An ugly bird with a pretty high price

An anthropomorphic tobacco jar with an estimate of €15,000-€25,000 will appeal to niche collectors of “Martinware”

There are scores of beautiful objects for sale in Adam’s Fine Period Interiors auction in Dublin tomorrow – furniture, silver, bronzes and clocks – but the top lot is a long way off pretty.

Lot 165 is a late Victorian glazed pottery tobacco jar and cover, 24cm high, modelled in the form of a standing bird with detachable head on an ebonised base. Despite its ugly mug it has an estimate of €15,000-€25,000 .

It was made by the Martin Brothers in Southall, London, in 1895. The potters specialised in making jars in a style known as anthropomorphic; the birds were modelled on well-known characters in Victorian society. They're keenly sought after by niche collectors of so-called Martinware.

Kieran O'Boyle of Adam's said: "Martin Brothers' fantastic pieces have had a long history of collectability, and prices have recently achieved great heights," citing a bird jar modelled as Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th-century British prime minister, that sold in New York last year for $190,000.


The jar figure at Adam’s has not yet been identified, but hawk-eyed bidders, who think they know who the bird may be modelled on, may swoop and make a killing.

Viewing is under way today, and the auction takes place at noon tomorrow in the Adam's saleroom at 26 St Stephen's Green. Other highlights include an 18th-century Queen Anne walnut veneered bureau cabinet, €5,000-€8,000; an Irish George II mahogany grandfather clock by William Ross, Cork, €4,000-€6,000; and a set of Victorian silver candlesticks by London silversmiths Langley, Archer and West, €3,000-€5,000.