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Buyer's Guide: Why Ceramic Items Are Priced So High: Article or Project

Ever wonder why finished ceramics cost 'so much'?

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Thrifting is so much fun and such an excellent way to satisfy ones love of collecting specific ceramic items. But as collectors know, there are hundreds of different items and countless ways to finish them. It can be quite a shock to find something at Good Will for $10 and then try to buy a new, hand-made one for $100 and more.

Many of you may wonder why it is so expensive to buy NEW ceramics. Perhaps the following will give you both an understanding and an appreciation for what goes into making that treasure. Let’s take that Ceramic Christmas tree as an example. Many of you may remember growing up with these In your family home or someone else’s. Trees are having a resurgence of popularity and people are clamoring for the old vintage ones, reproductions or any of many of the newer releases.

First, one must consider the cost of the mold (that is the plaster form used to cast the tree). Molds can cost up to $300 and even $600 for the large trees. That is a huge investment. The cost of the mold determines the basic price of the greenware (raw unfired item). A mold has a life time and can only produce a limited number of quality castings. NOTE: Since some of the older designs cannot be replaced, they continue being used, most often for sentimental reasons. So, if you are ordering something custom, you may want to verify the ‘condition’ (detailing).
Second, the slip (that is the liquid clay used to cast in the molds and form the tem). Slip can cost as little as $4-5 a gallon or as much as $15-20 a gallon for basic white earthen clay. It all depends on location. This often accounts for the disparity between one seller and another’s pricing.

Third, all items cast have seam lines from the mold and it takes time to scrape and clean away the seam lines and re-incise any damaged or missing details. Imagine all the details in your trees and the time it can take to perfect the design.

Fourth, all greenware needs to be fired in a kiln to mature and harden so it can be handled. Greenware is very fragile so would not withstand much handling and it can’t be shipped. The kiln is a costly piece of equipment and demands routine maintenance and repair is not cheap. Once fired, your item is now bisque and can be handled and shipped with relative safely.


There are literally hundreds of different tree molds and many techniques and products available to create the works of art that leave you going ooo and ahh. There are fired products that go back into the kiln and non-fired products that, of course, do not need to be re-fired. Remember each firing incurs additional cost.

The more detail in your tree, the more time it takes to create it. Time is money. Even tho most ceramists do ceramics out of ‘love of the craft’, they have to recoup some compensation for their time and expenses. A simple one color non-fired finish is usually the least expensive as opposed to a full detailed tree with lots of detail with multiple additional firings.

In addition to the cost factors mentioned above, here are some ‘hidden’ costs that buyers don’t even think about.

Fired Gold can cost $35 a dram

Glazes for large trees could mount up to about $15-20 a tree

Electrical wiring, cords, sockets, light bulb

Plastic lights and stars – some ‘novelty lights’ can cost as much as $10 for 20-30, tho common ones are much less

Special finishing materials such as snow, mother of pearl, flowers, beads, ornaments, novelty lights and toppers, etc.

Bottom line tho is time. Time is the important one. What is your time worth? It can take many hours to finish some of the highly detailed pieces, you would be surprised at how little most ‘artists’ ultimately earn on an hourly basis to create your work of art.


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