White elephants and Toby Jugs…

I’ve gone to many flea markets, yard sales and thrift shops in my lifetime and picked up many items along the way.  Starting as early as 4th grade, I can remember the schools and churches would host some kind of sale or bazaar.  They would sell crafts, plants and baked goods but my favorite table was called the white elephant table.  I didn’t know what that meant, but I always knew where to head first.

A quick internet search has this definition…a possession unwanted by the owner but difficult to dispose of.  The phrase actually has ties back to the 18th century and real white elephants, but the one I listed seems to best fit the items at the bazaar table.  I always thought the neatest stuff was on the white elephant table! I can actually remember the first item I got at the first bazaar I attended – I think it was 1968 based on the school I was attending at the time.  It was a white porcelain perfume bottle with a brass atomizer attached and I even remember it was 5 cents!  There were flowers on the sides of the bottle.  When I unscrewed the top, the bottle was empty, but there was still the scent of a faraway perfume.  I thought that was really neat and it conjured up exotic and romantic images in my mind about the former owner of the perfume bottle and that she had an elaborate vanity full of decorative bottles, powders, etc.  Even though it lessened with time, the scent stayed for years.  I don’t think I have it anymore, but I did hold onto if for a long time.  Who knows though, it may turn up!

I don’t know what it is about a certain item will make me start “collecting” them.

Many years ago – sometime in the early 1970’s, I picked up two miniatures at a flea market. One was a little plaster or chalk ware tree log with a bird nest molded in it.  On top were two small robins mounted to the log with springs, so they moved.  Along with that was a tiny Toby jug.  Both of these pieces were marked “Made in England”.


For some reason, I was fascinated with things made in England.  It didn’t matter what they were.  We had a set of metal figures – a marching band that went with our train set. They were made in England.  All of the other figures with the trains were marked Japan. I thought it was unusual to find items marked England, so they piqued my curiosity.  I have to wonder why I was reading where things were made when I was little, but I was! I’ve gotten off track a bit, so back to the Toby jug.
I don’t know if I’d ever seen a Toby jug at the time, or knew what they were called.  I seem to remember my Mom telling me it was called a toby jug.  You couldn’t just look them up on the internet in those days.  Over time, I stumbled on a second one in my travels.  Maybe it was the chance encounter with another one that triggered the collecting (I’ve never come across another one of the bird on the branch figures).  So, a collection was started.

Found separately, but make a nice pair
Typical seated figures
The one in the center is a cook!
Colonial couple

They didn’t turn up that often, so it was a slow collection. I added a more in the early 2000’s when my Mom and I started going to better antique shows.

With a quarter to show the scale
This little guy has the Hummel mark and is marked Germany
The green jacket is the original and the burgundy jacket is another English version – both are marked “Devonmoor – Made in England”
Unusual brass jug with turquoise enamel lining…measures and inch and three-quarters
I just love her!  She’s just an inch and a half
The two and a quarter-inch stocky jug is made in England
Sometimes I end up with a duplicate

They are for the most part, fairly inexpensive and I put a $10 price limit on them, although most of them are generally less. Eventually I did look at them on the internet, but I told my Mom, I just want to add these as I find them in my travels, not “speed collect” them.  My Mom would pick them up too if she found them and she got me a nice little jug that is made in England. It looks like is says “Kelsboro Ware” on the bottom and the character’s name is Georgie.


I did break the rule once and purchased  two very small jugs online (also made in England). They were different from any I’d seen. The character looked like Punch of Punch and Judy with his long nose and pointed chin – they are marked Denton China.

These are the jugs marked Denton


Some of them are pairs with a man and woman in matching attire.


Not exactly a pair…but these ladies are similar – different handle positions though
These are a true pair


Since they are so small (the tiniest are about 1 1/4″), most of them fit into the small compartments of a printer’s drawer. These drawers originally held blocks for typesetting and they became a popular repurposed item in the 1970’s, used for displaying miniature items. My brother-in-law, gave me two of them, which I had no problem filling! I still have both shelves hanging in the house. One has most of the things I’ve had in it since the late 1970’s and the other has been taken over with tiny Toby jugs and other small figures.


Even though many of my tiny Toby jugs are made in Japan, the first one is more closely associated with the early (larger) versions.  Originally, I believe they were made in England in the 1700’s, by pottery makers in Staffordshire.  They depicted faces or sitting figures of jovial, portly gentlemen and were used in taverns as mugs or pitchers for beer. I like the image of a raucous 18th century tavern with the colorful character jugs in use.  I have a bit of a fascination for old taverns and the discussions about the American Revolution must have taken place in the establishments in and around my home town of Philadelphia.  I still haven’t figured out why that one little jug from so long ago attracted me, but I still love the unexpected surprise of finding a tiny jug, and found one in a thrift shop just a few months ago.

These really could have gone in last month too!

Queen Elizabeth…a more recent find

This one is bit larger at around three inches

Now that I can search them on the internet, I’ve discovered that I also love the original large early versions from England, but space and budget keep me from acquiring any of those.  There are a few that are bigger, and I did break down and get a reproduction large Toby Jug modeled after a dog…couldn’t resist. It is shown here with a George Washington jug which says on the bottom it’s a souvenir of Mount Vernon.


Except for actually drinking an ale from one, the tiny Toby jugs are the perfect fit!


Author: Collected

Recollections and reflections on a life time of collecting.

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