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Toby Jugs

Toby jugs have been around for hundreds of years and originated in Staffordshire in the 18th century

11/04/2024     Blog

Toby jugs have been around for hundreds of years and originated in Staffordshire in the 18th century. Toby jugs were made as a drinking vessel in taverns and inns rather than a decorative object and were modelled as a jovial seated man wearing a tricorn hat with a clay pipe and holding a jug of beer or a mug. Sometimes they are also modelled taking snuff often looking a little worse for wear with missing teeth or pox marks illustrating what life was really like at the time.

The name Toby jug is said to derive from Toby Philpot who was the subject of an old English drinking song “The Brown Jug” which was written by Francis Fawkes in 1761. It was based on a notorious 18th century drinker Harry Elwes whose nickname was Toby Philpot and who was rumoured to have drunk 2,000 gallons of ale! Another theory is that the Toby jug was named after Sit Toby Belch, a character from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Ralph Wood (1715-1772) and his son Ralph Wood II were the original makers of Toby jugs using a soft clay mould and were made of earthenware. These were quite simple in design and were affordable to the mass market. Other notable makers at this time were Whieldon, Walton and Astbury. These early Toby jugs are really sought after today at auction.

From the 19th century onwards new techniques using plaster of Paris moulds and mass production methods were introduced meaning that the speed of production and details achievable in the Toby jugs increased and jugs were made in many forms often characters from literature, politics or even Royalty.

A good example of this is the Royal Doulton factory who in the 1840’s produced a jug in the form of Lord Nelson in brown glazed stoneware but the hey-day for their Toby jug production was from the 1920’s onwards. Doulton’s Art Director Charles Noke began experimenting with the idea of face jugs which became known as character jugs. In 1934 Royal Doulton launched their first character jug of “John Barleycorn”. After which a wide variety of characters from fiction, history and legend were recreated as Toby or character jug and in excess of 600 different designs were made.

The last Royal Doulton jug produced was one of Barrack Obama in 2011.

Another famous Toby jug maker was Wilkinson’s of Clarice Cliff fame. They produced a range of eleven Toby jugs representing the Allied Commanders of the First World War. These are very sought after at auction and can fetch several thousand pounds at auction.

So if you have any Toby jugs in your display cabinet or on a display shelf they may be an early and valuable example so do bring them down to show us at Sheffield Auction Gallery.