The tradition of making Jugs, Pitchers or Mugs in the shape of human figures or faces has its origins in 18thC England. Character Jugs were also made in the Delft region of Holland for a short time, but most known examples were produced by Potteries located in the Staffordshire region of the UK.
Although the most prolific company that made Character Jugs or Toby Mugs, is Royal Doulton, the very first Toby Mugs were made by Ralph Wood I and later by his son Ralph Wood II during the 1748 – 1798 period. The name “Toby” Mug or Jug was inspired by a character named Toby Philpot in a 1761 English folk song titled “The Brown Jug”. The first English Toby Mugs were after the characters of John Barleycorn, a Whiskey Topper, and “Old Charley”, a night watchman.
Charles Noke is regarded as one of the earliest modelers of this Art form, who influenced many later designs that are largely based on his technique and style. Famous Toby Mugs or Jugs designers include Leslie Harradine, Harry Fenton, David Brian Biggs, Max Henk and several others.
Older Character Jugs and Toby Mugs are usually made of Earthenware, using a Mold. The molds are made once a design is composed using soft Clay, and the final product is fired several times in the Kiln and after several applications of color and other decorative features or adjustments. Toby Mugs and Character Jugs are still designed and manufactured today in the same way as before, but many are now made using Fine China and have a more translucent appearance.
In addition to Royal Doulton, companies known to make Toby Mugs and Character jugs include: Beswick, Burleigh Ware, Burlington, Crown Devon, Kevin Francis, Melba Ware, Roy Kirkham, Shaw, Shorter, Sterling, Sylvan, Wood & Sons, Wade, Wedgwood and others. In our personal experience, we have also received porcelain marks to identify through our Marks4Antiques.com service that are stamped on Toby Mugs that have clearly originated from modern-day China, so recent Asian reproductions exist and are making their way into the secondary market fast.
Sizes varied over time, most common height is 5″ – 7″ with 3″ – 4″ being less popular. Some miniature Toby Mugs measuring 1 ¼” – 2 ½” were also made but none known after 1960.
Practically all Character Jugs or Toby Mugs are marked appropriately by the company that made them, often also adding a Model or Size Number notation. Most are also marked with the Character they represent, usually of men and less often women. In addition to whimsical characters and themes, many Toby Mugs depict famous folk or historical personalities, some American. Many characters found in Fiction books are also represented, for example as inspired by stories by Charles Dickens.
Several designs have been re-issued numerous times and, especially for Royal Doulton, the Model Number is often accompanied by the letter “D” for “Design”. Therefore, you can expect to find Toby Mugs of the same exact design that may have different “D” numbers, which indicates different manufacturing periods. A letter “A” is also known to occur frequently, usually incised or impressed, primarily on designs from the ca 1930s – 1960s years, which according to most experts is an internal manufacturing code such as a particular Kiln designation. Spellings of Characters as noted on the actual Jugs are known to vary somewhat, depending on whether a Toby Mug was destined for the domestic UK market or for export to the US and Australia. For example, “Old Charley” is also known as “Old Charlie”, “Sancho Panza” as “Sancho Panca” etc.
Character Jugs and Toby Mugs have remained to be popular Collectibles and usually fetch good money at auction. Prices range from $30 to $150 for most specimens, but some rarer designs reach upwards of $600, even for models as recent as ca 1940s – 1960s. Newer Asian reproductions are of fine decorative appeal and usually sell for $20 – $50.