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Wally Bird: C.1226 & A-1928

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Object information

Current Location: Gallery 27 (Glaisher)


Wally Bird


Pottery: Martin Brothers
Modeller: Martin, Robert Wallace




Stoneware tobacco jar, hand-modelled onto a press-moulded body into the shape of a grotesque bird, painted in cobalt blue and brown, and salt-glazed.

Stoneware, hand-modelled onto a press-moulded body, painted in cobalt blue and brown and salt-glazed. the jar is in the form of a grotesque bird. The cover, modeled to form the head, has a lower rim which sits within the body of the lower part; the base of which is fixed with nails onto a turned, circular wooden base-plate. There are incisions through the clay which serve as the pupils of the eyes, and at the top of the beak.

The bird has a large brown beak, curved downward at the tip, its head is tipped slightly to one side and the eyes modeled to give it a comically wise expression. It has brown and blue plumage, with tufts of feathers around the eyes. The feathers are splayed onto the base at the back; the legs, painted with a yellow-brown stripe, each end with three toes spread across the base at the front. The makers mark with the date 5-1897 is incised in black script across the back of the base.


History note: Bought by Stanley Woolston at a sale by the Executors of Edward Thurlow Leeds Smith JP, (1837-1925) at Sandy, Bedfordshire, on 8 December,1925, for Dr J.W.L. Glaisher, Trinity College, Cambridge, in Cambridge. Dr Glaisher paid £15

Legal notes

Dr J.W.L. Glaisher Bequest

Measurements and weight

Height: 23.2 cm
Height: 9.125 in

Place(s) associated

  • Southall ⪼ Middlesex ⪼ England

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1928-12-07) by Glaisher, J. W. L., Dr


19th Century, Late#
Production date: dated AD 1897


Robert Wallace Martin (1843-24) and his brothers Walter (1857-1912) and Edwin (1860-1915) were amongst the first ‘artist-potters’ of the late nineteenth century. They designed, made and decorated their own ornamental salt-glazed stoneware, originally using facilities at C.J.C.Bailey’s Fulham Pottery and, briefly, at Shepherd’s Bush. In 1877, they opened their own pottery at Southall, Middlesex, and by 1882 were producing some 5,000 pieces a year. Wallace had originally trained as a sculptor, exhibiting his work at the Royal Academy and elsewhere from c.1863. His younger brothers had learned their skills at Doulton’s, Walter as a thrower and chemist, Edwin as a decorator. Modelled work is generally attributed to Wallace, but otherwise it is thought that the three learned from each other, exchanging skills and sharing roles. A fourth brother, Charles (1846-1910), sold the products – known as ‘Martin-ware’ – from a shop at Brownlow Street, London.

The Fitzwilliam collection also contains an unusually large Martin Brothers’ ‘owl’ (height 103cm),which is truer to nature, but also bears a quizzical, human-like, expression (C.41 & A-1928).

The Wally Birds, so called because they were modelled by Robert Wallace Martin, are a particularly good example of the brothers’ working together. Both Edwin and Walter Martin drew caricatures of humans as birds, both in pencil and watercolour, and Charles modified the lids so they could be turned from side to side (Haslam, 1978, p.91).

This is one of a many examples of Martin Brothers’ ‘Wally Bird’ tobacco jars, the earliest made around 1880. Perhaps originally following in the tradition of English pottery ‘owl’ jugs and jars, the birds acquired a striking anthropomorphic quality, which in some becomes a caricature of human ‘types’ (such as ‘The Judge’) or known personalities, such as the Prime Minister, Gladstone. At the time they were made, such caricatures were popular in illustrations, an example being H Stacy Marks’ painting of storks in human attitudes, published in the Magazine of Art in 1878.

School or Style

Art Pottery

People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Base Plate composed of wood
Lid Depth 11.5 cm Depth 4.5 in Height 8 cm Height 3.125 in Width 8.5 cm Width 3.25 in
Base Diameter 13.3 cm Diameter 5.125 in Height 17.5 cm Height 6.875 in

Materials used in production


Techniques used in production

Press-moulding : Stoneware tobacco jar and cover, hand-modelled onto a press-moulded body into the shape of a grotesque bird, painted in cobalt blue and brown, and salt-glazed; the base fixed with nails onto a turned, circular wooden base-plate.

Inscription or legends present

Inscription present: the s of Bros is raised

  • Text: Martin Bros London &/Southall/5-1897
  • Location: At back of base and round rim of detachable head
  • Method of creation: Incised in script
  • Type: Mark
  • Text: Martin Bros. Potters, 16, BROWNLOW ST., HIGH HOLBORN, LONDON.
  • Location: Inside head of bird
  • Type: Label
  • Location: In the body of the bird
  • Type: Label

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: C.1226 & A-1928
Primary reference Number: 71623
Old object number: 4737
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Monday 18 December 2023 Last processed: Monday 18 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

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