Crab grabs Martin Brothers record at Phillips’ auction

A new auction record for the idiosyncratic stonewares of the Martin brothers was established at Phillips’ Design sale in New York.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Roland Arkell

A ‘colossal and extraordinary grotesque grinning crab’ by the Martin Brothers that fetched a record $220,000 (£184,000) at Phillips in New York.

A ‘colossal and extraordinary grotesque grinning crab’ measuring 18in (46cm) set the new benchmark, selling at $220,000/£184,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium).

Brothers at their best

Modelled by Robert Wallace Martin in June 1880 – and seemingly among the pieces pictured in an article at the time in the Pall Mall Gazette (February 4, 1890) titled Martinware and The Middleman – it represents the Southall brothers at their zenith.Bought from the Richard Dennis Gallery in 1985 by John Scott, whose collection was sold by The Fine Art Society in 2014, it was later part of the 2015 Fantastique show at May fair dealership Sinai & Son.

A catalogue note for the auction on December 13 said it was subject to a temporary export licence issued by the UK government. The estimate of $250,000- 350,000 had been unchartered territory and it attracted only a single bidder.

Phillips also held the previous record for Martinware: the $190,000 (£127,000) bid in New York in December 2015 for a bird jar modelled as Benjamin Disraeli from 1889.

A 1898 Martin Brothers bird jar and cover caricaturing the Sir Edward George Clarke QC that sold for $140,000 (£117,000) at Phillips in New York.

Sharing the same John Scott-Sinai & Son provenance as the crab was an 1898 bird jar and cover caricaturing the Sir Edward George Clarke QC, the barrister and politician who represented Oscar Wilde in his libel trial against the Marquess of Queensberry.

Estimated at $150,000- 250,000, it got away at $140,000 (£117,000).The familiar 15in (38cm) model is one of the few birds known to have been modelled on a specific individual.

A contemporary photo survives of the piece, including a note in Clarke’s hand that identifies himself as the subject.It had appeared at auction twice in the 1970s and again as part of the William E Wiltshire collection at Sotheby’s in 1991.