I confess: I have never been a particular fan of Toby Jugs, but the fact remains that they made an appearance in England in the Eighteenth Century and became hugely popular. Collectors will say that a true Toby Jug has to show the entire figure (if it is head-and-shoulders only, it is technically a ‘character mug’) and they emanated in the Staffordshire potteries of the 1780s.
Image courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
In all probability the inspiration came from a popular tavern song by Rev. Francis Fawkes called ‘Brown Jug’ about a Yorkshire sot called Toby Fillpot (otherwise Sir Toby Philpot, a legendary 18th century drinker). The song was first published in 1761 and was popularised in an etching by Robert Dighton ( 1752 – 1814) showing the corpulent seated gentleman, foaming pint in hand, and with the words of the song below the picture. Toby was a popular word of the time to describe a thief (either ‘low Toby’ for a street thief, or ‘high Toby’ if it was used to describe a highwayman). The earliest Toby jugs appeared in the 1760s and there is some argument as to where the credit should go for the first one – likely candidates include Ralph Wood 1 (who made particularly well-modelled Earthenware figures with translucent coloured glazes) and Thomas Wheildon and John Astbury. Many of these early figures resemble the Dighton illustration. The jugs appear to have been used to carry the beer from the barrel to the table – they have stoppers in the form of a tricorn hat which are good for pouring, but difficult to drink from. The early jugs held about a quart (that is to say, two pints).
An ‘Ordinary Toby Jug’ dating from around 1800
After the ‘Ordinary Tobies’ came the different varieties – based on often fictional characters. You get the Thin Man, Squire, Hearty Goodfellow, Lord Howe, Man on a Barrel and my favourite, Martha Gunn. Martha was a real person, who lived in Brighton and had a job as a ‘dipper’ i.e. assisting bathers emerge from the bathing machines into the briny, where they would be unceremoniously dunked. Martha became notorious when she extended her duties to dipping the Prince Regent – then in his twenties. Cue much ribaldry, since men generally bathed in the nude.
The Thin Man, a style made popular in the 1770s
Martha Gunn, unusually with a beer mug rather than a gin bottle in her hand.
By the early 1800s dozens of potteries were churning out these jugs, tending to use enamel rather than a coloured glaze. Factories such as Wedgwood, Royal Worcester, and later Clarice Clift and of course Royal Doulton carried on the tradition. Royal Doulton are famous for their limited editions of different figures, and there is a museum at Evanston Illinois in the States devoted entirely to the genre (see http://www.tobyjugmuseum.com/history.php )
Personally these Nineteenth and Twentieth Century tobies are not to my taste, but the original ones from the first 50 years of their appearance do have a certain charm. I am indebted to the excellent website run by Toby Jug Collecting at http://www.tobyjug.collecting.org.uk/Toby_Jug_Gallery_1.htmo for the use of the illustrations of the three jugs used in this post.