OF LEEKS, THISTLES, AND PRIME MINISTERS
The British love (and hate) their politicians as much as any nation in the world. What
the Brits do better than most is poke fun at the pretensions and pomposity of their leaders. The Toby jug is one time-tested way to do that. Tobies are caricature ceramic figures, often wearing 18th-century costume. On a traditional toby, a tricorn hat forms the spout, sometimes with a removable lid, and a handle is attached at the back.
Jugs depicting just the head and shoulders of a figure properly should be called character jugs.
The original Toby Jug was developed by Staffordshire potters in the 18th century. There are various theories about the name "Toby Jug". Some say it was named after the intoxicated, jovial character of Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night. Another theory is that it was named after an 18th-century Yorkshire man, Henry Elwes, who was known as "Toby Fillpot" (or Philpot) mentioned in an old song The Brown Jug, also dating from the 18th century.
In modern times the toby is a form much loved by collectors all around the world. Here at Trader Chris we’ve had the good fortune offer a very large collection of English tobies, character jugs, and figurines, most featuring the likeness of that celebrated statesmen, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965).
These range from the heroic—
to the brutally unkind—
But not all the jugs at Trader Chris are of Churchill. We also found these chaps:
I recognized David Lloyd George immediately, having seen his photograph in many histories of World War I (he was prime minister from 1916 to 1922). Being Welsh, the Toby artist depicts Lloyd George holding a leek, one of the popular symbols of Wales. (the leek dates back to the 7th century, when a Welsh king had his soldiers wear the vegetable during battle against the Saxons to make it easier to identify them). Ramsay MacDonald was prime minister intermittently in the 1920s and 30s. Being a Scot, MacDonald wears a thistle on his hat, a well-known symbol of the Highlands
(and being a Labor party man, he also carries a red flag!)
Historic tobies are great fun, and deciphering their symbolism only adds to the enjoyment of collectors. Some of the big names (and most collectable labels) in the field are Royal Doulton, Kevin Francis, Spode, and the Bovey Pottery.
Character jugs have been made elsewhere—Japan, China, even in Tsarist Russia—but the English makers are the best known and generally the most desirable.