WEST GERMAN POTTERY IN AUSTRALIA - AFFORDABLE COLLECTING

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The first thing to remember about West German pottery is that "because it's retro", doesn't particularly mean that it's of any high value (although some rare art pieces are), which means this is an affordable area of collecting. I'm old enough to be 'retro' and I'm worth nothing! The majority of West German pottery imported into Australia in the 1960s and 1970s was moulded, mass-produced and sold in department stores here as 'home decor'. So there was a lot of it, and being German, it was made to last. The second thing to remember is that in the 1960s and 1970s, Australian homes were temples to beige, brown, neutral tones, cream and orange. These were the home colours used in the majority of suburban homes and these were the colours favoured when buying matching decorative pieces. Then along came West German pottery with its wild and wacky drip and fat lava glazes and its oddball organic shapes. Suddenly we had a chance to buy more than a giddy hint of daring burnt orange (for those racy inner suburbs probably, where people had dinner parties with prawn cocktails, crochet dresses and drank Paul Masson wine in its own carafe bottle - groovy!). The fun is finding these pieces now!
The lesson to draw is that you don't need to pay big bucks to collect West German pottery; it was usually produced in large quantities and was only expensive because it was imported. Today, it is still relatively modest in price if you avoid the big antique shops and markets where anything old is fair game for a mark-up. All dealers have to make a profit of course. You're buying it purely on its aesthetic qualities and luckily, these are many and varied. Any Google search for images will immediately demonstrate that West German potteries specialised in taking a few core shapes (they called them 'forms') and by varying the sizes and glazes, were able to create hugely diverse ranges of decorative effects. Of course, manufacturers also produced less common art pieces, with highly imaginative shapes and finishes for the upper end of the European markets, and these are worth looking for.
Generally, the bulk of affordable West German pottery can be whittled down to key shapes such as cylinders, pitchers, flutes, squats, cones, cubes and sections. As an example, take the manufacturer Scheurich, still in business today. My father bought my mother a huge Scheurich floor vase in the 1970s from a local department store for a massive $25. I don't think she ever forgave him for spending so much on something so weird and modern. It's dark brown and cream with a drip glaze and still sits in the hall of my Dad's house. I've seen similar ones online being offered for big bucks for no sensible reason other than "its retro". Check the numbers on the base of their collectable period (1954-1980) pieces. You'll usually see a five-digit number, such as 268-18. the 268 is the form, or shape number and the 18 is the height. You'll find a 268-15 as well, proportionally smaller. The other variables are the glaze type, such as fat lava, drip etc, colour combinations and impressed patterns. Most West German potteries used a similar system for their mass-produced wares. The style of the words 'GERMANY' W. GERMANY, WEST GERMANY or similar can also help identify the maker. 
When buying, ignore all references to 'Eames' style. The West German potters certainly did!
For all this, West German pottery's greatest appeal is the fantastic variety within these constraints, showing a wonderful imagination and eye for proportion, colour and shape. They are lovely to hold and have a very tactile organic quality. They're never going to pay for your retirement, but put your pieces out on display and cast an eye over the variety and you soon realise West German pottery is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things you can collect. Names to look out for in Australia include: Scheurich, Dumler & Breiden, Bay Keramik, Jasba, Carstens. There are many more but these were the most commonly available manufacturers sold in Australia. Few if any makers put their name on the item. With luck you'll find a little paper or metallic label still on the pot identifying the maker, or perhaps the retailer. Check carefully for chips or cracks, not always easy to see in some of the bay glazes. The unglazed foot rims which are often a bit grubby can usually be cleaned up by a good dose of baking soda mixed to a thick paste and liberally applied with an old toothbrush. Above all, enjoy collecting!
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