Martin Brothers "Wally Birds"
A Jar in the Form of a Bird
Wally Birds as they have become known today were first designed by the principal potter Robert Wallace Martin. They were originally intended to be a Tobacco storage jar (Humidor) in the anthropomorphic form of a vase with a separately fitting swivelling lid a key part of the bird's overall charm.
Martin modelled his vases in the style of a grotesque bird he termed them "sculptural productions". Manufactured from salt glazed stoneware and termed "Martinware", they were produced first at the Martin Brothers pottery in Fulham and then later in Southall.
It is said that their grotesque ‘Wally Birds’ were modelled upon leading public figures of the day.” There are Monk birds with tonsures, barristers with appropriate headgear and others that are simply grotesque. Martins Wally Birds were very popular but never enough so to make them wealthy. The four Martins brothers began producing pieces in 1873 but the pottery finally closed in 1914.
Best described as a caricature the bird stands upright with a fearless and cheeky gaze almost with an air of superiority, the bird leers beneath its arched eyebrows, with its playful character and impish smile that is so endearing to many.
Today original items have become very collectable and now sell at auction for large sums of money. Collectors will stand several birds together with their heads turned as if in conversation. The notoriety of Wally Birds has led to museums now holding selected pieces for public display.