Collecting Martin Brothers Pottery
From 1873 until 1923, the four Martin brothers crafted striking and unique items that today stand as some of the finest examples of British studio pottery. With the brothers firing up the kiln only once a year, the output was minimal – making Martin Brothers pottery highly coveted, and collectable.
The Martin Brothers Story
Now recognised as studio pottery pioneers, the four Martin brothers – Robert, Walter, Edwin and Charles – were artisans and innovators. They combined eclectic designs with original techniques, to produce pottery that is as coveted today as it was in the 19th century.
The brothers began production together in 1873 at the family home in Fulham and in 1877 moved to a disused soap works on Havelock Road in Southall, where production would continue until 1923.
Each of the brothers brought unique skills to their craft. The eldest, Robert, had worked for the architectural sculptor J. B. Phillips and he set up a terracotta sculpture workshop in the late 1860s. Walter and Edwin, like Robert, studied at the Lambeth School of Art, and each had worked at Doulton’s Pottery.
Working as a team, they each found their niche. Robert was the head of production, and responsible for modelling the figures, Walter specialised on the wheel, mixed the glazes and fired the kiln, Edwin decorated the pots, and the youngest brother Charles ran the shop.
Pictured: A Martin Brothers Glazed Stoneware Twin Handle with Floral Motifs, 1886
Designs for Generations
They Martin brothers worked with a range of techniques, but specialised in salt-glazed stoneware, a strong, non-porous pottery with a distinctive dimpled texture.
The vessels and designs were diverse, from early geometric patterns to fish, delicate florals, and distorted figures inspired by medieval gargoyles and the Middle Ages.
They produced vases, bowls and boxes, as well as highly unusual “spoonwarmers”, two-faced jugs and ‘Wally Birds’ – vessels in the shape of grotesque Gothic-inspired birds.
After discovering French Art Nouveau at the Paris Expo in 1900, Walter and Edwin also began to produce beautiful organic gourds.
The brothers saw their pottery as an art form, and every piece produced was hand-crafted and sometimes a year in the making.
As Casi Prischl, Head of Auctions, explains: “The other aspect to this pottery is that each piece is signed, sometimes by Robert, and sometimes, inscribed ‘Martin Brothers’ so you really feel you have something that’s one of a kind, and very special.”
Pictured: A Martin Brothers Small Glazed Stoneware Pitcher, Swirl & Web Detail
Martin Brothers pottery, also known as Martinware, has been coveted since the late 19th century, with the brother’s patrons including leading philanthropists, merchants and politicians. With prices at global auctions ranging from a few hundred dollars to close to A$200,000, it’s clear that the pottery holds extensive appeal.
Whilst many collectors seek the Wally Birds, others are drawn to particular objects or styles, such as the vases incised with flowers, fish or dragons, or the very collectable two-faced jugs. The organic gourds also frequently bring in high prices at auction.
As Casi observes, the rarity is another reason Martinware is so sought after.
“The brothers would spend months shaping, designing and preparing the vessels, before firing up the kiln only once a year. On some occasions they might only get one good pot out of it, and that scarcity is one reason that any new Martin Brothers that arrives on the market, is really exciting.”
Pictured: A Martin Brothers Two Face Glazed Stoneware Jug, modelled by Robert Wallace Martin, 1908
Upcoming Martin Brothers at Auction
Theodore Bruce is very excited to feature 26 pieces of Martin Brothers pottery in our upcoming Antique Dealer auction, with the catalogue and pre-bidding now online.
The Private Collection & Stock in Trade of an Antiques Dealer | Decorative Arts
Sunday 19 November | 11am
To stay informed of upcoming auctions in decorative arts including Martin Brothers, Moorcroft, Lalique Glass & more, please keep an eye on our Upcoming Auctions, or join our mailing list via the link below.
Pictured: A R Wallace Martin Brothers Glazed Stoneware Box, 1880