Pottery pioneers

Auctioneer Rebecca Mayhew in the sales room at Durrants Auction Room.
Picture: James Bass

Auctioneer Rebecca Mayhew in the sales room at Durrants Auction Room. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press 2014

The characterful work of the Martin brothers is very collectable, explains Rebecca Mayhew, auctioneer and auctions marketing consultant of Durrants Auction Rooms in Beccles.

The Martin brothers were pottery manufacturers, based in Southall, London, between 1877 and 1923, and were pioneers during the transition from decorative Victorian ceramics to 20th century studio pottery in England. Martinware pottery may be found in various ceramic collections, including a small selection at the Norwich Castle Museum.

The four Martin brothers, Wallace, Walter, Edwin and Charles became famous for their eccentric, grotesquely modelled “Wally Birds”, wheel-thrown and sculpted face jugs, vases and other items reminiscent of art and architecture of the Middle Ages - some beautifully formed and expertly decorated and some eccentric. They produced a distinctive type of stoneware and specialised in salt-glazed stoneware, a strong, non-porous pottery with a distinctive “orange-peel” texture. Whereas many stoneware glazes obscure the body itself, the salt-glaze method served to highlight the impressed and incised decoration on the surface of their pots. The colours included browns, greens, greys and blues and this subdued palette is distinctive of Martinware.

Walter Martin supplied the technical expertise, specialising in coloured glazes and became the firm’s specialist on the wheel. Edwin Martin was the thrower and decorator whose work included most of the fish and flower designs, and Charles Martin managed the shop. The founder of the pottery, Robert Martin trained as a sculptor originally, before taking drawing classes at the Lambeth School of Art.

The brothers rightly regarded themselves as artists and each piece of their work is unique. It was popular with collectors and the brothers had a number of wealthy patrons. The family continued making pottery until various difficulties, including a fire in 1910 and family deaths, led to the company closing in 1915; Robert Wallace Martin died in 1923. Today, pieces made by the Martin Brothers are extremely collectable and valuable.

The Wally Birds – anthropomorphic bird figures - have long been seen as the most desirable and thus most valuable products from the Martin Brothers studio, however there has been an upsurge in the popularity and demand for their equally characterful grotesque models. This grotesque jug with double smiling faces, dated January 31, 1911, sold at auction with Durrants in September 2014 for £3,900 (before buyer’s premium).

During 2015 so far, we have had a further example of Martin Brothers’ work for sale at our sale rooms in Beccles, being a stunning stoneware Solifleur shaped, incised, twin handled grotesque aquatic vase with sea serpent handles and date mark for October 2904, which sold for £6,600 (before buyer’s premium).

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If you have a piece of Martinware and are curious about its value, feel free to contact our valuers on 01502 713490 or auctionrooms@durrants.com for a free, no obligation market appraisal.

Our May sale of antiques and fine art is being held on May 15, with our two-day sale of coins, toys, stamps, postcards, militaria, medals and sporting guns on May 28 and 29.