Monday, February 16, 2009

Toby...or not Toby?

I think I am developing a unhealthy predilection for Toby jugs, those vintage ceramic jugs in the form of a seated person.  I love them.  In the last month, I've bought three and my desire for them shows no sign of abating. 

(Curious as to why they're called "Toby jugs"?  So was I.  Wikipedia states that they're named after Toby, the jovial drunkard from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night.")

It all started shortly after I realized I needed to add a touch of Englishness to my kitchen windowsill.  It held the requisite plants and chic porcelain cachepots, but it still lacked oomph.  What could I find that would be traditional-with-a-twist, satisfy my obsession with "that sceptered isle" and not be totally ubiquitous in a month?

I stumbled upon them during an Ebay search.  I was looking for Winston Churchill mementos, per usuelle, and all of a sudden, there it was.  Or rather, there HE was.  
I love the way he's sitting here, bemused smile on his face, cigar firmly planted in cheek.  I wanted him so badly I didn't even wait for the auction to end. One "Buy it Now" click later and Sir Winnie was all mine.  He arrived ten days later via the Royal Mail and has been beaming contentedly at me ever since.

My next acquisition was Mr. Pickwick, sitting here in his yellow waistcoat, his buttons strained to breaking point after one of his many merry feasts.
Buying him was a no-brainer. "The Pickwick Papers" was the novel that turned me into a raging Dickens-ophile and, even twenty years later, remains one of the funniest books I have read. Upon finishing it, I was so reluctant to part with its brilliance that I filled up a small book with my favorite passages from the novel and proceeded to memorize them one by one.  (I know, I know...can you say N-E-R-D?)

Following shortly on Pickwick's heels came Mr. Pecksniff, the oily moralist and hypocrite extraordinaire from "Martin Chuzzlewit", another one of my favorite Dickens novels.  When I gaze at him, I remind myself that if I do exactly the opposite of everything he would, I will lead a blameless life.

All three of my Toby jugs were produced by Royal Douton and date from around the 1940's-1950's.  I have several friends who collect those vintage doll head vases and to me, Toby jugs are the masculine counterpart of those. Ebay has a great selection of them, but do a thorough check because I found the same jugs listed for various (and hugely disparate) prices. 

As traditional as they are, they feel somewhat edgy and humorous to me. Placed against a stark backdrop, they take on a modern slant and remind me a bit of those porcelain Nymphenberg statuettes they sell at Moss (but for about one-hundredth of the price).  

I say they're ripe for a comeback.  What do you think?


Laura said...

Oh I love Mr. Churchill...and Mr. Pecksniff is a close second. He has that look of a very fun but very bad man. My grandparents brought back some very cool little troll figurines from Norway years ago that currently sit on a shelf in my parents' house. I have always wanted to like them but they are just a tad to creepy for me. If the creep were removed, I believe they would be nearly as charming as your Tobys.

Susan's Snippets said...

Lisa - With a background of many summers spent foraging thru flea markets and estate sales...I have seen and fallen in love with quite a few Toby jugs....I am glad to read that they have spoken to you.


Amy said...

my mom collected those when we lived overseas! i thought they were a little creepy when i was little, but now i think they have such a great sense of humor.

pve design said...

Oh, I adore these. They would bring a smile to me. I bet your little one loves them too.

So Lovely said...

Oh I love the nerdy thing - thats so great. Who wouldn't fall in love with The Pickwick Papers.

I love this Tobys. I have seen lots of collections of these in England along the rafters in country pubs.
My obsession is Rosenthal Netter ANYTHING. xox

Anonymous said...

These Toby jugs are funny!!!!
But I must admit, I have never heared or seen them before in my whole life. :-(

But thx for the introduction!

Mr. Peacock said...

I love 'em, especially the little guy in the trench coat smoking the cigar! I'm sure they look fantastic at your place! They have such expressive faces.

I didn't know they were called Toby jugs. They have some at a used book store by my house. I bought one, but not nearly as cute as yours. He's just a head, and looks a bit angry, but he was super cheap.

Unknown said...

I was at an antique store today and spotted one of these little guys and snatched him up! I came home to devour your blog to find this post because I couldn't remember what they were called (the lady removed the tag when I purchased him and the name "Toby" escaped me.) I think I might start collecting them, they're so adorable and humorous!

Cool Stuff said...

Check out House Beautiful's July 2009 issue. There is a lovely layout on an Albert Hadley decorated home (first 40 years ago and then he came back to help the owner move to a smaller 1800's home). The owner had GORGEOUS everything. There is a page where she has her Toby mug collection tucked in between books in her bookcase!

Jodi said...

I have Mr. Churchill along with many others that I inherited from my native New Orleanian great aunt.

It was such a surprise to see him here on your lovely blog.

Natalie Thiele said...

My husband grew up with Winnie, as in, "Please pass the Winnie." Their Winston Churchill Toby was the syrup jug.
We inherited Winnie, and, since we never eat waffles, he hasn't done a decent day's work since. It's enough to see him watching us from his front row position in the china cabinet, sitting on the can, smoking a stogie and grinning.


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