“Just a few weeks ago, in the sitting room of a Cranleigh cottage, my eye was caught by the tortoise sitting nonchalantly on a tile hearth. As I made my way excitedly towards it, the family, surprised at my interest, recounted how their mother had rescued it from the garden decades before.”
Despite their obvious potential for the Martin Brothers treatment, tortoises are surprisingly rare in the Robert Wallace oeuvre. Alongside the series of small inkwells (some of them made later by Clement Martin), just a handful of larger testudine models are known including the fabulous chap pictured in Malcolm Haslam’s book on the subject and a bed-warmer dated to 1880 sold for £38,000 at Bonhams in 2012.
This recent find, signed and dated to the base for March 1904, measured almost 10in (25cm) in length. Toovey described its qualities: “The face has a human quality and a mischievous grin. Its shell is beautifully conceived, modelled and glazed. The poor thing has some wear [several cracks and repairs] – signs of its life in the garden and beside the fire – but it is a rare and large example.”
Emerging from decades of hibernation, it found no shortage of similar admirers at a £1500-2500 estimate. It sold for £17,000 at Toovey’s (25% buyer’s premium) in Washington, West Sussex, on August 13.