While a few West German pottery companies marked most of their items, the majority of the pottery has no permanent company mark. Instead, items usually have a set of numbers and some variation of the words West Germany, which is how that term came to describe all the work by so many companies. Without a company mark, attributions are difficult for beginners, but there are some things that can, and can’t, be determined with the numbers and country markings.
The numbers can be helpful, but they are not a perfect guide. The typical set of numbers is in two parts, usually separated by a hyphen or slash. The first set of numbers is the shape number. Perhaps the best known is shape 313 by Ruscha. Once you know the shape number, it can make it easier to collect an item in its various decorations.
Still, there are two problems with that approach. Most of the companies used similar number patterns. At least four other companies used the number 313. While none of them can be mistaken for the Ruscha form, it does complicate searches. Also, companies sometimes recycled shape numbers. Scheurich used many of their numbers twice or even three times, so when looking for shape 275, there is the early 1960s version and there’s the circa 1970 version.
The second number in the series is more direct because it most often represents the approximate height in centimeters (or width/length for a bowl). Sometimes the shape and height combination is enough to determine the maker if no one else made that particular combination, but despite progress, investigate this site not all number combinations are yet known. There are also times when companies use a different designation, sometimes simply a 1, 2, or 3 for the relative size designation.
Keep in mind that the numbers on the bottoms of the vases do not represent the number made or which number a particular vase is in a series. Since limited edition prints so often use a system such as 25/150 (25th print in an edition of 150), people are prone to make this assumption with the pottery. Most W. German pottery is commercially produced, molded ware. Some are still quite uncommon or rare, but others exist in very large numbers.
The country marking appears in many variations, and people try to find some pattern that will determine maker or time period. It doesn’t actually work. Variations include West Germany, W. Germany, W. Germ, even no country mark at all. Since these items were not made for export to the US, they didn’t need to worry about our laws requiring permanent marking of origin.
On the other hand, some items are marked only “Germany” even though they were made during the W. German era. In particular, Dümler & Breiden apparently never added the additional designation, but it’s not known as yet whether that was a political commentary or not.
Fortunately, many of the decorations, glazes, and forms are distinctive enough so that once identified they won’t be mistaken again even without a mark, even without the numbers or a country mark.