Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Raise a Jug

QUESTION: I recently found a large character jug at a local flea market. The dealer said it was old, most likely from the late 19th century. How can I tell if it is indeed old or maybe just a reproduction?

ANSWER: There’s lots of confusion about character, or as they’re more commonly known, Toby jugs, inspired by the original Toby Jug, with its brown salt glaze, developed and popularized by Staffordshire potters in the 1760s. They got the idea from similar Delft ware jugs produced in the Netherlands.

The first Toby jugs, made in the form of a jovial, stout, man wearing a long coat and tri-corn hat of the late-18th-century, puffing on a pipe, and holding a jug of ale, became common pouring vessels at local taverns. The pitcher had a rear handle and a removable lid, and the tricorn hat formed a pouring spout. Most antique historians attribute the first one to attributed to either John Astbury or Thomas Wheildon.

There are two theories as to origin of the jugs’ name. Some believe the jovial, intoxicated character of Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night, inspired it while others believe  a notorious 18th century Yorkshire drinker, Henry Elwes, also known as "Toby Fillpot" was the inspiration. Either way, the name stuck.

Well-known potters, such as Ralph Wood I and II, Enoch Wood, Thomas Hollins and William Pratt, followed Astbury and Wheildon lead and began making Toby jugs in Staffordshire and Leeds, England.

Most collectors equate Doulton Pottery with Toby jugs since John Doulton established his riverside pottery at Lambeth, south of London, in 1815. His company manufactured miles of sewer pipe and became the leader in the sanitation revolution of the time. Today, Doulton, now known as Royal Doulton, is famous for its plates, vases, and jugs, decorated with popular imagery from English history and literature.

While Royal Doulton made Toby jugs for the remainder of the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1901 that it introduced figures, series ware, and rack or case plates. Over time, these became highly collectible. In 1934, Charles Noke of Royal Doulton introduced the first modern character jug, John Barleycorn, a symbol of the brewers, followed by Old-Charley, Night Watchman, Sairey Gamp, the midwife and sick-nurse from Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit, Parson Brown, the sporting cleric, and Dick Turpin, the highwayman. The character jug series features lifelike caricatures of the heads of famous historical personalities and legendary characters from folklore, literature, and popular culture. The difference between a Toby jug and a character jug is that the former features a full figure while the latter just the head and shoulders of the person.

On jugs made before 1960, a dark glaze bleeds over the rim and into the white glazed interior. But the best way to tell the age of a character jug is by its mark. Many of the older jugs have a capital "A" to the left of the "Lion and Crown — Royal Doulton - Made in England" stamp printed on jugs made from the 1930s to the 1950s. After the 1950s, Royal Doulton printed the mark in darker green and without the A.

Doulton jugs made in the 1930s show the name of the character in quotation marks. On those made in the 1950s, the letter “D’ precedes the name of the character without quotes, with the  copyright date lying underneath.

Those jugs marked with an “A” are actually less valuable because Royal Doulton, over time, flooded the market with them. However, character jugs introduced in the 1950s and discontinued in the 1960s, such as Johnny Appleseed, Simple Simon, Dick Whittington, Admiral Nelson, the Hatless Drake and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh, are more valuable than those marked with an “A.” Also, the company made its character jugs in five sizes, from small to large.

The smaller ones, marked Doulton Made in England in a circle with the name of the character in the center, cost $2 new and now sell for $100 to $300 each.  A complete set can sell for $1,500 to $2,000.  The larger ones sell for $100 to $500 each. And as with any collectible, there are exceptions.

By the late 20th century, over 200 different makers, including Royal Doulton, Shorter and Son, Lancaster-Sandland, Royal Worcester, and Wedgwood & Co. were producing Toby character jugs. However, as the 21st century dawned, their popularity waned and many stopped making them. Today, only three companies still produce Toby character jugs.

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