The success of the
Royal Doulton factory's series of jugs moulded in the shape of famous faces is at the forefront of a lively collectors' market.
Character jugs, where the body of the jug is modelled in the shape of a head, have been made as one-off items for many years though the main collectors' interest nowadays is in the series of jugs produced by Royal Doulton since 1934.
Character jugs are often confused with Toby
jugs. The difference is that character jugs show only the head and shoulders. Any jug that is modelled on a full sitting or standing figure is considered a Toby jug, whether or not
it is based on the traditional Toby Philpot. As with Royal Doulton's famous figure series the subjects of their character jugs include real people, fictional characters and 'types'.
Each Doulton jug is first modelled in clay. From this, a master mould - usually in four or five pieces - is made. The first casting from this becomes the model from which 20-30 pouring moulds are made. To keep up quality levels, each pouring mould is used a maximum of 30 times. Every jug is hand-finished, then a separately-moulded handle is stuck on with slip. The jug is then hand-painted, fired, dipped in a glaze and fired again.
Handles are fitted on the side, or more rarely the back of the head. Sometimes the handle is part of the figure, as in 'Ard of 'Earing, where it's a hand cocked to the ear, but usually it's modelled in an associated motif or, particularly in early jugs, left plain, and usually coloured black. Because the handles are made separately, jugs can be produced with several different handles, and some models, such as the Santa Claus, have taken advantage of this.
Since the 1970s, a collectors' market has grown up for discontinued jugs. These have either been withdrawn from production for some reason or were issued in limited editions which have sold out. The majority of limited editions were fixed at 5,000, but some special commissions were issued in smaller runs.
Character jugs are not just about novelty; they can be appreciated as something between portraiture and caricature. A well modelled, well decorated jug tells you about the character of the person depicted, as well as something of the sculptor who modelled the original.
CHARACTER JUG COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Since the 1970s, an international market has grown up in Doulton jugs, with very high interest in the USA. There are regular Doulton fairs in the USA and Britain, while the official Doulton Collectors' Club has branches in England, North America and Australasia.
Rare jugs sometimes appear at major auctions, while you should be able to track down less rare examples at antique fairs and markets. Turn up early if you want a bargain. Bargains may also be found, if you're lucky, in boot fairs and even in a jumble sale.
Doulton jugs appear in as many as seven sizes, ranging from 'tinies' (3cm / 1 žin tall) to 'large' (18cM / 7in) jugs, though most were made in just
two or three versions. Miniature jugs (7.5cm13 in) were withdrawn at the end of 1991, creating many new collectables.
The most expensive jugs of all are the pilots, prototypes for new models that were either never produced or that show slight differences from the eventually-released piece. Few were
made, and though they were never put on open sale they were often taken home by decorator; as a perk of the job.
Other, limited areas for collection are jugs with special promotional back stamps or glazed but unpainted white jugs. The latter were sold as seconds, mainly in the 1940s and 1950s, but
their rarity means some fetch a little bit more than their perfect, painted equivalent. Other erstwhile seconds, perhaps missing a
colour, also fetch premium prices.
Apart from this, perfect condition is an important consideration. Check under a good light for hairline cracks. Imperfect jugs can be professionally restored but this is likely to be worthwhile only if the piece is a particularly collectable one, as restoration is expensive. A restored jug should only cost about half as much as a perfect one.
Good restorations are virtually invisible. One way to test for them is to stick a pin in the suspect area - but get permission from whoever's selling the jug first, or you won't be very popular. If the pin makes a mark, the jug has been restored. You could also try running your tongue or teeth over a piece. Because restored areas have been refired at lower temperatures, the glaze feels different, though it may not look it.
Doulton jugs that were in production for just a short time are easy to date, but others can be more difficult. A coloured lip inside the jug means it was made before the early 1960s. Characters whose eyes have indented pupils were also made before this date. Occasionally jugs have a printed number to the right of the crown in the Doulton mark. Adding 1927 to this will give the year that the jug was made.
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain.