What Is a Toby Jug?

Written by claire blackwood
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Toby jugs are small, glazed stoneware jugs often made in the shape of a stout, jolly man sitting and holding a mug of ale and wearing a tricorne hat. These highly collectable little jugs were first made in England by Staffordshire potteries but were rapidly copied by other potters throughout the years and are still being made today.


Toby jugs made their first appearance in 1762 in Staffordshire, England. Many avid collectors believe a popular song of 1761, "The Brown Jug," which features a character named Toby Fillpot, inspired potter Ralph Wood to design the first "Toby." The whimsical jugs quickly gained popularity, leading many of England's major potters to develop their own renditions of the Toby jug.


The earliest Toby jugs featured rather unattractive men, often missing teeth or with warts, which is the origin of the term "ugly mug." The mugs are typically less than 13 inches tall and often feature a seated chubby man holding a mug that is either frothing with ale or empty. Older versions of the Toby jug have plain handles but, over the years, the handles became more ornate. Colourful glazes were often used and the man is usually portrayed wearing a long coat, moleskin breeches and black boots. The man almost always rests his mug upon his left knee. Jugs of women or men taking snuff or smoking a pipe were also fairly common.

Rarest Toby

The rarest Toby jug was actually made before Toby jugs gained their popularity and their name. This jug depicted a rather sour-faced thin man, seated and wearing the costume of the day. This type of jug was first made in the early part of the 18th century and is one of the most highly sought items by Toby collectors. Because of its rarity and age, this type of Toby also fetches the highest prices at auction.


Earlier jugs can fetch thousands of dollars and ones made by Ralph Wood are especially prized. Collectors consider the best jugs--and most valuable--to be those made between 1772 through the mid-19th century. After that time, Toby jugs were mass-produced, resulting in higher numbers of later models. However, rare jugs, even those produced later, can still fetch several hundred dollars and more. Ron Earl, considered a leading expert in Toby jugs as well as an avid collector, says value can be determined by maker, age and the general appeal of the jug. Several price guides, specifically for Toby jugs, are available for the collector.


Collecting Toby jugs can become a passion. Because they come in so many different varieties and have been around for more than two centuries, many collectors focus on a particular kind of Toby, e.g., those made by a particular potter, such as Ralph or Enoch Wood, James Neale, Wedgwood, Hollins, Walton, J. Marsh or John Davenport. Collectors may also concentrate on jugs produced during a specific time period. Some collectors concentrate on Toby jugs made in the 20th century, while others focus entirely on those made in the 19th century.

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