Antiques Column with Michael Dowse: Brothers drove pottery’s evolution

Robert Wallace Martin and Edwin Martin
Robert Wallace Martin and Edwin Martin

The Martin Brothers’ first pottery opened in 1873, in Lambeth, London, but by 1877 it had moved to Southall where it remained until the workshop closed in 1915.

The family were four brothers led by the eldest, Robert Wallace.

He took charge of most of the modelling, while Walter, having the most technical expertise took control of the kiln and the creation of coloured glazes.

Edwin took on the role of decorator, leaving the eccentric youngest brother, Charles, managing the shop on a day-to-day basis.

The Martin Brothers produced what is now termed Victorian Art pottery and they formed part of the evolution of studio pottery production.

Their eccentric, often grotesque, designs are hugely popular with collectors today.

They worked mainly in stoneware but did experiment with earthenware during the late 1800s.

Collectors are often interested in one particular type of the Martin Brothers work - for example, their face jugs or musical imp figures - and are attracted by the combination of highly skilled, yet comic and very often dark designs.

The most desirable and well-known of their collections, however, is definitely their birds.

Robert Wallace was responsible for all the designs of the Gothic-inspired birds glazed in greens, greys, blues and browns.

The earliest is dated 1880 and they are all designed around characters from Victorian London.

They feature political and public figures, professionals or general waifs and strays, with the personality of the piece being a huge draw for collectors.

These birds can realise thousands of pounds at auction, with rare examples far exceeding this.