The toby jug has been a novelty in English pottery for over 250 years. The term toby jug refers to a pottery tankard in the form of a seated figure or the head of a famous person. The first of these were produced in the 1760’s by various potters including Ralph Wood I of Burslem, Thomas Whieldon of Fenton and John Astbury of Shelton. The quality of modeling and use of translucent underglaze enamels are quite evident in these examples.
The source of the name “toby” is uncertain though there are multiple theories. The most probably source is a song written in 1761 by the Reverend Francis Faulks, titled The Brown Jug. The song refers to “Toby Fillpot, a thirsty old soul,” and fillpot is an alternate name for a toby jug. Although many early tobies were produced by a variety of manufacturers throughout England, toby jugs initially depicted a jolly and rotund seated man wearing a tricornered hat and holding a jug of ale. This remains the most popular form and is referred to by collectors as an “ordinary” toby.
Other early, and more unusual subjects include Martha Gunn, the Thin Man, the Thin Boy, and the Sailor. The quality of the modeling as well as these more unusual subject matters contributes to their higher interest levels, greater desirability among collectors and consequently higher return.
Varying use of underglaze enamels also adds to the rarity of many examples. Note the two Staffordshire Pottery Toby Jugs below. They are each similarly modeled yet the use of enamels is quite different. The variety of techniques and combinations of colors is endless, and these often more interesting variations will sell for a premium over a simpler and often repetitious decoration.
The breadth of manufacturing of toby jugs and character jugs has continued through the 20th century by the likes of Mintons, Doulton, Royal Worcester, and even includes a set of eleven Wilkinson Toby Jugs of the Allied Commanders of World War I.
Throughout the 19th and the 20th century Dutch, French and German manufacturers also contributed to this collecting field. The desirability of these jugs is less than their British counterparts and often have a very different collector base. These jugs have expanded on subjects, modeling and use of enamels. An example are these four Dutch Tin-glazed Toby Jugs, with both males and females, Consequently, there are many categories of toby jug collecting, and include online collector’s groups, a number of reference books, and the American Toby Jug Museum in Evanston, Illinois with over 8,000 pieces on display.
A couple of favorites of mine in the autumn 2021 European Décor & Design online auction include the Yorkshire Toby Jug, for its wonderfully colorful color palette and his holding a toby jug in his hand rather than the more traditional ale pitcher or mug. And a Pottery Toby Jug, likely potted by Ralph Wood I and easily recognizable by the use of translucent underglaze enamels.