A Toby Jug, also known as a Fillpot (or Philpot) is a pottery jug in the form of a seated person with a recognisable head. Throughout the last couple of centuries these have been made to represent numerous famous faces. The later ones are coloured, whereas the earlier ones were simply coated with a brown salt glaze (where salt is thrown into the kiln towards the end of firing, melting and creating a clear, glassy glaze).
The first Toby Jug was made by the Staffordshire potters in the 1760s. No one seems to know which pottery was responsible for the first one but most attribute it to either John Astbury or Thomas Wheildon. Why these jugs are called Toby jugs is also matter of some discussion. Some think that it is a representation of the drunken Sir Toby Belch from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, whereas others think that it was named after a notorious 18th century Yorkshire drinker, Henry Elwes, who was known as "Toby Fillpot" (or Philpot).
Jugs depicting characters were already being made in the Netherlands at this time and the English ones are thought to have derived from those.
A Toby Jug differs from a character jug in that the body of the person is included. Even if the original ‘Toby’ figure is not represented, as long as a head and body are there, it is still known as a Toby Jug. A character jug will only include the head and occasionally the shoulders. There are also Toby Mugs, to determine if your piece is a jug or a mug, look at the top rim. If you can easily pour from it, it’s a jug. If not, it’s a mug.
How can you date your jug or mug? Is a good one or a cheap one? Have a look at the following things:
The colours - Bright colours came into use during the late 19th century, softer colours are earlier. Cobalt blue glaze and gold lacquer were developed by the Victorians, they don’t appear on very early specimens.
The base – Hollow feet indicate pre 1840
Maker’s Marks – Usually on the base. Look them up.
The Face – Is it painted? Hand painted detail was often added to make up for poor definition.
Is there a gap? – If there’s a gap between the characters legs and chair, this indicates a high-quality specimen.
How much does it weigh? – The heavier the piece, the later it is likely to be.
Whatever your piece is worth and whatever the date, Toby Jugs and Mugs are brilliant things to collect and can show a fabulous and decorative historical timeline.