5 Things You Didn't Know About Toby jugs

Charming characters or cunning scoundrels, either way, these historic and fiction characters make an appearance among antique Toby jugs. Learn more about these character ceramics.
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You may have seen them at auction, at antique shows or shops. However, Toby jugs and pitchers sometimes suffer from a crisis of identity. Meaning, they are recognizable, but the formal name is likely to slip people's minds. Perhaps this 5 Things You Didn't Know column will help you 'wow' your friends by accurately identifying 'Tobies'.

Toby and Character Jugs — Similar, But Different

1 Quite often figural ceramic items of this style are referred to as Toby pitchers or jugs. However, the definition of a Toby is a ceramic figure in full body. Whereas figural examples featuring just the head, face and shoulders are Character jugs and pitchers. You can view more than 8,000 examples of both Tobies and Characters in Evanston, Ill. The community is home to the American Toby Jug Museum.

2 A large-scale Rockingham-glazed figural Toby pitcher sold for $1,400 during a July 2015 auction. The piece measures 11 7/8 inches high, coming to auction through Crocker Farm. The pitcher features the image of a Toby figure, with piercing eyes. It is holding a pitcher with relief dog and sheep motifs. The surface exhibits an intense reddish-brown glaze.

Famous and Fictional Figures

 Toby Jugs "Sinners". See #4.

Toby Jugs "Sinners". See #4.

3 These intricately designed figural specimens showcase famous or fictional people, as well as animals. It’s said the first ‘Tobies’ came about in the mid-18th century. This explains much of the period attire evident in many early examples and influence in the modern pieces.

4 Many a Toby figure jug feature a character with a mug. With that, it makes good sense when one bidder can pick up two for a single price. Such was the situation during the January 2013 auction at Case Antiques, Inc., when the two Toby jugs pictured at left sold as a single lot.

At left, Pearlware “Sinner” Toby jug, featuring a Staffordshire figure with a black tri-corner hat, pink coat and yellow breeches, with pitcher and goblet in hand; along with a Creamware Toby jug sporting a figure donned in a yellow coat and peach pants, with a foaming mug in hand, sold for $425.

Origins of Toby Name (Sort of)

5 As with some antiques and collectibles, the story about the origin of the name ‘Toby’ to define these jugs and pitchers is a bit complex. Some have said the raucous and memorable character Sir Toby Belch, of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” inspired the name. Others subscribe to the idea it is an evolution of the French word ‘tope,’ which was used to describe someone who drank spirits/alcohol to excess. Another widely held theory is that the name was cultivated from the hard-drinking lad Toby Fillpot referenced in the 18th-century tune, “The Brown Jug.”

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