I am in the process of making 100 mugs to give out as favors at my youngest daughter’s upcoming wedding. The mugs will be in various colors and styles and will all have a heart that is textured using a vintage doily that belonged to my mother-in-law. So the mugs will be very special! 

Making these mugs has gotten me thinking about what it is that makes a good mug and what buyers should look at when purchasing a handmade mug. Here are my recommendations: 

1. Please Touch!  When you’re shopping for a mug or any handmade pottery piece, don’t be afraid to pick it up! It is most important that the mug feel good in your hand: feel the weight, the throwing marks, the smoothness of the glaze; look at the feet, check for a signature or potter’s mark, see the variations in the glaze resulting from the firing. 

2. Pay Attention to the Handle and the Rim.  Hold the mug by the handle and see how it feels. It should be a comfortable fit and the mug should feel balanced in your hand. Hold it the way you usually hold a mug: maybe you put your hand through the handle and hold it as you would a glass. Most of my mug handles are large enough to accommodate 3 to 4 fingers. However, the handles need to fit the form of the mug as well as be comfortable to hold. So, if you want a large handle, look for a larger mug.  

Check the rim. It should be relatively thin and turn slightly out to guide the liquid into your mouth.  

3. Weight.  Just because it’s handmade pottery doesn’t mean that your piece should be extra heavy. Test the weight of the piece and think about how it will function. If it’s a pitcher or teapot, for example, how heavy will it become once it’s full? In pieces such as these, look for an additional finger hook on the side opposite the handle to help support the weight with the other hand when picking it up. 

However, there are some items that, in my view, require a bit of a heavier bottom. For examples, I give my yarn bowls a heavier bottom so that they can remain steady on the table when the yarn is being pulled out. The same goes for other items such as mixing bowls. And I started giving my vases a slightly more substantial bottom after a customer lamented that her cat had pushed it off a shelf. 

Keep these pointers in mind when shopping for handmade pottery but don’t let them restrict your purchases. I am the proud owner of many a not-so-perfect piece that is absolutely lovely: the perfect mug with a tiny hairline crack along the handle joint; a not-too-well-balanced vase with an amazing combination of glazes; a beautiful garlic jar with a lid that doesn’t quite fit…    

About buying pottery online. Clearly, buying pottery online prevents you from actually holding the piece in your hand to check for these things. You can still do your “due diligence” by carefully reading the description and looking at all the photographs provided (zooming in when necessary). The seller should provide you with a detailed description of the piece including measurements and volume. The photographs should include close-ups of details, views of the bottom of the piece, and views that allow you to gain a better idea of the size and function of the item (such as a hand holding a mug, or photos with alternative uses for the pot). And, if you have questions or concerns, don’t be afraid to contact the seller. We are more than happy to answer your questions and, in most cases, provide you with additional photographs so you can make an informed decision when buying pottery online.