West German Pottery - What is it, How Do You Spot it & How Much is it Worth?

What is West German pottery?
'West German Pottery' is a term describing pottery made in the former West Germany between 1949 & 1989.
Much of it has a very distinctive look, involving thick glazes and bright, bold colours - and is easily recognisable with its 1960s/70s hippie-ish aesthetic. It was produced over the years by many different factories across West Germany.
What do the numbers on the bottom of West German vases mean?
If you inspect the bottom of a West German vase or pot, you are likely to find a series of numbers - usually three digits followed by a dash and then two digits.
The first three digits indicate the vase design or run in the factory. An example below shows two different vases with different coloured glazes but of the same design - both marked with the digits 289.
The final two digits are the vase’s height to the nearest centimetre.
This does vary between manufacturers, but most vases can be understood in this way. Lots of pieces are also marked with 'W.Germany' on the base where there is space available.
What is ‘Fat Lava’?
If you’re reading up on West German Pottery you’ll probably come across the term ‘Fat Lava’. The term is quite often used interchangeably with West German Pottery however some would argue that they are not always the same thing.
Fat Lava Pottery is pottery that has been created using several glazes, at least one of which is very thick and drips down over the other glazes to create a look a bit like lava.
The use of the word ‘fat’ in this context allegedly came about as a mistranslation of the word ‘thick’, when people started reselling the vases on ebay and describing them as 'Fat Lava' - a phrase that has now stuck.
It can also used to describe a slightly different style of West German pottery created using a glaze technique that uses chemical reactions to create cracks or holes in the surface. This creates a rough volcanic look, similar to dried lava.
How much are West German vases worth?
The price of West German pottery varies depending on the factory that produced it and the rarity of the item. Lots of it was mass produced at the time, so remains affordable and easy to come by today - making it an accessible way to add a retro splash of colour to your home. You can shop our range of pottery here.
Rare pieces however, can be worth several hundred pounds if they are particularly sought after. Factory names to look out for with potentially higher values include Roth Keramik, Ceramano, Otto and Kreutz. If you’ve got one of these at home it might be worth some research!
How can you tell which factory made a particular vase?
There were lots of factories producing pottery in West Germany between 1949 & 1990. Some pieces will still have the factory’s original sticker on, making it very easy to tell where it was made (see our Bay Keramik example below), whilst some will have the factory name alongside the numbers underneath.
If there is no obvious mark then you need to start looking at the way the number and letters on the bottom look and are arranged. This website ‘Pots & Pots’ has put together lots of information on identification marks which you can use to work out more about the pieces you own.
Follow us on Instagram here for updates on new pieces of West German Pottery as they, and all our other items arrive in the shop.
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