Evanston museum features world’s largest Toby jug collection
January 14, 2015
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John F. Kennedy, Shakespeare characters and gardeners all found a home in Evanston.
At The American Toby Jug Museum, 910 Chicago Ave., these figures and about 8,000 others like them take shape in jug form and together comprise the world’s largest collection of Toby jugs.
About one-third of the 3-D jugs are of fictional characters, one-third comprises historical and political stalwarts and the remaining portion feature generic figures. Spanning 200 different makers and more than 30 countries, the diverse collection at the museum illustrates the lengthy evolution of Toby jugs.
“We have a collection of about 200 jugs from the 18th century, so there’s a lot of history involved,” museum co-founder and curator Steve Mullins said. “You can trace the evolution of the jugs and the techniques to make them. There is historical stuff that you can learn when you come here.”
Mullins, who has been collecting Toby Jugs for more than 60 years, said that since the first Toby jug was produced around 250 years ago, the techniques to make them have changed little. He drew a distinction between a character jug, which just includes a face, and a full-body Toby jug, which features a figure from head to toe. About 70 percent of the jugs in the museum are face jugs, rather than full-body.
One full-body jug Mullins said was particularly noteworthy is a 39-inch, 100-pound generic Toby, the largest jug in the world. After commissioning the jug himself, Mullins said the manufacturer was able to make just one because of its size, making the jug in the museum unique.
The large jug isn’t the only unique piece in the museum, as the world’s largest collections of Royal Doulton jugs and French Majolica pitchers can also be found there. Ultimately, Mullins said visitors to the museum are struck by the size and diversity of the collection.
“I can just tell you that anybody who comes here walks in and says ‘wow,’” Mullins said. “They all spend at least 45 minutes to an hour and some people spend two or three hours. It’s hard to describe, but when people come here, they find it really worthwhile … It is educational. It’s a cultural art form.”