Collectors Corner: Polish Pottery
By Michele Alice
For those who appreciate the versatility of Corelle and Corning Ware, but would like something more decorative and with greater heft, one outstanding alternative is Polish Pottery.
Also known as Boleslawiec Pottery for the town in Poland where it has been produced, this Polish stoneware is made of a special clay found only in that region. When kiln fired, glazed, and refired at temperatures of around 2250 degrees F/1100-1300 degrees C, the clay takes on the white color of porcelain, but has the strength, durability, and chip-resistance of stoneware, and can go from freezer to oven to table to dishwasher. (Unlike many Corning products, however, it is not resistant to temperature shock, and should not be subjected to sudden extremes.)
Boleslawiec, long associated with ceramic manufacture, had been notable for its production of Bunzlau (the German name for the town) brown ware, a pottery with a glassy brown glaze, and, later, for a Jasperware-type brown ware with decorations in relief made of the white clay.
It was not until the arrival of Johann Gottlieb Altmann, a master potter, in the early 19th century that what is now known as Polish Pottery began. Altmann used the white clay for the entire piece, not just for decoration. He introduced a lead-free feldspar glaze. And he standardized the manufacture of the pottery by substituting molds for the potter's wheel.
Traditional decorations - and there are countless variations!- are based upon the "eye" of the peacock feather and are distinguished by a dominant deep blue (with some occasional reds, greens, and browns) and a densely packed circular arrangement of dots, circles, or other design. Any manufacturer can use these standard patterns as they are in the public domain.
Some contemporary makers of the pottery have begun experimenting with new designs, such as floral motifs employing bright pinks and yellows that have become customer favorites. These patterns fall under the "Unikat" designation. Unikat (unique) pieces or patterns cannot be copied by others. The designation has its roots in the early 16th century when master artisans began signing their work.
Even today, Polish Pottery is made by hand - from casting the clay in a mold to decorating the object with a sponge (see Spongeware) or brush - so no two pieces are identical, but only unique patterns or special pieces by master artisans can be marked "Unikat" and signed by the artist.
Long a favorite of collectors in Europe, Polish Pottery is becoming ever more popular in the States because it's one of the few collectibles that is not just lovely on display, but can also be used. And while prices for antique and vintage can vary widely depending upon condition, rarity, artisan signature, etc. (pre-1945 is especially popular), new pieces can also range from a few dollars for the smaller, more common items like cups or saucers to hundreds for some large platters and Unikat items.
Would you like to discover more about this popular collectible? Check out the resources listed below, and
Artistic Ceramics Boleslawiec 1950-2000, by Bogdan Gorecki
The History of Polish Pottery - Concise history includes list of major manufacturers.
Movie - Ceramika Millena Boleslawiec - Film short (one of several) about the manufacture of their pottery. Entertaining!
Polish Art Center - Boleslawiec Polish Pottery - Great for the photos and descriptions of available pieces and patterns.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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