The jug was probably named and modeled after ‘Sir Toby Philpot’ a legendary 18th century drinker, who also made an appearance in Francis Fawkes song ‘The Brown Jug’. It has also been suggested that Sir Tony Belch, a character in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, may have influenced the choice of name.
The first Toby jugs were made in the 1760s in Staffordshire, an area already known for the manufacture of Earthenware figures. Today, one of the most desirable of the early Staffordshire Toby jugs is the so-called Ralph Wood-type. Credited with the invention and spread of the jug, Ralph Wood I produced well-modeled figures decorated with translucent colored glazes. He was amongst the first English potters to mark his work and Wood signed Toby jugs are particularly sought-after. An unmarked Ralph Wood I jug is usually worth over £1,000, depending on condition, but his rare ‘Thin Man’ jugs can be worth double. Jugs marked with a Mold number are often more valuable and examples signed by Wood command a premium, sometimes over £2,500.
The jugs proved to be immensely popular and were extensively copied by potters throughout the country. Famous potters including Josiah Wedgwood, John Astbury, Thomas Whieldon and Ralph Wood II all produced early Toby jugs. New characters, such as the sturdy Martha Gunn, a famous Brighton bathing machine ‘Dipper’, the Hearty Good Fellow and the Gin Lady, soon began to appear as variants on the Toby theme.
Later Toby jugs, often decorated with Enamel rather than colored Glaze, are also desirable, but tend to be less valuable than examples dating from before 1800. Many makers, including Beswick and Clarice Cliff, have produced their own versions, one of the most prolific being Royal Doulton during the 19th and 20th century. Despite their lack of great age, rare Royal Doulton jugs can attract extremely high prices; one of only three ‘Toby Gillette’ schoolboy jugs, made in the 1980s for a feature on the children’s television programme “Jim’ll Fix It”, sold at Sotheby’s for an astonishing £15,400 in 1986.
The wide range of styles make Toby jugs a relatively easy object to start collecting. Less valuable examples are widely available, but high quality early Toby jugs can take more time to track down.