Making its first appearance during the second half of the 1700’s, the Toby Jug was probably inspired by a print of Toby Philpot, a legendary drinking character about whom a song The Brown Jug was published in 1761. The original Toby Jugs were made by the Staffordshire potter Ralph Wood and his son from around 1760, and were widely copied by other potteries. Today, one of the most desirable of the early Staffordshire Toby jugs is the so-called Ralph Wood-type. Ralph Wood was amongst the first English potters to mark his work and Wood signed Toby jugs are particularly sought-after.
The jugs proved to be immensely popular and were extensively copied by potters throughout the country. Famous potters including Josiah Wedgwood, John Astbury, Thomas Whieldon and Ralph Wood II all produced early Toby jugs. New characters, such as the sturdy Martha Gunn, a famous Brighton bathing machine ‘Dipper’, the Hearty Good Fellow and the Gin Lady, soon began to appear as variants on the Toby theme.
Later Toby jugs, often decorated with Enamel rather than coloured Glaze, are also desirable, but tend to be less valuable than examples dating from before 1800. Many makers, including Beswick and Clarice Cliff, have produced their own versions, one of the most prolific being Royal Doulton during the 1800’s and 1900’s. Despite their lack of great age, rare Royal Doulton jugs can attract extremely high prices; one of only three ‘Toby Gillette’ schoolboy jugs, made in the 1980s for a feature on the children’s television programme “Jim’ll Fix It”, sold at Sotheby’s for an astonishing £15,400 in 1986.
The wide range of styles, make Toby jugs a relatively easy object to start collecting. Less valuable examples are widely available, but high quality early Toby jugs can take more time to track down.
The standard Toby Jug stands 23-25 cm high, and portrays a corpulent figure in long coat, white stockings, buckled shoes and three-cornered hat. A jug of foaming ale is balanced on his left knee, gripped with the left hand and supported by the right. There are however numerous variations on the original form.Many versions were made, depicting different characters including a female one, Martha Gunn. More recent characters, such as the First and Second World War leaders have also been commemorated in jug form. This has today evolved into the Character Jug that has become as popular among collectors as the original Toby Jug of legendary fame.