Rumor has it that Peyton Manning, the star quarterback of the Denver Broncos football team, is an avid collector of toby jugs and character mugs, charming pottery vessels that are molded in the image of people.
When it comes to collecting, toby jugs and character mugs appeal mostly to men. They are not delicate or pretty; they are the opposite of a fancy china teacup.
Sleuthing out the difference between a toby jug and a character mug is elementary; jugs have a spout on the rim for pouring, while mugs are straight along the entire rim. A typical character mug is molded to represent just the head of a subject. A toby jug is fashioned into the full figure of a plump, jolly man named Toby Fillpot, who was said to have died from overindulging in drink and tobacco. Toby jugs depict their namesake dressed in a long coat and a tricorn hat, which forms the pouring spout. Toby also holds a mug of ale in one hand and a pipe in the other.
Toby jugs were made by several potteries in the Staffordshire region of England beginning in the late 1760s. They remained popular throughout the 1800s and well into the 20th century. Character jugs were introduced in the 1930s and became so popular that many English potteries began producing their own versions of the novel vessels.
By the middle of the 20th century, a new collecting trend was going strong, and the possibilities for building a collection seemed endless. Both toby and character jugs came in a wide variety of sizes and styles. The majority of character subjects were historical, literary, political and occupational men, although some important women were also depicted. Eventually entertainers and movie stars, sportsmen and storybook characters were added to the roster.
Two theories surround the origin of the name “toby jug.” Some believe it was named for the character of Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night.” Others believe it was named after a well-known portly drinker from Yorkshire named Harry Elwes, whose nickname was Toby Fillpot. It was said that over the course of his life, Elwes drank 2,000 gallons of strong ale (called Stingo) from a brown jug.