Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn raises a glass, or tankard, to collectable drinking vessels...
We must be chasing out the last days of winter, and I’ll raise a glass to that. Or maybe a jug, as over the centuries, much ale has been poured from this jolly chap: the Toby jug.
The Toby jug is a pottery jug originally in the form of a seated person; head and shoulders variants came later. Typically they portrayed a jovial man holding a beer mug and tobacco pipe wearing a tricorn hat, which forms the spout.
The original brown salt glazed Toby jug was developed and popularised from the 1760s. Variations included sporting squires, sailors, female characters, and military personalities.
The name “Toby” may come from a variety of sources including the “Low Toby” (mugger), Sir Toby Belch from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or renowned Yorkshire drinker Henry Elwes, nicknamed Toby Fillpot.
The finest modelled and painted Toby jugs were produced during the mid-18th to mid 19th century by Staffordshire Pottery companies including Wood, Hollins, Pratt, Whieldon and Astbury. These jugs now command high prices.
Easier to find are mass produced Toby jugs following technological developments in the mid 19th century onwards. Prices range from a few pounds to hundreds depending on age, rarity, detail, historical interest, provenance, and condition.
Doulton are innovative designers of Toby jugs from 1815 to the present day. In the early 20th century they created a jug depicting just the head and shoulders.
Featuring figures from literature, history and legend, in 1934 the first “character jug” was launched: John Barleycorn, symbolising whisky. During the 1950s designer Max Henk incorporated formerly plain handles into the jug’s design. His “Long John Silver” had a parrot handle, “Alice in Wonderland” a flamingo, and “London Bobby” has a whistle and Big Ben on the handle.
The Royal Doulton 1940s “Twelve Tinies” (character jugs just 1¼” high) are highly collectable, prices start from £25 upwards.
In 2012, jug enthusiasts paid thousands at auction for a rare collection of Toby jugs depicting dictators, politicians and military leaders. John F Kennedy alone fetched £21,000; I’d say cheers to that!