One of the hottest and just about still affordable areas of vintage homeware on the rise right now are the garish but beautiful West German ceramics – produced in Germany mainly between the Sixties and Seventies. Even our endearing BBC Antiques Roadshow experts have said that investing in this area for the future is failsafe. And it doesn’t need to cost the earth!

Some of the glazes are so bold and eccentric, aficionados have nicknamed the style Fat Lava, after the typical bubbling black volcano like glazes spilling from the rim.

The main distinguishing elements of this pottery are the pop art inspired glazes which take many different forms – pumice, black lava, pockmarked, cratered, frosted, moulded, shiny…it goes on – and the more experimental the glaze and colour, the more desirable the piece is to a collector.

Fat Lava’s roots stem from the Bauhaus, where the head of ceramics Gerhard Marcks encouraged his pupils to experiment with forms, textures and colours. However, it wasn’t really until the Atomic age, when the war was over and there was an economic boom and explosion in manufacturing, that the West German ceramics manufacturers really came to the fore.

And in fact it’s only in the last ten years that these ceramics have been dusted down from Grandma’s attic to become desirable additions to a stylish home. Because of their unusual look and feel as well as their ability to mix well in a modern home – they are quickly becoming extremely collectable.

The beauty of starting to collect these now, is that there are still plenty of pieces around, although the bigger and more unusual pieces are getting harder to find and are often snapped up by dealers. However, if you look hard you can still find wonderful pieces at boot-fairs and junk shops.

fatlava1What to look out for? Well a simplified rule – the larger the piece, the bolder the glaze, the more outlandish the item – the more collectable it will be. If it has its original sticker and you can identify the manufacturer and designer then all the better. To be sure it’s West German (although they are quite distinctive), you’ll usually find a set of numbers on the base and often a helpful W. German stamp.

The key manufacturers to look out for are: Schuerich, Bay, Dumler and Brieden, Carstens, Ruscha, Jasba, and Ceramano  – although there are many others.

To find out more, the last few Millers Collectables Guides ( have a healthy section on West German ceramics – also Mark Hill (the co author of  Millers Collectables) has written a very informative book called Fat Lava.


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7 Responses

  1. Lena

    Oh, my grandma has lot’s and lot’s of these! I’d never have thought they’d ever be considered collectors items!

  2. Love My Vintage

    A great article to introduce people to Fat Lava and West German ceramics. I started collecting a little while ago and my collection is now taking over my lounge room. I have it easy though, living in Germany makes it easy to find great pieces of fat lava!

  3. Emma

    This is definitely a massively growing field. It’s the sheer diversity that lets anyone and everyone find a piece to enjoy.

  4. Catherine

    I’ve only found one so far for $10 at the thrift stop. The lady at the counter clearly knew it would be valuable! Its black and mustard yellow which matches my lounge room scheme so I’m pretty happy for getting that one – even if its the only one I get

  5. penny

    Ha! This makes me laugh, fat lava has been a massive trend here in Australia for a good 7 or 8 years, more possibly…I think it’s actually winding down. We love our retro here and there does seem to be plenty of it- once upon a time any bit of W.German could command a high price, now it’s only the unusual pieces that get attention. I used to have a small collection but I sold it all when I moved- the thrift shops have all cottoned onto it of course, it’s hard to find any piece now for less than $20 even here in the country.