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What are Toby jugs and Character Jugs?

What are Toby jugs and Character Jugs: Two Small Vintage Hand Painted 'Janus' Artone Character Jugs

What are Toby jugs and Character Jugs?

What are Toby jugs and Characters Jug? It is very easy to confuse a toby jug with a character jug and vice versa, but they are different!

A toby jug/ mug depicts the full body of a figure, generally a rotund, jolly, tipsy gentleman, (occasionally a woman), usually with a tricorn hat and 18th century attire. A character jug/ mug usually shows just the head and shoulders and tend to be smaller.

Toby Jugs

Toby Jug
An Antique Toby Jug from our personal collection

Toby jugs have been around considerably longer than character jugs. They date back to at least the Mid-1700s where they were used as drinking vessels for ale in taverns and public houses.

Some people owned their own toby jug and took it to the inn with them or kept it for their sole use: at least they knew whom had been drinking out of it, as it was easily identifiable! I’m not sure they bothered much with washing up in those days…

The origin of the name Toby has been attributed to several different sources:-

  • ‘Sir Toby Belch’ in Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night. An affable, but usually tipsy, character.
  • ‘Toby Fillpot (Philpot)’ a notorious 18th-century Yorkshire drinker whose real name was Henry Elwes. He was mentioned in an old English drinking song The Brown Jug, first published in 1761.
  • A ‘low Toby’: an 18th Century highwayman but without a horse!

Some of the finest early jugs were produced in the Staffordshire Potteries in England by Ralph Wood, Whieldon, Walton, and Astbury.  These jugs can command very high prices (£1000s).

Toby Jug
Ralph Wood, Burslem, Staffordshire, 1789-1801. A museum exhibit.

Through the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Toby jug became very popular and with it the style and level of characterisation increased. By the 19th and 20th centuries people began to collect Toby jugs modelled on characters from popular stories and famous characters e.g. politicians and monarchs. These were often comic caricatures, which probably didn’t go down well with the personality depicted!

Toby Jugs continued to be manufactured by the well known potteries e.g. Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, Shorter, Burleigh, and Wade amongst many others. Many of the editions produced were limited, adding to their scarcity and current value.

 

Character Jugs/ Mugs

Vintage Hand Painted 18th Century Man Kelsboro Ware Character Jug
Vintage Hand Painted 18th Century Man Kelsboro Ware Character Jug

Character jugs/ mugs were probably introduced in the 19th Century and became popular in the 20th century as souvenirs, particular the miniatures.

Many of the 20th Century art potteries produced hand painted character jugs/mugs of popular personalities e.g. Winston Churchill or for their notoriety e.g. Dick Turpin, and fictional characters too, particularly from music hall or literature e.g. Charles Dickens.

Vintage Wood's Reproduction Toby Jug
Vintage Wood’s Reproduction Toby Jug

This character mug miniature is of ‘Bill Sykes’: the nasty one from Oliver Twist who kills Oliver’s friend ‘Nancy’ and has a horrible dog called ‘Bullseye’.

Small Vintage Hand Painted Cooper Clayton Bill Sykes Character Jug
Small Vintage Hand Painted Cooper Clayton Bill Sykes Character Jug

 

The most prized collector’s jugs are Royal Doulton whom produced them from 1934 to 2011. Some of the limited editions, unique models and colour ways, and prototypes are increasing in value from approximately £20 to £100s!

At the end of the 20th Century, it was said that ‘there is no room for Toby/ Character jugs in a modern home’, however, the tide is turning and more people are starting to collect these wonderful colourful jugs as designer pieces or to brighten a dark corner of a room.

Click on the following link for our collection of Toby and Character Jugs.

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