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Toby Jugs


A Toby Jug is a figural ceramic pitcher modeled in the form of a popular character, historical, fictional or generic. It can be a person or animal. The original Tobies date back to the 1760's. The first Tobies, made in the form of a seated jovial, stout man dressed in the attire of the period, wearing a tri-corn hat, puffing on a pipe and holding a mug of ale (stingo), are referred to as "Ordinary Tobies." The tricorn hat forms a pouring spout and a handle is attached to the rear. Many derivations of the original Toby Jug have evolved over two and one-half centuries, most notably into the Character Jug (see below).


Jugs are used for pouring; mugs are used for drinking. To determine if a piece is a jug or a mug, look at the top rim. If the opening has a spout, it’s a jug. If not, it’s a mug.


The Toby Jug is defined as a jug or pitcher in the form of a full-bodied character, while a Character Jug comprise(s) only the head or face, and often shoulders.


There are competing theories for the origin of the name "Toby Jug". It was named after the character of Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night. It comes from the French word "tope" – to drink hard (i.e. Tope, Toper, Toby). Most likely, it was named after a notorious 18th century Yorkshire drinker, Henry Elwes, who was known as "Toby Fillpot" (or Philpot) and was inspired by an old English drinking song, "The Brown Jug", which paid tribute to Toby Fillpot, whose ashes were made into Toby's jug; the popular verses were first published in 1761.


Toby Jugs have been around since the early 18th century. The creator of the first Toby Jug is unknown, but most attribute it to either John Astbury or Thomas Wheildon.


While the origin of its moniker is unclear, it is widely believed it was named after Toby Fillpot, an infamous sot in a song called “The Brown Jug” that was popular in England in the late 1700’s and illustrated with a mezzotint of a fat toper with a jug in hand and the verse beneath.


Whoever the creator, the Toby Jug caught the fancy of late 18th century England, with early jugs by such well known potters as Ralph Wood I and II, Enoch Wood, Thomas Hollins and William Pratt, as well as the aforementioned Astbury and Wheildon, working in Staffordshire, Leeds and Portobello areas of England.


Toby Jugs quickly became common pouring vessels at local pubs and taverns. The jugs were filled from barrels of stingo (a strong alcoholic brew) and the tri-corn removable crown served as a cup. Two hundred years later, due to loss and breakage, a Toby still sporting its crown is a rare find.


Toby Jug production grew throughout the 19th century with the creation of many new humorous depictions of fictional and historical figures. Many collectors use the name Toby to describe all types of figural jugs but, strictly speaking, true Tobies are sculpted in the form of a full seated or standing figure as opposed to Character Jugs, which feature just the head and shoulders. A number of 20th century Toby Jugs have music boxes attached to the bottom that play tunes related to its theme; these are rarer and therefore more valuable.


In addition to the Ordinary Toby, other popular Jugs from the 18th and early 19th centuries are the Thin Man, Squire, Hearty Goodfellow, Sailor, Man on a Barrel, Lord Howe, Collier, Drunken Sal, Gin Woman and Martha Gunn.


In the 19th century new jugs were introduced including the Cross-legged Toby and Sir John Falstaff. By the end of the 19th century, the popularity of the Toby Jug had risen such that Tobies were being produced in France, Germany, America and other parts of the world, although these figural jugs have different names in non-English speaking countries.


In the early and late 20th century, Toby and Character jugs were produced by more than 200 different makers, including Royal Doulton, Shorter and Son, Lancaster-Sandland, Royal Worcester, (Kevin Francis) and Wedgwood & Co. in England. Toby-type jugs from other countries include French majolica figural jugs from Sarreguemines, Onnaing, Orchies, Fives-Lille, and Nimy Les Moines; and figural German jugs from Royal Bayreuth, Schafer & Vater, and Goebel. The United States and Australia also made significant contributions.


Charles Noke of Royal Doulton introduced the first modern Character Jug, a derivative of the Toby Jug, in 1934. The character was John Barleycorn, a figure that symbolized whiskey. After its success, character jugs were modeled after famous historical and fictional people, (as well as generic trades and professions) a trend that continues today. The first non-fiction character was designed by Royal Doulton’s Harry Fenton in the likeness of John Peel, a British Master of Foxhounds in the early 1800s.


A large number of later 20th century mugs were modeled by various makers after storybook and famous characters of the day such as Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Robin Hood, Dorothy of Oz, Paul McCartney, Marilyn Monroe, Garfield the Cat, and even Star Trek characters.


Most Toby Jug manufacturers have discontinued making them as their popularity has ebbed during the 21st Century. Today, there are only three companies still producing Character and Toby Jugs, however if history is to repeat itself, one might look forward to a resurgence in the future.


Copyright 2006 by Steve Mullins

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