JUST when you thought it was safe to go back into the softening Martinware market, along comes a £26,000 spoon-warmer.
Asking why a pug-nosed creature wearing an angry toothy grimace was so attractive sounds a little wrong. What makes it so unattractive is perhaps a better way of putting it.
It is the minutiae of character - perhaps a fleeting resemblance to a friend or foe - that determines whether or not a Martinware collector truly falls in love.
According to Woolley & Wallis specialist Michael Jeffery, the Robert Wallace Martin model which appeared in the Salisbury auctioneers' 20th century design sale on June 3 was "as good as it gets".
It was two British collectors who competed it to a record sum for a Martin Brothers spoon-warmer.
The 5.5in (14cm) tall creature was incised R W Martin Bros & Southall and estimated at £6000-9000 - the sort of money other more typical examples have fetched in recent times.
It came from the same private collection as two other Robert Wallace Martin spoon-warmers in the sale, but as these had both seen fairly extensive repairs, they each made their lower estimates of £5000.
All but one of the 35 items of Martinware sold, a solid result aided by a good number of new clients entering this niche field which has seen some astronomic prices in the past.
Many of the major prices were previously paid for the large bird jars - a boom which was principally driven by just one collector and which caused other collectors to move to other areas of the market, such as imps and face jugs.
There was one 9.5in (24cm) bird jar and cover in the W&W sale, but this was being reoffered for a second time, suffering from various damages such as a loosened head, and sold on its lower estimate at £8000.
Martinware designs often attract the same collectors as the anthropomorphic Doulton Lambeth animal groups by George Tinworth, and the Salisbury sale included two Tinworth stoneware groups from the same collection as the spoonwarmers. Despite both having been restored, they achieved strong prices from British collectors.
A 5in (13cm) high Play Goers mouse group, with impressed marks and GT monogram, made a top-estimate £3000, just behind the £3200 for the Play Goers group sold at Canterbury Auction Galleries in March this year.
The other Tinworth piece was a studious frog reading a book atop a plinth inscribed In memory of Public Library Act - the 1850 Act that was the genesis for the modern public library system. The 5.5in (14cm) high frog was also impressed with the GT monogram and bore restoration to the base, but against expectations of £700-900 made £1600.
There was also plenty of competition for a pair of William Wordsworth Royal Doulton twin-handled loving cups designed by Charles Noke. These 6.5in (17cm) vases, modelled in low relief with portraits of Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, are among the rarest of the many loving cups and jugs designed by Noke in the early 1930s. Even in a depressed market, the £200-300 estimate required some readjustment: they went to the Doulton trade at £2000.
The buyer's premium was 17.5%