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.
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.
– Linda Gardner Phillips
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