Tips for Polish pottery shopping:
-Get there early, especially on weekends. The later in the day, the more crowded the shops became.
Check the exchange rate before you go. When we were there (October 2012) it was around 4 zloty to 1 euro. So you divide the Polish price by 4 and that's what it is in euros. Of course, exchange rates can change, but know the rate before you go so you can recognize a good (or bad!) deal!
Bring something to carry everything in. We brought a laundry basket and that worked great (until it got full!)
Do some recon. Every shop is different, but not THAT different. Don't go crazy in the first shop you visit. There might be an awesome sale rack somewhere else!
Check out the pieces in the front of the store but keep an eye out for the sale rack. A lot of times you can find amazing pieces that have a small chip or crack or pattern mess up at half price. Watch out for bubbles or large cracks though, because those can't be put in the oven or microwave. But if you're just using it for decorative purposes, why not save yourself the money?
Know the pottery ratings. All the pottery is rated. Category 1 and 2 are the best. You can find stickers or markers with the number category somewhere on the pottery. Most of my pieces were Category 2, and many of the wives I met told me they had Category 2 and 3 pieces and had used them for years and years.
I found this guide on a website,
" "Gat 1" is the best quality; there aren't any defects in the pot whatsoever.
"Gat 2" pots may have a stray brush stroke.
"Gat 3" may have a crack in the glaze.
"Gat 4" may have a chip.
"Gat 5" cannot be used in the oven."
-Slow Travel Eastern Europe-Polish Pottery
Most of the shops took dollars, euros, or zloty. They almost all spoke English, or at least enough to communicate. You just tell them which currency you want to use.
There are a lot of patterns-geometric, floral, Christmas, even a few American and military ones (they know their audience!). Some are mass produced using stamps, but a few are "Unikat" (unique in Polish) and those are signed by the artist and limited edition. The Unikat are more expensive and a lot of them are decorative only, but still pretty! I bought a beautiful Unikat hand painted cross with flowers for around €3.
Branch out! My former experience with Polish pottery was the pretty blue dots on plates, mugs, and platters. Then I found gorgeous handpainted flowers, butterflies, animals and city scenes on ceramic muffin tins, shell shaped dishes, and a million other creative, unique things. There's a world of possibilities.
Buy in Boleslawiec! It is without a doubt the best place to buy the pottery. The prices we pay at the Army bazaars or at the PX are already cheaper than the prices you'd pay in the US, but it CANNOT compare to the prices in Poland. Even at the bazaar I could barely afford one plate, and an internet search today pulled a serving platter very similar to mine that I paid $30, which was selling for $100. The most expensive piece I saw while in Boleslawiec was 200 zloty, which is about $63!
Plan ahead if you're planning on shipping it back to the US. If bringing your own car/transport is not possible, keep in mind that it's really hard to find a place that will agree to ship your pottery. I've heard there's one place that does it, but that might just be a rumor. So bring extra luggage or plan to pay to ship it yourself.
If you can, take your car or a bus tour. You'll be tempted to buy a lot, and I can't even imagine trying to schlep all your stuff home walking or on a train. Those boxes we left with were big AND heavy! Just drive to the town and look for a sign with "Ceramika" on it and giant examples of the pottery outside. It's insanely easy to find.
Enjoy the town. Everyone we met was very nice and friendly. When the three of us were walking along looking for a place for lunch an older lady on a bike stopped us and asked "Ceramika?" and showed us to another store nearby. Not what we were looking for, but still appreciated ;)
Want to read more about my Polish Pottery adventures? Check out my first trip and second trip.