The exact origins of the toby jug are obscure. They first appeared in the 1760s and were most likely named after “Toby Fillpot”, a nickname for someone who was always drinking. The first toby jugs depicted a seated character in a frock coat and three-corned hat nursing a jug of beer on his left knee. A few early examples bear the mark “R. WOOD” and have been attributed to Ralph Wood of Burslem.
The manufacture of toby jugs was taken up by various Staffordshire potters who depicted a range of characters, both real and imaginary. Early examples all had the three-cornered hat (which formed lips for pouring) and a separate crown which formed a lid for the jug and acted as a measure – the lid held a gill; the jug held a quart..
The Old Staffordshire Pottery continued to make toby jugs until 1962. After the First World War, A.J. Wilkinson’s Ltd made some of the finest toby jugs (modelled by Sir Francis Carruthers Gould). The Goss and Beswick potteries both made popular toby jugs from the 1930s to the 1950s. But the most collectable jugs are those made by Royal Doulton.
The first Royal Doulton toby jugs were made in the early 1920s, at the time when Doulton’s figurines were becoming popular. These early examples depicted a full length figure in the traditional toby jug style and are now quite rare.
As a result of the Great Depression, Royal Doulton attempted to diversify its range and, in 1933, started to produce a new type of character jug which depicted only the head and shoulders. Such character jugs had actually been designed as early as 1912 but Doulton’s “John Barleycorn” released in 1933 was the first to be commercially released.
In 1935, Doulton produced “Sairey Gamp”, the first of many Dickens characters depicted in Doulton’s jugs. Sairey Gamp’s handle was an umbrella and this started another Doulton tradition of fashioning the handle of the jug from some object associated with the subject. (Earlier jugs all have plain handles.)
Royal Doulton character jugs have a backstamp with a lion standing on a crown. Early jugs have “Royal Doulton, England”; from the late 1930s, this was changed to “Royal Doulton – Made in England”. The year of manufacture is shown by a number beginning at “1” for 1928. Until the 1960s, a registration number was used; this was replaced by a “C” (for copyright) from the 1970s.
Character jugs may be made in several sizes, normally:
- Large – approximately 6″ to 7.5″
- Medium – approximately 5.5″
- Small – approximately 3.5″
- Miniature – approximately 2.5″
- Tiny – approximately 2″.
Other than Royal Doulton, more than 200 manufacturers in 30 different countries have made character jugs. Bairstow Manor Pottery, Kevin Francis Ceramics, Lancaster & Sandland, Staffordshire Fine Ceramics, Sarreguemines and Royal Bayreuth (Royal Tettau) each have more than a hundred different jugs.