English ceramic toby drinking mugs were at their height between about 1760 and the late 19th century. The standard toby mug depicts a portly gentleman wearing a three-cornered hat, holding a jug of ale on his knee. Sometimes he also has a pipe and a dog at his feet. Toby mugs also depict other fictional and non-fictional characters. So do toby jugs, which are pitchers with spouts for pouring. Today, most authentic "tobies" are collectibles.
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The traditional English Punch and Judy puppet show featured several regular characters, including a bull terrier named Toby. Toby was sometimes a puppet, but more often a real dog wearing a frilly collar and trained to collect money in a hat following the show. Toby's popularity may explain in part the choice of this name for the range of collectable toby ceramic mugs. However, there is general agreement that the name derives from Toby Filpot, a character in the song, "The Brown Jug." This song, composed by the Reverend Francis Hawkes, dates back to 1761.
Burslem potters Ralph Wood I and son, Ralph Wood II, manufactured standard, glazed toby mugs during the period from about 1748 to 1798. Innkeepers used Wood toby mugs to serve ale to the better class of customers who frequented the more upmarket taverns. The Wood model inspired many copies. These copies included "Pratt ware," tobies created by Felix Pratt from around 1790 until around 1820. After this period, there was mass production of toby mugs. However, it is Royal Doulton that is most famous for its toby mugs and character jugs (head and shoulders only designs). Royal Doulton's toby themes include literature, the military, London, Christmas royalty and celebrities. Limited edition tobies are Royal Doulton's most recent success.
Sizes and Stamps
The average Toby mug is between 5 and 7 inches high. The smaller size of about 3 to 4 inches high is less popular. There are also miniature tobies, about 1 to 2 inches tall. Many toby mugs bear the maker's mark, but not all. In some cases, there is a date or the name of the character stamped on the base. Some 21st century reproduction toby mugs also bear stamps of famous former manufacturers. Collectors need to verify the authenticity of stamps before making a purchase.
Search for tobies at online auction websites, which are informative guides to current market prices, and provide details of previous auction prices fetched by sought-after tobies. Among the rarer tobies are the fiddler, the sailor, the squire, the Welshman, the night watchman, the thin man, the drunken parson, the convict, the publican, the old English gentleman, the snuff-taker and the bargeman. Look for these names on the base of the toby.
20th Century Onward
Toby mugs produced from the late 20th century onward portray fictional characters, celebrities and historical figures like Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Dorothy of Oz, Paul McCartney, Marilyn Monroe, Harry Potter and Garfield the Cat. English tobies from 1760 to the present form a display of over 7,000 collectibles in the American Toby Jug Museum in Evanston, Illinois.
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