I have always been addicted to books. I blame it on my mother, who used to take me to the public library with her when I was a child. While she loaded up on several novels to satisfy her speed-reading abilities for the week, I wandered throughout the library, and discovered the joy of learning.
When I wandered away to college and later up to Alaska for a summer job, I called my Mom one Sunday afternoon and asked her what was going on back in the Northeast corner of Kansas, where I was raised. She shared the normal gossip about work and friends, but before hanging up, she mentioned, “Oh, and I discovered Polish Pottery!” “Polish Pottery? What is that?” I asked. She then leapt into a description of its vibrant kobalt blues and playful circular patterns. “You mix and match all the patterns, and they all go together! You really should look it up, you would love it!” she said. Doubtfully, I replied, “Umm…okay…well…is there a book about it?” When she said “No,” I was dumbfounded. “What? No book?” In my little world, it seemed that anything worth knowing about could be found in a book. But alas, my subsequent searches for a history of, or better explanation of, Polish Pottery were fruitless.
A trip to Kansas that coming winter introduced me personally to my Mother’s expanding Polish Pottery collection. Wow—she was obsessed! And after she served a few meals with these Polish Dishes, I was also hooked! Within a few years later, my husband and I had our hands deep into the world of Polish Pottery business, but we had to learn everything through the school of hard knocks.
It turns out that Polish Pottery is a beautiful hand-painted pottery that originates in the small Polish town of Boleslawiec. This town has many Polish Ceramic factories, and each factory employs talented artists who hand-stamp each piece using sea sponges from the Baltic Sea, or paint free-hand with brushes. Each and every piece of pottery is hand painted, and signed with a company stamp, the artist’s initials, or a full signature. But beware about calling the Polish Pottery patterns by names. There are hundreds upon hundreds of Polish Pottery patterns, and rather than give them individual names, all factories label their patterns with numbers. To make it easy on American collectors, American retailers began to give the patterns names, such as Mosquito, Peacock, Blue Floral, Valley, Forget Me Not, etc. But with each retailer naming the pieces their own made-up names, it has made a lot of confusion for buyers trying to shop around for the best deals.
Some of my favorite pottery is from the Zaklady Ceramiczne factory from Boleslawiec, Poland. This factory is one of the oldest Polish Pottery factories in the country, and has some of the most affordable as well as colorful, and quality pieces available. We’ve learned that there are different qualities of Polish Pottery pieces, including 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. The first quality Polish Stoneware suggests that the artistic painting is of very fine quality, and that it is safe to use in the microwave, oven, dishwasher, and freezer. A second quality rating may mean that it has a slight error in the painting but is still functional, and third quality means that it is suitable for display only.
And if you spend any time shopping for Polish Pottery, you’ll start to hear all sorts of talk about “Unikat,” “Art” or “Signature” Polish Pottery. All three of these terms are virtually interchangeable. They signify that beyond a piece being 1st Quality in construction and painting, the piece is crafted with more hand-painted detail than others, and therefore more expensive and highly treasured. Fewer artists can paint an “Art” pattern, as it is requires a great deal of training, experience and skill.
The word “Unikat” means “unique” in Polish, and all “Art” pieces are stamped with this word on bottom. And of course, each “Art” piece is signed on the bottom with the artist’s full signature, which is why it is also known as a “Signature” piece. The signing of the artist’s full signature on the bottom is a distinction from the other patterns, which typically only have the artist’s initials or a company logo.
But don’t think it is that simple. It’s Polish, after all! There are also four different price levels within the Zaklady Ceramiczne pottery. You can learn which patterns are which in each level by looking at the pattern code. The prices vary depending on the detail of the hand-painted work. For example, when selecting a Polish Pottery product, a code of GU596-56 signifies that you are looking at a teapot (shape number 596), in the Peacock (number 56) pattern, just as a GU814-ART104 pattern would signify a Salad Plate (814) in a Daisy (ART104) pattern. The pattern level is always the second part of the product code, coming just after the dash. The first, and least-expensive level is the “Classic” level, and has numbers without any letters attached (i.e. 41, 56, 111). The “Upper Classic” is the next level up, and always has an “A” attached to the end of the pattern code (166A, 205A, 224A). The third level is the “Subtle” level, labeled as DU (DU1, DU8, DU60) which is sometimes a signed Unikat level, and the highest level is the “Signature Series,” which is labeled with the word “ART” before the pattern number (ART104, ART126, ART129). As you move up the levels, the detail and work gets noticeably more complicated, which is why the prices go up as well.
With that being said, this quick study of Polish Pottery only covers one of the 7+ major factories in Boleslawiec, so you can imagine how crazy it gets when trying to collect patterns from all of the different factories. In fact, it is highly will likely fall in love with a Polish Stoneware pattern, purchase a few pieces, and never see that pattern again.
However, by understanding how the factory labeling works, you may have much better luck tracking down that special pattern. Rest assured, all of the pottery matches (the more variety you have, the more it “matches”), and half the joy of collecting the pottery is allowing yourself to fall in love with pattern after pattern after pattern!
Alisa Lybbert has been a retailer and obsessed collector of Polish Pottery for eight years, and sells a large selection of Polish Stoneware on her website, http://Northstar-Treasures.com. She can be reached at 801-210-1510, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.