Martin Brother's Pottery - The West London pottery run by the four Martin brothers produced some of the most distinctive, and most collectable stonewares of its day.


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Martin Brother's Pottery

 The West London pottery run by the four Martin brothers produced some of the most distinctive, and most collectable stonewares of its day.

 The Victorians were past masters of mass production, and pottery in particular lent itself to being made in bulk. The good news was that everybody could afford the new wares; the bad was that quality and originality suffered.

 Some people worked to keep craftsmanship alive. Chief among them was Henry Doulton, whose Lambeth factory had been founded in Regency times to make industrial stoneware. In the 1860s he began recruiting designers, potters and decorators at the local art school, and set them to work creating one-off pieces.

  Two of his proteges, Walter and Edwin Martin, were brothers. Their older brother, Robert Wallace, set up his own London pottery at Fulham in 1873, moving to Southall in 1877. Walter and Edwin soon joined him. The brothers' talents blended beautifully.

 Walter mixed the clays, threw the larger pieces and mixed and applied the colours. He was also chief-in-charge of the kiln and the firing of the pottery. Edwin's flair was for very intricate, incised decorations, while Robert was a superb modeller and the man mainly responsible for the 'grotesqueries' for which the firm became famous. A fourth brother, Charles, kept the books and the shop.


 Between them, the brothers produced a vast array of ware. They all drew on nature as an inspiration for decorative detail. Edwin, in particular, created some lovely fish and animal designs on plaques and vases, using a great deal of browns, greens and blues in his work. The firm was generally thought of as the first independent art pottery in England.

 The firm produced only stonewares. Every piece created by the Martin Brothers between 1873 and the firm's closure in 1915 was signed and dated, and every piece was unique. Even the pawns in the several chess sets they made were different, one from the other.

 Although perhaps best known for their grotesques, the Martin Brothers also made handsome jugs in classically simple shapes.


 The Martin Brothers' work is extensively collected and rarely seen except in specialist shops and larger auctions, though some pieces may turn up in less rarefied surroundings.

 Various parts of the great range of wares attract different collectors. The restrained and finely-modelled Japanese-style wares featured Edwin's intricate and imaginative floral designs.

 Most of Edwin's work had intricate foliage or scrolled water weeds worked into the pattern. They have an individual appearance and were beautifully executed. Crude foliage may indicate a copy, or even a forgery, as Martinware is much sought after.

 Robert Wallace Martin's grotesqueries were perhaps influenced by the time he spent carving stone gargoyles for the Houses of Parliament.

 Many people, however, find his Wally birds - a peculiar, leering mixture of Owl and vulture - irresistible. The birds vary in height from a few inches to several feet. Some are storage jars, with detachable heads; they were often used for tobacco.

 Another popular Martin Brothers' creation was a range of jugs with faces modelled in relief on both sides. These, too, have often been faked. If you can get to see genuine pieces in museums and with dealers you will gradually acquire a feel for the brothers' work, which is your best guarantee against forgery.

 The firm's products were always marked with the name of the pottery, its location and, usually, the month and year it was made. Early wares tended to be finished in blues and greys, but later, various other colours made an appearance. The firm had five different marks in its history. Before 1882, they were simply signed R W Martin. After that date the mark changed to R W Martin & Brothers (or Bros).

 As always with pottery, check for cracks, chips and repairs. Value is diminished if a piece has been damaged or restored. Make sure that any lidded jars, including the Wally birds, have matching heads and shoulders.



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