Print Friendly and PDF With Strings Attached: Raise a toast to Toby Philpot!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Raise a toast to Toby Philpot!

 (My column for the May 24 issue of the Zion-Benton News)               

The smiling visage of Sir Francis Drake, captured in clay and colorfully-glazed, was a fixture in our house when I was growing up.  My mother explained that the ceramic figurine was a Toby jug.  I learned early that Drake was a famous English sea captain.  It was years later that I became aware of popularity of Toby jugs.

                This spring I bought a Toby at a local estate sale.  I looked online to find out more about it.  I discovered that Evanston is home to the American Toby Jug Museum.  My husband and I paid a visit earlier this month. 
  Toby Philpot in many sizes

                Stephen Mullins, a Chicago real estate developer, opened the museum in 2006 to house his 8,200-item collection.  His fascination with the art form began in the late 1940’s when he spend the last of his summer-camp candy money to buy six jugs.   He has written two books on the subject. 

                British potters began producing Toby jugs in the 1760’s.  A traditional Toby jug is a figurine of a seated man, usually stout and smiling, holding a mug of ale in one hand and a pipe in the other.  His 18th-century attire is a long coat and a three-cornered hat. The hat is shaped so that it is the spout on the jug.  There is a handle on the back.  The name Toby may come from Shakespeare’s Toby Belch (Twelfth Night) or from Toby Philphot, a fictional pub-patron. 
Sir Winston Churchill 
The figurines grew in popularity and variety in the 19th century.  Potteries in Europe and the U.S. produced versions.  Character jugs became popular in early 20th century. They are the heads of famous people or fictional characters.  Their head or hats are spouts and they have handles thus qualifying them as jugs.   Royal Doulton and Beswick are the best-known of the potteries that produced character jugs.

The museum has examples from the earliest days to the present time.  There are kings and queens, prime ministers and presidents, writers and musicians.  Some are smaller than thimbles.  There is a 3-foot-high Toby Philpot that was custom-made for Mullins and his museum. 
Groucho Marx and Buddy Holly
Barack Obama 

Perhaps you have a Toby jug (or two, or ten).  Perhaps you collect memorabilia about Elvis or the Beatles, U.S. Presidents or Shakespearean characters.  The American Toby Mug Museum is a fascinating window into popular culture and history.  It’s close to home and worth the visit!

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American Toby Mug Museum
910 Chicago Avenue
Evanston  60202
10-5 Wednesday-Friday; 10-5 first and third Saturdays
Free admission.

Back home: my collection
Mrs. Loan 
Mrs. Loan, the librarian, is my favorite!


  1. Thank you for this charming post! I have always thought Toby Jugs were amusing although I haven't collected any. Visiting this museum would be fun!

  2. what a fun post. WE have a few Toby mugs and my husband was born and raised in Evanston!


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