People collect unusual things. Some people collect coins, some stamps, and some antique cars. In Evanston, Illinois, there was a man named Stephen Mullins who collected a more unique item: Toby Jugs.
A Toby Jug was a British creation from the mid-eighteenth century of an old man (mysteriously named Toby) embodying a jug. Eventually, jugs of similar styles were created, depicting different types of people and characters. Thus these latter jugs are more properly known as “Character Jugs.” Additionally, whereas a mug has a circular rim, a jug includes a spout.
Stephen Mullins began collecting jugs in 1947 at the age of 15, and continued until his recent passing in June, 2019. His collection is housed in the basement of an apartment complex that he owned in Evanston, which was converted into a free museum. Hopefully, despite Mullins’ recent passing, this museum will continue to be open to the public. However, now that Mullins is no longer collecting, it is doubtful that the collection will continue to grow.
This museum – the Toby Jug Museum – is arranged chronologically and contains 8,000 Toby and Character Jugs! The beginning of the museum contains the more traditional Toby Jugs. However, as you continue walking through the centuries, the jugs become more diverse. Varieties include jugs depicting Charles Dickens’ characters, famous actors, politicians, and movies. Even though most of the other visitors who were at the museum with me spent about 20 minutes there, I spent about an hour. No two jugs are alike, so it was hard to leave!
The Toby Jugs on the top left depict a man with snuff, but the woman staffing the museum noted how it now looks like a man using a cell phone.
Sources and Further Reading
The Toby Jug Museum’s website provides plenty of information about Toby Jugs and Stephen Mullins: https://www.tobyjugmuseum.com/about
Stephen Mullins’ Obituary: https://chicago.suntimes.com/2019/6/28/18761610/toby-jug-museum-stephen-mullins-evanston-obituary