One of the many subjects about which I know virtually nothing is the subject of Hunting Jugs. These jugs:
“were very widely produced throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries. They were the most ‘special’ of the utilitarian brownwares, and were found in every home as well as in commercial establishments. The more decorative jugs and mugs of the hunting type were used largely for the storage and serving of ale”.
Hunting jugs are usually made in salt-glazed stoneware, often brown in the upper part and cream from the waist down. They are adorned with low-relief decorations called “sprigs” – moulded clay shapes in various motifs applied to the clay body of the vessel prior to the glazing and firing processes. They are known as hunting jugs because the sprigged decoration often includes a hunt, with a huntsman on horseback and a pack of hounds chasing a fox or rabbit around the lower part of the jug. Other conventional motifs include a tree, a windmill, mythological or legendary characters (e.g. Saint George slaying the Dragon), and invariably a humorous portrayal of Toby Phillpot, the archetypal English toper (from whom the Toby Jug derives its name) in various stages of inebriation. It’s a traditional, low-brow taste, well-suited to the alternative name of these jugs: “tavern jugs”.
The majority of hunting jugs were made in the second half of the nineteenth century by the Doulton Lambeth pottery, and are easily identifiable from the Doulton impressed marks on their bases. Many, however, are unmarked. You need to be an expert or a collector to be able to recognise which pottery or which region of England these are from, and there might always be a measure of uncertainty in attributing a particular jug to a particular pottery. Even if you can form almost all jugs into groups by, for example, the shape, the type of handle, the colour and type of glaze, and (especially) the design of the sprigs, then it doesn’t necessarily mean you can always be 100% confident about the attribution.
As you can see, there’s lots of opportunity for serious collectors to amass huge collections of jugs and do huge amounts of study and research in order correctly to identify and categorise their hunting jugs. At least one collector, Philip Mernick, has developed a website to show off his collection and to help those with less expertise to identify their jugs. You can see it at http://www.mernick.org.uk/brownjugs/index.htm.
Collectors are helped by the fact that hunting jugs are not rare or expensive. You see them all the time in antique fairs and local auctions and sometimes in charity shops. I have always found them very attractive but have generally resisted (sometimes with difficulty) the temptation to buy them. It would be so easy to be drawn into the world of hunting jugs, so easy to get hooked into yet another class of objects with which to clutter one’s house and one’s life . . .
The reason I’m telling you all this is because last week I was unable to resist buying my second-ever hunting jug in an Edinburgh charity shop for £3.50. I’ll tell you about the first one a little later, but my new jug is a nice big 4-pint one, in good condition except for a few small chips to the upper rim and around the spout, attractively sprigged, and unmarked.
I bought it because there wasn’t much else available to buy, and to see if I could learn a little more about this type of object which I see so often but know so little about. After failing to get much help from Google, I turned to Facebook, intending to post a photo on the British Country Pottery Collectors discussion group and ask for help. But I didn’t need to post the photo because the latest posting to the group was from Philip Mernick, and included a link to his marvellous website. A very fortunate coincidence which enabled me within a few minutes to determine (from comparing sprigs) that my new jug is from the late 19th century and was made at the Bourne Pottery at Denby, Derbyshire.
I’m pleased to have this jug but not sure what I’m going to do with it. To be honest, I’m much fonder of my only other hunting jug, which I bought about a year ago at one of my regular local salerooms. It is unusual in being made in slip-glazed earthenware instead of salt-glazed stoneware, and, being a big fan of slipware, I find it altogether more pleasing. It’s also bigger, a six-pint jug, and with its beautiful honey glaze it makes a big impact on display.
My slipware hunting jug’s origin seems to be a mystery. On Philip Mernick’s website there’s a section for unidentified jugs, and this includes a small group which have very similar characteristics to mine. One suggestion from a Facebook correspondent who knows an awful lot more about pottery than I do is that these jugs were made in the late 19th century by a maker in Bridgewater, Somerset. I don’t suppose anyone will ever know definitely, but for me, this lovely jug is a keeper.
A strange consequence of buying my new hunting jug is that it has sparked off an unexpected trip down memory lane, and has enabled me happily to dispose of a small pile of documents which have been sitting on my bookshelves for more than fifty years. These documents have nothing whatsoever to do with jugs, and I’ll tell you the story in a separate posting.
 Article by Nicholas Johnson at http://www.mernick.org.uk/brownjugs/Research/NJ1.htm