Antiques: The Haunted World of English Martin Brothers Pottery Soaring High in America
The Martin brothers: Robert, Walter, Edwin, and Charles, born to Robert Thomas Martin and Margaret Fraser, made the The Martinware Pottery (1873-1923) that is now a very hot item fetching well over its estimate. Today the same sentiment is felt for their pieces as it was in 1912: "wonderful creations [which] are now eagerly sought after by art connoisseurs in all quarters of the world."
According to sources the brothers themselves lived unpretentious lives "holding aloof from all municipal and social affairs." Many who noticed their humble pottery on Havelock Road ‘associated with it personalities so vivid and remarkable as Messrs Martin, and work so graceful and beautiful as Martinware."
The Martin Brothers started in Fulham in 1873. Robert Wallace, the oldest of the lot trained as a sculptor and founded the Martin Brothers Pottery. The shop and office in High Holborn was managed by Charles Douglas Martin (1846-1910) the second of the four brothers involved in the business.
Walter, Robert and Edwin Martin outside the Southall Pottery
Between 1873-77 the pots were made in Fulham (Pomona House) and then from 1877-1914 in Southall. Martin Brothers' reputation rested on the production of bizarre and grotesque animal forms which the brothers began producing in the 1880s. In the Census of 1911 his son, Clement Robert Martin (born c.1883) is listed as an 'Art Pottery Manufacturer'. He later went on to run the company after his father's death.
Martin Brothers stoneware has been strong now for years and this auction was affirmation of the trend. Top lot of the sale was #7, a large bird (14¼”), signed and dated 1889, fashioned after the 19th Century English politician, Benjamin Disraeli. Estimated to sell for $100,000 – $150,000, it sold for $233,000, including buyer’s premium — to my knowledge, the world record for any Martin Brothers object at auction. From Philip Chasen Antiques
Heritage Auctions 20th Century Design sale November 18, 2016 Included in the sale were eight lots of Martinware. Lot #79005 was a rare Martin triple bird, 7¾” tall. It sold above its high estimate of $30,000, realizing $40,000, including buyer’s premium. From Philip Chasen Antiques
Martin Brothers Stoneware bird tobacco jar From Rago Arts and Auction Center Craftsman Auction Early 20th Century Design 2009 Sold for 32,500
Martin Brothers Stoneware "Wally" Bird Jar and Cover Skinner Auctions European Furniture & Decorative Arts - 2776B Sold for $31,980 2025
Martin Brothers Stoneware Humidor Sold at Skinner Auctions 57,000 in 2013
Martin Brothers Glazed Stoneware Angler Fish-form Water Jug, dated March, 1887, enamel glazed, finely carved and incised figure showing open mouth with carved teeth, wide eyes and scaled body with tail wrapped underneath, earth and cobalt blue tones, incised R.W. Martin & Bros. London & Southall mark, ht. 9 in. Estimate $3,000-5,000 Sold for $53,325 2009 Skinner Auctions
A collection of Martinware grotesques: birds and imps
New York Times Article Rita Reif, November 1981
The first major show in America of the weird and astounding ceramic art of the Martin Brothers opened most appropriately last night while goblins and grotesques were abroad in the land. The Halloween preview of ''Boobies, Boojums and Snarks'' at Jordan Volpe gallery, 457 West Broadway, was in a two-room space in which the Martins' London shop with its wooden showcases is re-created and a Gothicarched stone-walled fantasy setting beyond. The latter suggests the tortured minds of these men by the use of eerie sounds, dripping water in a darkened pool, gnarled trees, live moss and mood lighting.
The exhibition is of 121 arrogant-faced, bird-shaped tobacco jars, smirking spoon-warmers, sneering and leering two-faced pitchers, satyr-mask embellished jugs, a spiteful armadillo-shaped toast rack and many creepy looking vases. The show, which remains on view through Feb. 13, will travel to the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington (March 8 through April 18) and the Everson Art Museum in Syracuse, N.Y. (May 7 through June 27).