The American Toby Jug Museum, not far from downtown Chicago, houses the eccentric collection of Stephen M. Mullins, who bought his first jug as a kid at Canadian summer camp. It’s taken him over seven decades, but he’s since amassed over 8,000 of them – the largest Toby Jug collection in the world.
Toby Jugs originated in the mid-18th century in England, and are loosely defined as pottery jugs crafted and painted into the form of a figure, usually male, and usually imbibing. Strictly speaking, only those that are full body figures are “Tobys”, but the collection includes others that are heads of recognizable individuals or character types – everything from pirates to fisherman, Churchill to Hitler. These are officially known as “character jugs” to the serious collector, and no collector is more serious than Mullins.
The history of the origin of Toby Jugs is as fuzzy as the morning after drinking from one, but there are a few popular theories. One dates to around 1760 when the first jugs started appearing in English taverns. It seems a hale and hearty chap named Toby Fillpot, much beloved by his fellow sots at the bar, passed away unexpectedly. His drinking buddies somehow got hold of Toby’s ashes and had them fashioned into earthenware shaped like their chubby friend, so he’d never be far from his favorite spot at the bar. There are other, more plausible, theories, but variations on the story of Toby Fillpot keep popping up.
The American Toby Jug Museum has literally thousands of examples of “classic” Toby Jugs (including both the largest and second largest in the world), as well as more modern takes on the art form. After seeing the rows and rows of jugs and mugs you might find yourself unable to resist the urge to drink straight from the heads of The Beatles, Captain Kirk, Marilyn Monroe or Barack Obama.
Know Before You Go
The Museum is very close to the Main Street Metra and Metro train stops in Evanston, easily accessible from Chicago. Admission is free, and they are open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12.30 p.m. to 4:40 p.m. or other times by appointment. Call Curator Kevin Pearson on 312 731 1852 for an appointment.