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Upcoming Events Toby Jugs – Making a comeback

Natasha Sherling explains that her appreciation of Toby Jugs has grown throughout the years, as have their prices.

Ronald Reagan Toby Jug. Source: Natasha Sherling

Ronald Reagan Toby Jug

Years ago in Dublin, when my grandparents decided to make the move from their large family home to a much more convenient apartment, the inevitable (and unenviable) task of clearing out and condensing fifty years of living fell on any and every member of the family capable of helping. The task proved interesting – my grandfather was an avid auction go-er and antique enthusiast. Ahead of us was a collection of the beautiful, the intricate – and the odd. Into this last category fell, in my mind at least, what I originally perceived to be some terribly ugly and oversized jugs, in the shape of heads. Toby Jugs, my father informed me. Slightly creepy and very undainty, they were the antithesis of my grandmother’s lovely tea sets – and I couldn’t wait to see the back of them. I believe they were sold for little money.

Fast forward ten years, and I find myself sitting in a private London apartment, a treasure trove of taxidermy, antique silver and Middle Eastern art.  But on the table in front of me, those funny figurine jugs – this time in miniature form. Time has been kind to them (again, in mind at least) – my tastes have changed and I find I can appreciate their quirky nature. I brought them up in conversation and their collector owner marvelled at the resurgence in the interest (and price) of them.


Some disagreement abounds in terms of where the Toby Jug got its name – some say it was name after Sir Toby Philpot, a legendary drinker and a feature of Francis Fawkes’ song, ‘The Brown Jug’; others think it might have been influenced by Sir Tony Belch, a character of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’. The figure generally took the form of a fat, happy man, wearing a Tricorn hat, drinking beer and puffing on a cigar. An interesting observation (and where my father was wrong) is that Toby Jugs are only considered to be so if they are full bodied. Authority dictates that simple faces are simply called Character Jugs.

Whoever was behind the name, it is agreed that the crafter behind the design is Ralph Wood, a Staffordshire-based potter who produced figures decorated with translucent glazes from around 1760. They proved hugely popular, and as with all creative endeavours, it wasn’t long before other potters were reproducing the idea across the UK. Wood, however, was one of the first potters to mark his work – a signed Ralph Wood jug is considered very valuable, maybe in excess of $1500, condition-dependent.


Ralph Wood Toby Jug at Leo Kaplan Ltd. Source: Leo Kaplan Ltd.

Ralph Wood Toby Jug at Leo Kaplan Ltd.


As time passed, variations on the Toby then emerged. Female figures were employed and enamel often replaced the original glazing technique. In the 19th Century, Royal Doulton jumped on the bandwagon and produced an enormous range of styles – although not as old as the originals, they can still command great prices at auction. Although less valuable examples have wide availability and easy accessibility, making them a collector’s dream. At this stage, everyone from Winston Churchill to Mick Jagger have been immortalised in Toby-form. The website, Doulton Price Guide, has a pretty comprehensive list of types, as well as their value.

Learning More

So as it turns out, my eye may not have been so keen back when I was a teenager looking to blend with the mainstream. But now these curious pieces of pottery are making a serious comeback.  Interest is picking up (as are prices); there is even a Toby Jug museum in America, open to the public and home to more than 8,000 Toby and Character jugs, and related derivatives from around the globe. If in Illinois, it may well be worth a look. Otherwise window shop from your computer – eBay, as always, has a selection starting with very reasonable price points of around $40. These, of course, are just to collect for fun. For serious investment, look to dedicated dealers like New York’s Leo Kaplan, who has an impressive selection of Ralph Wood originals.







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