Toby Jug

A Toby Jug is the name given to a popular British pottery vessel modelled in the form of a stout seated gentleman, usually dressed in 18th century style frock coat and tricorn hat. The jovial character is often depicted with a mug of beer in one hand and a pipe in the other.

The tricorn hat acts as the jug’s spout while a handle is attached to the characters back for the purpose of pouring. It is thought that the British design evolved from a similar pattern of Delft jugs, popular at the time in the Netherlands.

The origins of the name are hotly debated but the most common theory is that the jugs were named after the renowned Yorkshireman Henry Elwes, who was famed for his seemingly limitless ability to consume strong ale. 
Nicknamed Toby Fillpot, Elwes was immortalized in a mezzotint portrait by London publisher Carrington Bowles in 1761. The print was then reproduced in ceramic form by Staffordshire ceramicists Ralph Wood & Sons, quickly becoming a best seller.

Many of Wood’s contemporaries produced their own variations on the theme and soon Toby Jugs were in common usage in pubs and inns throughout the country. Before long, these designs were being adapted with popular variants including the Thin Man, the Hearty Goodfellow, Drunken Sal and the Gin Woman jug!

Toby JugJugs were also created to depict politicians, literary characters and famous social figures of the day, a fashion which has continued to this day. Toby jugs were so popular that by the early 20th century there were thought to be more than 200 manufacturers in England alone.

Other plausible explanations for term’s origins are that the jugs were named after the scheming hedonist Sir Toby Belch, a character made famous in Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night”. A similar attribution is sometimes given to the character of Uncle Toby in Laurence Sterne’s 1759 novel “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman”.

There is some confusion over what constitutes a Toby jug so for clarity, a vessel only qualifies as a Toby Jug if it takes the form of a full body. Any jug featuring just the head and shoulders, or even just the head of an individual should really be classed as a Character Jug or Face Jug.

Click here to view a collection of Toby Jugs currently available from BADA members.