Is the affordable bonsai pot a thing of the past?

Been scouring the internet for weeks trying to find attractive reasonably priced shohin, mame and semi-cascade bonsai pots, all to no avail. Feels like there’s a shortage of pots throughout the US that won’t break the bank. Seems to be a healthy supply of high end containers by top potters like Sarah Rayner and Erin Bonsai, and far too many overpriced pots ($75.00-$250.00) that have no curb appeal…but nothing available in the middle ($25.00-$50.00 range).

Many websites are 90% sold out of their pots. Am I looking in the wrong places or is there truly a shortage? Thinking I might have to repot a # of trees into clay plant containers that are shallow in depth and wait until next year to transition to true bonsai pots. Ugh.

All depends on what you’re looking for. But, I’ve found similar results. Handmade pots by good potters are expensive…and probably worth it in some cases.

I have recently purchased some production pots are ‘reasonable’ prices at House of Bonsai and Bonsai Outlet, so there are some deals to be had.

Why do you think a $75-150 pot is overpriced? I agree that might be the case for a simple thrown pot that is less than 10" (25 cm) in diameter, but for anything beyond that it allows the potter to make a living.

I am a decent potter, although not in very good practice due to work (that changes in July). I figure that if I went into production mode where I was making 10+ similar pots, I could throw, trim, fire, glaze, and glaze fire simple round pot with about 1 - 1.5 hours of touch time. A professional potter can probably cut that in half since they are more proficient and have a better organized workspace. The materials for such a pot are not that expensive and you can fire quite a few of them in a kiln load so that will put the materials and supplies in the $10 range. You then have to factor in loss during firing - 10% for such simple pots is probably about right. How much is the potter’s time worth? They have lots of years of experience so I am thinking a minimum of $30/hr and $40+ is probably more like it. Now you have a direct cost of $25-$35 without any allowance for overhead like building heat and making sure all fo the clay and other supplies are in stock.

Now you would like a larger pot - the time, materials, and failure rate increase faster than the size - probably at least the square of the size. Oh and it should be an oval or rectangle - the time probably at least doubled for the same size pot (my time increase is much higher, but I am just getting started on those). Keep in mind that these times are all for production pots - not custom pots where the time, effort, and failure rate increase even more.

Affordable bonsai pots of any size are most likely going to be mass produced in China or another country with a low labor rate. They may be slip cast (high production) or for a little more money pressed into a mold. However, now you have to include shipping (and the loss during shipping), import fees, and other taxes (trade wars don’t help).

Sorry about the rant, but I feel that many folks don’t understand the time and effort it takes to make decent pots. If there are any professional potters who want to correct my estimates I would love to hear from you.

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Y’all gotta check out fb groups like “bonsai auctions” and “bonsai pot auctions”. There are up and coming ceramicsts and well known ones who sell pots, and you can snag some killer deals!! Sometimes a great pot will go in a bidding war, but Ive won many, many pots jus by putting outminimal (or near minimal) bids

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Cheaper production pots show up on those sites too, though I prefer to go with the handmade ones myself.

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Marty,

I appreciate the points you make and in no way mean to de-value a potter’s time. I get there’s more to the making of a pot than meets the eye.

As noted above, I’m not looking for pots created by top potters; those are for people whose trees are candidates for exhibition. My trees are not of that caliber despite the fact that I’ve been collecting and growing bonsai for 30+ years.

I grow bonsai for the journey and take pleasure showing my trees to family and friends. I’d rather spend $ on the tree than the pot…especially since a tree is ALWAYS a work in progress. About half my trees were started from seedling and are 9-10 years old; early days for them. The remainder are older, mature trees, and all but two are shohin.

The young trees need a container whose size, color and shape suit its features; nothing more. I cannot justify spending $75-$250 per pot regardless of what a potter’s time may be worth or if the pot is one of a kind. Value is entirely subjective… Besides, given the world we live in, hours spent in production can’t possibly be the metric for pricing a bonsai pot…unless it’s the ultimate exception to everything else in life.

This is the first time I’ve felt that bonsai pots are becoming unaffordable. In particular, production pots for shohin and mame should not break the bank. These days they seem to do just that and I do not feel it’s sustainable or warranted. Just my opinion.

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I believe you might be looking in the wrong place, try Etsy with a price range filter $25-50, also google shopping with price range filter.

Most pots at that price range are not made by a human, most likely massed produced with a machine.

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I never thought i would ever be prepared to pay a lot of money for a Bonsai pot, but as my trees and my skills have improved I found myself wanting better pots. I have to say that after the Tom Benda interview on Mirai my ceramic desires were awakened. So I find myself now spending on a few pots of a better quality and elevating my collection that way. I totally get your frustration on the cost of pots though i lived it for over 25 years. so now I make wooden pots, develop my trees and then look for a nice pot. This Sabina Juniper was potted today into this commisioned pot from Dragonfly Bonsai pots UK, Im very happy with it.

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Al you got to do is look. I see / find bonsai pots everywhere. I liberate every one I see. Mostly secondhand stores and antique shops. Some yard sales. Check for signatures on the bottom. Learn to recognize old pots… Buy them even if chipped. I DO have several really nice pots. Found some in Montana…
Hundreds… mostly smaller and cheaper; but, I give them to new club members as starter pots.
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My wife once, on a trip back from Portland Or, randomly stooped at a Japanese nursery… going out of buisness … filled the back of her Subaru with relatively nice USED bonsai pots, 20? pots… <$200… Unfortunately she couldnt get the LARGE trees in… She is a keeper…

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In my opinion, there are some awesome pots to be found out there by lesser-known names than the ones you mention but equivalent quality for sure. 75-250 is not really overpriced, depending on the size of the pot and effort put into it. I’ve seen plenty of non-bonsai pots go for prices in that range.

As mentioned bonsai auctions is a great source and so are local potters when things open up more. New England bonsai has good prices for good quality yixing pots as well, I’ve had good experiences with them.

As others have said Etsy, and or local ceramicists are a great resource. You are may be a the higher end of your $25-$50 range and higher, however still at a value. Many mica pots are $10-$15.

Do you have a local college or high school, or art studio that is doing classes with sculpture or clay? They often have loads of unclaimed pots, or bowls that have been made by class attendees that they never claim. I signed up for such a class and quickly learned that it is not near as easy as it looks. I found that those that teach these classes can throw rounds in seconds and will fire them when they have a class full of stuff to fire for a nominal fee.

There are more artisans that make stoneware than pots, but if contacted directly many will gladly poke some holes in a bowl for you. Support local artists, and make a new friend. :crazy_face:

Good luck.

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I have played with this stuff as well. Fun, messy, but fun. Shapecrete

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Easter leaf has inexpensive pots. It’s a site for beginners. A mass bonsai tree nursery in CA. I would not d buy a tree there. But an inexpensive pot glazed or not, you will find there.

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DaSu Bonsai Studios : Catalog No: SP25 Small (bonsaitrees.com) Look for local artists and support the business so they are there in the future. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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Pretty cool process video from The Trophy 2021.

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I go to a bonsai boot sale twice a year and buy all my pots there. People sell off their unwanted or surplus pots and they are cheap! I have bought lots of good quality Japanese pots this way. I have noticed English potters are way overpriced and seldom sell many pots and apart from walsall ceramics there is none that creates pots good enough to excite me to even think about putting any of my trees in. Sometimes your’e paying for the potters name i reckon.

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Sorry Keith but I think you are totally wrong here. None of the English potters are getting rich despite selling all that they can make. The selling rate per hour that they put in is minimal. They have a steady trade and for anybody who studies pots it’s an easy job to appreciate the quality within their work. None that are good enough? Obviously many are wrong that have appreciated the work within a Duffet, Pearson, Pitt etc. This is not putting Walsall down either as I am privileged to call them friends and their business closing has been a great loss to the bonsai world.

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those are some absolutely sexy pots, thank you for sharing this video, I had not heard of this artist before hand

Sabine’s work is lovely in the flesh. My Daughter has a particular passion for it and a number of pieces.

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I respect your opinion Steve. Maybe I’m a bit of a traditionalist. I should have explained that it’s mainly how they glaze their pots that I dislike. But sadly there are one or two potters (none you named) where quality is distinctly lacking.