Tope: To drink intoxicating liquor to excess esp. habitually hence, Toper (Toby) – Oxford Concise Dictionary
Although man has been fashioning vessels in his own image since he first discovered how to make waterproof containers out of clay, the Toby Jug is a particularly British phenomenon.
Many stories abound over who was the original ‘Toby’ on whom the jugs are based. And although a couple of heavy Stingo drinking Yorkshiremen are attributed with being the original Toby Philpot (fill pot), there’s no real proof that a single individual is the true inspiration. But, hey let’s not mess with legend!
Toby Jugs were originally large pitchers for serving ale in English hosteleries and inns during the 18th century. Over time their practical use diminished (they posed hygene issues with all the little nooks and crannies which were difficult to clean) and they were made for purely decorative purposes. The ‘original’ Toby design is of a portly gentleman sitting on a chair with a brimming mug of ale in one hand and a long stemed pipe in the other. Many variations of this design have been made by many different potters over the years but it remains the standard design and is known to collectors as the ‘Ordinary’.
Other styles of Tobies depict our portly gentleman seated on the ground with one knee drawn up or in a standing position, usually taking a pinch of snuff, playing the fiddle, and many other different poses.
My collecting interest lies with Toby Jugs of the 19th to mid 20th Century. I have about 25 so far but I do NOT collect character or face jugs such as the Doulton series ware which just model the head and shoulders of their subject. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against these jugs, but I have kept my scope on Toby Jugs and am avoiding the ‘made for collectors’ items if possible.
The three Tobies I have selected from my collection for this photo are my three oldest ones. The Squatting Toby with the blue lustre coat on the left is from Allerton’s Pottery in Staffordshire and is probably from the first half of the 20th century. In the centre is a Snuff Taker made by Sampson Smith dating back to the late 19th C. and the red coated one on the right is my favourite: a double handled, double sided squat Toby from the 19th C.
As a sub-set of my Toby collection I have a collection of Toby Jugs made by Shorter & Son from the mid 20th Century. The style of these jugs is very different to that of other Tobies; kind of quirky. And that’s probably why they appeal to me. The hand painting is often naive but I prefer that to the airbrushed perfection of the Doulton, Artone and Kevin Francis type of models.
My one exception to my ‘no character/face jugs’ rule is a Shorter & Son King Neptune character jug which complements the King Neptune Toby (both 1950s-1970). King Neptune is a great model of a merman with a lobster across his front and a sea horse as the handle. The other example I have selected here is Covent Garden Bill (1940-1950), sitting on a fruit basket with another on his head and a banana for a handle. He is a reasonably uncommon model so I was particularly pleased when I managed to add him to my collection. He also has a character jug version which I will definitely make another exception for and add to my collection if I come across. And the last example I’ve chosen is the Chelsea Pensioner on the left (1930s-1964) which, at 4.5″ is the smallest of three sizes in which this model was made.