tab.)

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.

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.