Difference between Cheap and Expensive Pots

DrTolhur

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This seems like a very basic question, so my apologies if it's been addressed. I searched, but to no avail.
I see lots of good looking "production" pots for something like $15-70, depending on size. Then I see on the Facebook auctions some decent but kinda mundane pots for $200+. Obviously things like size and ornateness make a difference, but I'm talking about just basic-looking pots. Is there any special reason one is worth more, or is it more akin to paintings, where it's expensive because other people think it's expensive?
 

A. Gorilla

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Craftsmanship, labor, freeze worthiness, love and attention.

@sorce puts his heart and soul into pots.

Some assembly line system does not.

Pots usually arent supposed to out-shine the tree.

Disco Stu doesnt advertise, as it were.
 

Forsoothe!

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You need to ignore the appearance when speaking to prices. There are a lot of pots that are attractive to us individually that are bone ugly to others and vice-versa. In all categories of pot styles and finishes there are different levels of mechanical properties, the best resist breaking from freezing. The best is "Stoneware". They are high temperature fired ceramics, have very high properties, and are hand formed. Cheap pots are "slip moulded" meaning plaster is poured into a mould and cured at fairly low temperatures. They can be pretty with nice glossy colored surfaces, but can't take freezing, so they are for tropicals only. Generally speaking, (all generalizations have flaws) Japanese are very good and very expensive and do not make any cheap pots. Smaller potters from all over the world make a whole range of quality pots, but most are high quality, and prices are all over the map, mostly based upon their individual reputations. Chinese pots run the gamult of very good to cheap, so be wary, but don't exclude them. Koreans make a range of pots and a plastic composite pot called "mica" which is bulletproof. The better pots have a makers mark, their logo or an "chop" which is a name in oriental characters, usually in a box. Like everything else in the world, be a good shopper. We all ask each other about pots here, so this is a good place to learn. (There are many potters here, too.)
 

DrTolhur

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From what I can tell from the posts above, the only objective difference might be ability to withstand freezing temperatures. I mean no disrespect in this, just trying to get a solid grasp on it, but all of the other aspects mentioned (craftsmanship, labor, love, attention) are kind of intangibles rather than measurable features.

I'm not personally particularly interested in the history or workmanship of a pot myself. Since bonsai is a visual art, I'm mostly just interested in pots that I think look good. And, as a beginner who's not necessarily looking to do things the "right" way, I don't really even try to do any matching between pot colour or shape and tree. My interest in bonsai is far more on the "plant" than the "tray."
However, as one in zone 5 with many outdoor trees, I am particularly interested in pots that can handle freezing. I'm guessing there's no sure-fire way to know just by looking at a pot whether it's good for freezing temperatures or not. I already have a number of cheap pots, so I guess I'll just have to find out the hard way if any of them are unsuitable.
 

hinmo24t

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Good thread. Does anyone know if shallow terracotta break in winter? In garage that might hit freezing inside a few times?
 

penumbra

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Cheap pots are "slip moulded" meaning plaster is poured into a mould and cured at fairly low temperatures.
I would like to add that any clay body can be slip cast, including porcelain, and it is the clay body that determines the range of firing. Some years ago I slip cast porcelain that was fired to cone 10. Yes, a pot that is completely hand crafted has much soul, but slip casting provides a high degree of repeatability that can still be altered to individual tastes.
This winter I plan to create some molds to do just this.
Oh, and plaster is not poured into a mold. Clay slip is poured into a plaster mold. This process goes back to the Song Dynasty, about a thousand years ago.
 

A. Gorilla

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From what I can tell from the posts above, the only objective difference might be ability to withstand freezing temperatures. I mean no disrespect in this, just trying to get a solid grasp on it, but all of the other aspects mentioned (craftsmanship, labor, love, attention) are kind of intangibles rather than measurable features.

I'm not personally particularly interested in the history or workmanship of a pot myself. Since bonsai is a visual art, I'm mostly just interested in pots that I think look good. And, as a beginner who's not necessarily looking to do things the "right" way, I don't really even try to do any matching between pot colour or shape and tree. My interest in bonsai is far more on the "plant" than the "tray."
However, as one in zone 5 with many outdoor trees, I am particularly interested in pots that can handle freezing. I'm guessing there's no sure-fire way to know just by looking at a pot whether it's good for freezing temperatures or not. I already have a number of cheap pots, so I guess I'll just have to find out the hard way if any of them are unsuitable.
You are wrong and you should feel bad about that.

Every little thing done by a potter's hand is tangible.
 

Forsoothe!

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From what I can tell from the posts above, the only objective difference might be ability to withstand freezing temperatures. I mean no disrespect in this, just trying to get a solid grasp on it, but all of the other aspects mentioned (craftsmanship, labor, love, attention) are kind of intangibles rather than measurable features.

I'm not personally particularly interested in the history or workmanship of a pot myself. Since bonsai is a visual art, I'm mostly just interested in pots that I think look good. And, as a beginner who's not necessarily looking to do things the "right" way, I don't really even try to do any matching between pot colour or shape and tree. My interest in bonsai is far more on the "plant" than the "tray."
However, as one in zone 5 with many outdoor trees, I am particularly interested in pots that can handle freezing. I'm guessing there's no sure-fire way to know just by looking at a pot whether it's good for freezing temperatures or not. I already have a number of cheap pots, so I guess I'll just have to find out the hard way if any of them are unsuitable.
You need to shop at the bonsai shows where there are more pots and every class to touch, and examine closely a range of pots and compare them close up and personal. Like anything else, after you have a couple dozen you'll want to have a little variety, so even if you only bought the very best of a single kind, you don't need that for every tree, and you'll want a certain look for this and different look for that. The spice of life!
Pencil in Mother's Day at Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, and Chicago sometimes the same weekend.
 

leatherback

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The big difference is quality.

Where quality be the resistence to frost, the type of glaze (Note how cheaper mass produces pots have a single unifor glaze, vss handmad/handglazed pst that has a range of colors and structures). Or the attention to detail of the producer. Add to that reputation.

There is oddly enough a series of japanese handmade high-color glazed pots that fetch top level prices. But to the casual observer they look no different to mass-produced pours pots.

Hamd-made pots usually are unique, one of a kind. Which adds to value, and helps to make your bonsai a one-of-a-kind piece.
 

rockm

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From what I can tell from the posts above, the only objective difference might be ability to withstand freezing temperatures. I mean no disrespect in this, just trying to get a solid grasp on it, but all of the other aspects mentioned (craftsmanship, labor, love, attention) are kind of intangibles rather than measurable features.

I'm not personally particularly interested in the history or workmanship of a pot myself. Since bonsai is a visual art, I'm mostly just interested in pots that I think look good. And, as a beginner who's not necessarily looking to do things the "right" way, I don't really even try to do any matching between pot colour or shape and tree. My interest in bonsai is far more on the "plant" than the "tray."
However, as one in zone 5 with many outdoor trees, I am particularly interested in pots that can handle freezing. I'm guessing there's no sure-fire way to know just by looking at a pot whether it's good for freezing temperatures or not. I already have a number of cheap pots, so I guess I'll just have to find out the hard way if any of them are unsuitable.
too bad. Half of a bonsai composition is the pot. like it or not. Without any thought to the pot underneath it, your work on the tree is diminished. It may not matter to you and that's fine, but you're missing a big part of what bonsai is all about in skipping past the pot. Good pots made by bonsai potters outlast trees.

There is a huge difference in production pots and professional, hand made bonsai pots (of course the potter makes the difference, so it is a sliding scale). Over the years, I've collected a lot of pots, from mass-produced pots (which aren't all equal, some CAN BE quite good if you know what you're looking at), to hand-made Japanese, American and European pots. The vast majority of what I've kept aren't production pots.

Your opinion looks to have been formed via pictures and online experience. That is unfortunate. You can immediately see big differences in pots when you pick them up and use them. Good pots made by experienced bonsai potters are built to last, have a huge range of glazes and appearances, along with attention to details such as superior drainage, tie-downs and visual elements--feet, bands, and other extras. The best potters fire their pots to be frost-resistant (it's about the level of heat applied to the pot in the kiln).

Production pots tend to have all the personality of a block of chocolate, or have typical uniform boring glazes. They can also have construction issues that can kill trees. Some can collect water in low spots in the bottom on the container. The glazes on some production pots, particularly in cold weather, can pop off and crumble. I've had production pots crack and split in colder winters. This can be particularly true with the cheaper Chinese-made pots (and even some of the higher end Chinese pots). I've not had any of those problems with good American, European and Japanese hand made pots.

I urge you to get out and actually see what you're talking about.
 

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penumbra

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Very well reasoned^^^^^

Another point about high firing for freeze resistance; the clay body is as important as the firing temperature ... if not more so. I worked in the kiln repair and rebuild business about 10 years and have seen a number of kilns ruined when a low fire clay was fired to higher temperatures. It is interesting really, that the entire mass of low fire clay becomes molten like lava and flows over the bottom surface and lower elements of the kiln and fuses forming one solid mass. The last one I saw looked like a blob of melted milk chocolate.
 

namnhi

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I think some of it is name. You take a Nike tshirt and a Hanes tshirt, same shirt one has a “brand” name or is more popular, thus fetching a higher price.
Hands down agreed 110%. Also the name comes with quality.
 
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Bonsai Nut

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It's a little bit like asking "what's the difference between a chair bought at IKEA and a handmade walnut chair built by a renowned furniture craftsman" - particularly if the later costs 10x as much. After all, you can sit in both(?)

Just because a pot is mass-produced doesn't mean it is bad. And just because a pot is handmade doesn't mean it is good. However the best handmade pots are much better than the best mass-produced pots, on multiple levels that are detailed above. What you need to do is get out and experience more bonsai pots with someone who can point out the differences. I can walk into a bonsai store that has 200 pots on shelves, and my eye will instantly be drawn to the 5 or 10 show pots. They are extremely noticeable when you known what to look for. And if you take your bonsai to a high level show in a mass produced pot, everyone in the show will walk past your tree and wonder what you are doing :)
 

penumbra

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I think some of it is name. You take a Nike tshirt and a Hanes tshirt, same shirt one has a “brand” name or is more popular, thus fetching a higher price.
I certainly understand the gist of this, but since Hanes is my go to, it is the one I most recognize as a brand name. I don't recall ever owning anything made by Nike.
 
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