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A Brief History of the Character Pitcher
(or "Jug" for my friends across the pond)

Origin of the character pitcher:  Though the English Toby jug may be better known, it owes its basic form to a faience jug that became popular in the Netherlands, Flanders, and the north of France in the 1500's, more than 200 years before the first Toby appeared on English shores. While the official history of these Delft pitchers is lost to time, the legend of their origin lives on. Their creation is credited to the colorful and romantic Jacqueline de Baviére (b. 1401; d. 1436), the countess of Hainaut, Zeeland, and Holland. LibraryRefFotos/DelftToby1.jpg

A Romantic Beginning: During a conflict with her cousin and arch-rival, Phillip of Burgundy, over control of her lands, Jacqueline was taken prisoner by Phillip and stashed in the donjon of his castle at Ghent. While imprisoned, Jacqueline is said to have amused herself by fashioning pottery pots or jugs in the form of a seated man or woman and tossing them down from her cell to the townspeople below. (Could this have been some sort of communication between Jacqueline and her numerous supporters?) Certainly there must have been some sort of communication because in September 1425 two knights arrived at Phillip's castle at Ghent and managed to slip a disguise to Ghent Castle  Jacqueline. She escaped the donjon in the guise of a man and made her way to Gouda. This marked the beginning of a valiant three year effort by Jacqueline to regain control of her lands. Jacqueline was no demure hot-house flower: as comfortable in full armor as she was in silk robes, she led her own troops into battle, and, against the overwhelming might of Burgundy, fought courageously on the battlefield to preserve the lands which were her heritage. (If you'd like to learn more about the colorful heroine, Jacqueline, there's a brief biography of her here.)

By the mid-1500's, little faience jugs in the form of a seated man or woman became popular in the Netherlands, Flanders, and the north of France, and were known as "Pots Jacquelines" if in the shape of a woman, or "Pots Jacquots" if in the shape of a man. Thus, her name and her courage were commemorated and live on to this day in France with the charming little human-shaped faience pots and jugs which are still known as "Pots Jacquelines" and "Pots Jacquot", recalling the romantic story of an imprisoned countess tossing them from her donjon cell to her loyal followers six hundred years ago.

The "Toby" makes its first appearance: The next major development in character jugs was the first appearance of the ubiquitous English Toby jug made by the Staffordshire pottery of Ralph Wood around the year 1762. No one seems to know for sure the origin of the "Toby" name. It may be from the archaic Ralph Wood 1780 Toby Pitcher English word "tope" or "to tope" which meant to drink habitually to excess; it may have come about from the character Toby Belch in Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night; or it may have come from the character Toby Shandy in Laurence Sterne's book, Tristam Shandy which was just published in 1760. Lastly, it may have derived from a legendary Yorkshire drunkard known as Toby Fillpot (or Philpot) whose real name was Harry Ewles. It probably came about through a combination of influences: In the first place, Sterne's book was quite popular and the character "Toby" was a favorite, and it was only a short year later that a popular print came out in England illustrating the famous Toby tippler, captioned with "Old Toby Philpot, as thirsty a soul as e'er drank a bottle or fathomed a bowl,". Of one thing there's no question-Toby, whoever he may (or may not) have been, definitely liked his drink and spent quite a bit of time in his cups!

Ralph Wood's Toby Jug was the brainchild of one of the most skilled-and dastardly-artists of the time, the French sculptor, John (Jean) Voyez. No doubt John would have been quite familiar with the "Pots Jacqueline & Jacquot" of his native land, and the earliest Toby's are remarkably similar in form to the earlier French jugs, but with a decidedly English flavor to them. He is also known to have been significantly influenced by the work of Paul-Louis Cyfflé at the faiencerie at Lunéville, France, which certainly made their share of "Pots Jacqueline & Jacquot".

A Creator as colorful as the "Toby" he created: It's more than a little ironic that John Voyez is associated with the first Toby jug, as he had more than a few Ralph Wood 1700's Toby Pitcherproblems of his own due to his propensity for drunkenness. After working for Ralph Wood, Voyez went to work for Josiah Wedgwood in 1768 with a 3-year contract. Wedgwood was thrilled to have Voyez on his team and wrote enthusiastically about his new hire. No doubt Wedgwood soon came to rue the day he put the Frenchman on his payroll. Voyez worked for Wedgwood for about a year when he showed up for work belligerent and drunk. Wedgwood had Voyez flogged and imprisoned at Stafford Gaol for three months. Wedgwood had just begun to produce the jasperware for which he would become rightly famous, and during Voyez' imprisonment, he became extraordinarily worried that Voyez would go to work for a competitor when he was released, ending Wedgwood's virtual monopoly on jasperware. He even proposed paying Voyez the full three years of wages to keep Voyez from going to the competition. Wedgwood's fears were well-founded: Voyez worked for a time for Palmer of Hanley, but then began his own workshop, producing the same sort of wares as Wedgwood, and marking them "Wedgwood & Bentley" or "Wadgwojd", rendered in such as way as to be easily mistaken for "Wedgwood". So the father of the famous Toby jug was a bit of a ne'er-do-well himself...I don't know if he was nearly so charming as his creation when filled with a pint of ale!

Ubiquitous Beer: The primary purpose of the Pots Jacqueline and Toby Jugs was as a beverage vessel. Clean drinking water was never a sure thing in Europe or England at this time, so wine, beer, and ale were the most common thirst quenchers. In the middle of the 1700's, gin was falling out of favor in England as tales of violence and debauch  associated with the "gin house" made the rounds. Hogarth's "Gin Lane" Print A tax imposed on spirits in 1751, which affected gin but not beer, ale, or wine, helped to sway the populace away from gin and into the welcoming arms of brewers throughout the continent and England. Brewers thrived and many built public-houses which functioned more as a community center than a saloon. Mail and messages could be left there for patrons, newspapers were provided to be enjoyed with a pint. Companies built public-houses for their employees where the workers could pick up their pay...they could even opt to be paid in beer. Beer dispensers were installed in private homes and the servants consumption of the brew was counted against their wages. A quick stop at the public-house after work to pick up a large jug of beer to bring back home to accompany the family dinner was a common occurrence.

All this beer-drinking called for a lot of jugs! Patrons of public-houses Prospect Whitby Public House would keep their own personal jug at the "pub", where they were usually stored on a shelf over the bar. Large jugs were needed for toting the family's ration of beer from the pub to the home, and of course children clamored for jugs like Mom and Dad's, so small jugs were a necessity as well. With such a profusion of jugs about, it was a good idea to have a distinctive jug that couldn't be mistaken for someone else's. Potters throughout Europe and England were only too happy to oblige: Pots Jacqueline (Jacquot) and Tobies in a myriad of styles, sizes, and colors proliferated.

These early Pots Jacqueline and Toby Jugs often had a pottery or pewter lid attached to keep out flies, and the crown of the traditional Toby's hat was usually removable and served as a cup. The similarities between the early Pots Jacquot (male jugs) and the first Toby Jugs are significant. Both usually depict a rotund seated man in full figure and wearing a hat of some sort, usually a tri-corner (especially in the case of the Toby). The traditional Toby adds a jug to the man's hand and sometimes a cup or pipe to his other hand. In the early 1800's flasks and bottles in the form of caricatures of current political figures became popular on the continent and England and soon spread to jugs. Monks were also targeted for their reputed fondness for ale.

The Character Pitcher Arrives:
Early on, these jugs still depicted full-body figures, but by the 1880's the character pitcher depicting just the head, or head and LibraryRefFotos/Sarr3181BlueBand2.jpgshoulders, had become just as popular as the full-body jug. The famous "grotesques" of Sarreguemines, and the magnificent bust-like portrait jugs of Frie-Onnaing are prime examples.  These were made for quite a number of years, and enthusiastically copied by hundreds of smaller potters all over the world. The popularity of the form began to wane after World War I, until they were rediscovered more recently by collectors. They are now being copied just as enthusiastically as they were a hundred years ago. Unfortunately, unlike most of the earlier copies which, by and large, were not created in an effort to deceive, most of the modern copies being sold today are made to do just that-to fool the collector into believing it to be the genuine article. So whether your interest runs to the continental Character jugs from the likes of Sarreguemines and Frie-Onnaing, or to the storied Toby of England, it behooves the collector to arm oneself with as much knowledge as possible.

For more specific information on French character pitchers, such as those produced by Sarreguemines, Frie-Onnaing, Fives-Lille, and many others, check back here to see the upcoming Part II of this series: An Online Guide to French Character Pitchers.

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A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 8
(1963) in 'Hanley: Local government, economic history and social life',, pp. 157-173. URL: Date accessed: 30 May 2008.

Caricatures in Pottery.,

Getting to Know Your Toby Jug: Book Review,, Stephen Goldate

History of the People of the Netherlands; Petrus Johannes Blok, Oscar Albert Bierstadt, Ruth Putnam; G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York & London, 1899

Holland from 1299 to 1581: The History of the Lowlands,,L.C. Geerts, May 2007

Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, Wikipedia,,_Countess_of_Hainaut

John, Dauphin of France, Wikipedia,,_Dauphin_of_France_(1398-1417)

La céramique: Des exemples de parcours au sein du département "céramique" du Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, 10 Nov 2005,, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille

Majolica Figures, Helen Cunningham, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen PA, 1997

Pichets en Barbotine: Personnages, Animaux, Fleurs, Maryse Bottero, Editions Charles Massin, Paris, 2000

The Most Popular Jug In The World,, April 2000

The Staffordshire Encyclopedia: Staffordshire's History Online,, Tim Cockin, 2000

The Toby Jug,, Laura McGinty, April 2000

Toby & Character Jugs of the 20th Century and Their Makers: Book Review, Maine Antique Digest

Valois Burgundy, Richard Vaughan, Archon Books, 1975

Wedgwood and His Imitators, N. Hudson Moore, Frederick A. Stokes Company, NY, 1909

Wedgwood China Marks,, "The Expert", September 2006

Copyright 2008: Shantique Gallery

A Sampling of Character Pitchers
(and a few other "characters"!)
from the Shantique Gallery Shop

(Click on the photos or text for more details)

Antique French Majolica Character Pitcher
Antique French Majolica Character Pitcher
These character pitchers or jugs were popular during the late 19th to early 20th century. Though this particular jug is most often referred to as Sarreguemines, it is more accurate to refer to them as Sarreguemines-type. They were produced near Sarreguemines, France to compete with the products of the renowned faiencerie of the same name. The Sarreguemines character pitchers have mold numbers no higher than the 5000's, while these particular pitchers carry the numbers in the 7890 series. This specific pitcher is marked 7891 as well as the number 4 and the impressed numbers 1 and 3. This particular pitcher is most often referred to as "Black-billed", in reference to the bill of his hat. For more information on these Sarreguemines competitors...See the item
Antique French Majolica Sarreguemines Puck Pitcher
Antique Sarreguemines Majolica Puck Pitcher
I am very pleased to offer this superb example of one of Sarreguemines oldest character pitchers, Puck, number 653. This was one of the factory’s staple pieces and was very long-lived. It was still being produced as late as 1925. The mark used identifies this pitcher as having been produced after the World Fair of 1889 but before 1922 (according to the book Sarreguemines: Les Marques de Fabrique by the Sarreguemines Museum). He stands 7” tall and approximately 5 ½” in diameter. He is clearly marked with the impressed number 653 (model number), an X (size number), and the small non-serifed font SARREGUEMINES. He is in...See the item 
Antique French Majolica Matelot Pitcher
Antique French Majolica Matelot Pitcher
These character pitchers or jugs were popular during the late 19th to early 20th century. Though this particular jug is most often referred to as Sarreguemines, it is more accurate to refer to them as Sarreguemines-type. They were produced near Sarreguemines, France to compete with the products of the renowned faiencerie of the same name. The Sarreguemines character pitchers have mold numbers no higher than the 5000’s, while these particular pitchers carry the numbers in the 7890 series. This specific pitcher is marked 7892 as well as the number III and the impressed numbers 8 and 3. This particular pitcher is most often referred to as “Matelot”, which is French for sailor. For more information on these Sarreguemines competitors, please see...See the item 
Antique French Majolica Sarreguemines Grotesque Pitcher
Antique French Majolica Sarreguemines Grotesque Pitcher
This is probably Sarreguemines most popular character pitcher, the so-called "3181 grotesques" of Sarreguemines. There are 5 different known faces on these pitchers, all caricatures of different political figures of the time, and all carrying the number 3181. The 3181 pitchers were also available in stoneware. These type pitchers were so popular at the turn-of-the-century that many potteries all over Europe began to make knock-offs of the Sarreguemines pitchers. But this one is the real...See the item 
Antique French Majolica Scotsman Pitcher
Antique French Majolica "Scotsman" Pitcher
Here is your opportunity to own this fantastic character jug known by collectors as the Scotsman. I honestly don’t understand the name—he doesn’t look at all Scottish to me. These were popular during the late 19th to early 20th century...It measures 5 ½” tall and approximately 4” in diameter. For more information on these Sarreguemines competitors, please see...See the item 

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