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Andrew Coram’s Toby Jugs

February 13, 2014
by the gentle author

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Look at the old men, sitting lined up with their flasks of ale to watch the rain falling. They are late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Toby jugs and this is Andrew Coram’s antique shop, Beedell Coram at 86 Commercial St, which has London’s most consistently-fascinating window displays.

These curious characters only appeared at the beginning of this week and, in spite of one-hundred-mile-an-hour gusts, I halted in my path to peer from beneath my umbrella through the window and admire their ugly mugs, returning my glance with glazed expressions. Toby jugs have fallen from popularity in recent generations thanks to the proliferation of homogenised versions in the last century – but those in Andrew’s collection all date from before 1820 and, in their vividly-caricatured features and fine details, they have the authentic grotesque vigour of folk art which sets them apart from the banality of their mass-produced descendants.

“Toby Fillpot was a notorious Yorkshire drunkard whose real name was Harry Elwes,” Andrew informed me authoritatively, positing his theory of the origin of these charismatic designs when we convened in his shop yesterday, sheltering from a particularly virulent downpour. “It should be a full length figure sitting with a flask and a pipe, and wearing an eighteenth century frock coat and a tricorn hat,” he continued, admiring his treasured specimens that he acquired from a collector in Wales.

“I like the anthropomorphic quality,” Andrew admitted to me with relish, “the uglier the better.”

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Look at the old men, sitting lined up with their flasks of ale to watch the rain falling

Pearlware Toby jug with stopper, early nineteenth century

London Salt Glaze, late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century Toby jug

Ralph Wood type Toby Jug with pipe, c. 1790

Sponge ware Toby jug, c. 1790

Hearty Goodfellow, early nineteenth century Staffordshire figure

“With my pipe in one hand & jug in the other

I drink to my Neighbour & Friend

My cares in a whiff of tobacco I’ll smother

For Life you know shortly must end”

Small Toby jug, c. 1800

Toby Fillpot, etching by Robert Dighton 1786

From his shop window, antiques dealer Andrew Coram watches the rain falling upon Spitalfields

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Andrew Coram, Antiques Dealer

Andrew Coram’s Collection

3 Responses leave one →
  1. February 13, 2014

    Me as a bargain hunter too can retrace the enthusiasm for collecting these jugs! Sometimes my fifties ceramics are also things you “need getting used to”…

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  2. Ros permalink
    February 13, 2014

    These brought a smile to my face – I didn’t know Toby jugs could be so characterful. Love the costumes, the faces and the froth on the beer, captured particularly well in the salt glaze one. What a great collection.

  3. Elizabeth Strohsahl permalink
    February 13, 2014

    I inherited one of these from my English great-grandfather who died in the 1890′s, and I never knew what it was. And now I d0 – thank you!

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