The American Toby Jug Museum

written by Guest Blogger on December 2, 2010 in Arts & Culture and Blog Authors and Chicagoland and College Towns and Family Fun and Food & Drink and Linda Gardner Phillips and Northern Illinois and Offbeat Illinois and Shopping with 3 comments
Tony Fillapot

Tony Fillapot

It’s so fun to find a treasure hidden in plain view. Walking in Evanston beside a new glass-clad building, a colorful window display caught our eye. We were mesmerized by the unusual sight of stout figures and chubby mugs. Suddenly a man materialized beside us, opened the door, and said, “Would you like to come in? Welcome to the American Toby Jug Museum.” He led us down the stairs into a quiet wonderland of history, craftsmanship and ceramics.

American Toby Jugs

American Toby Jugs

The American Toby Jug Museum is a truly one-of-a-kind experience. Nowhere else in the world can you view so many Toby and Character Jugs. What is a Toby Jug? Generally speaking, it is a pouring pitcher created in the shape of a person, usually with a built-in sense of wit or humor. Technically, a Toby is a full-body jug, while a Character Jug includes only the face. In my walks through the museum’s many glass cabinet aisles, I saw historical characters, animals, animated characters and mugs, jugs and teapots of all sizes – some as small as a bee and some clearly too large to lift. Many were made by famous English, French, and German potters and ceramics manufacturers; others were custom produced for private collectors.

This mysterious and kindly man who greeted us at the door turned out to be Stephen M. Mullins, the museum’s founder and curator. He explained to us that the museum is normally open by appointment, but that he had noticed our interest. As their brochure explains, Mullins began his Toby Jug adventure as a boy when he spent his summer camp candy money on six small Royal Doulton character jugs. Over sixty years later, the collection now includes over 7000 pieces from over 20 countries and 200 different makers, dating from the 1760’s to the newest 2011 prototypes. Mullins has also co-authored two books on the subject, including A Century of Royal Doulton Character and Toby Jugs. There’s also an interesting story behind the quietly elegant Museum building. Mullin’s original plan was to build an addition onto the old Bank building at the corner of Chicago and Main. When this plan could not happen due to constraints, he acquired the adjoining properties and commissioned a contemporary structure by architects Brininstool+Lynch. The simplicity of the exterior serves as the perfect foil for the antiquities within.
Toby Jug Museum Aisles

Toby Jug Museum Aisles

I can firmly recommend this museum as a good stop for all ages. There’s truly something for everyone here, and your eyes will not know where to start or stop. Even if you don’t consider yourself an aficionado of small breakable objects, you will find yourself enthralled by the depth and interest of this collection. My kids couldn’t get enough of it.
Amusing Toby Jugs

Amusing Toby Jugs

The American Toby Jug Museum is open by appointment and located at 910 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL 60202. Visit www.tobymuseum.com or call 1.877.TOBYMUSeum (1.877.862.9687).

Shopping and Eats: If you’re in the area, you’ll find lots of other fun stops nearby. Some of my favorite places to grab a bite are The Brothers K Coffeehouse (the North Shore’s best latté), Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant (authentic homecooked deliciousness), and Belgian Chocolatier Piron (chocolate heaven). Just a few of the unique shops in this neighborhood include Vogue Fabrics (sewing and fabric paradise), Healthy Green Goods (eco-friendly bed & bath), and Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop and Prehistoric Life Museum (which deserves – and will get – a post all its own). Learn more about the Main Street shopping area at Mainstreetevanston.org. Getting there: From lakeside Chicago: Take Lake Shore Drive north to Sheridan. Take Main Street west to Chicago Avenue. From almost anywhere else: Take I-94 to the Dempster exit. Take Dempster east to Chicago Avenue and turn right. There’s ample street parking available, and a metered parking lot just across the street from Vogue Fabrics.

Happy Exploring!

– Linda Gardner Phillips

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