A Short History of the Toby Jug

The Toby Jug, a distinctive type of pottery, has a rich history that spans several centuries. These jugs are primarily known for their depiction of a seated or standing figure, often with a jovial or humorous expression. The name “Toby Jug” is thought to have derived from the character of Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” though this is not definitively proven.

Origin and Evolution: The exact origin of the Toby Jug is somewhat unclear, but it is believed to have originated in the early 18th century in England. The earliest known Toby Jug, dating back to around 1760, depicts a seated man wearing 18th-century attire, holding a mug of ale, and typically sporting a tricorn hat, which forms the spout of the jug. This figure is often referred to as “Toby Fillpot” (Philpot) or “Drunkard.”

The initial popularity of Toby Jugs is attributed to their whimsical and characterful representations of figures from everyday life, literature, and later, historical and political characters. By the late 18th century, these jugs had become widely popular in England, with several potteries in Staffordshire producing their versions.

Design and Production: Toby Jugs are made from various types of pottery, including earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. The production process involves molding, firing, and hand-painting, which adds to the uniqueness of each piece. The design of Toby Jugs evolved over time, with variations in size, shape, and the characters represented.

In the 19th century, the design of Toby Jugs began to diversify. This period saw the introduction of female figures, known as “Martha Gunn” or “Fat Lady Jugs,” and other characters from popular culture and professions. The range of characters expanded to include historical figures, literary characters, and even caricatures of politicians.

Royal Doulton and the Character Jug: The 20th century marked a significant development in the history of Toby Jugs, with the introduction of the character jug by Royal Doulton. In 1934, Royal Doulton artist Charles Noke created a series of jugs that featured only the head and shoulders of a character, rather than the full-bodied figures of traditional Toby Jugs. This new style became known as the “Character Jug” and quickly gained popularity.

Royal Doulton Toby Philpot Character Jug
Royal Doulton Toby Philpot Character Jug

Royal Doulton’s Character Jugs were smaller and more practical than traditional Toby Jugs, and they focused on a wide range of subjects, from fictional characters to famous historical figures. The Character Jugs were highly detailed and colorful, contributing to their popularity among collectors.

Collectibility and Legacy: Toby Jugs have become highly collectible items. Their value is determined by factors such as age, rarity, the pottery maker, and the condition of the jug. Early Toby Jugs from the 18th and 19th centuries are particularly prized by collectors.

The appeal of Toby Jugs lies in their combination of craftsmanship, humor, and historical representation. They are not only collectibles but also pieces of art that reflect the social and cultural trends of their time.

In contemporary times, the production of Toby Jugs has declined, but they remain popular among collectors and enthusiasts of ceramic art. Modern Toby Jugs continue to be produced by some potteries, often as limited editions or special commemoratives.

The history of the Toby Jug is a journey through the evolution of pottery and societal trends. From the early days of Toby Fillpot to the Royal Doulton Character Jugs, these pieces have captured the imagination of people for centuries. They are a unique blend of art, humor, and history, serving as a window into the past and a testament to the enduring appeal of ceramic art.