The First Royal Doulton Character Jug Modelled On An Actual Person – John Peel

John Peel was the first person to be immortalised in the form of a Royal Doulton character jug.  Designed by Harry Fenton, issued in 4 sizes from 1936 to 1960.

John Peel was a famous huntsman who for 40 years hunted with a pack of hounds on the fells of Cumbria in North-East England, as the slopes were too steep for horses, the hunt was often carried out on foot.  John Peel enjoyed a drink and each kill was celebrated by the hunting party at the nearest hostelry.

John Peel 1

 There was also a song written by John Graves about the famous huntsman:

‘D’ye ken John Peel with his coat so grey?

D’ye ken John Peel at the break of day?

D’ye ken John Peel when he’s far, far away

With his hounds and his horn in the morning?’

John Peel 2

 It is also believed that this is how the Police earned the nickname ‘The Peelers’

It seems that based on the song, John Peel’s coat was grey so it’s a bit of a mystery as to why Harry Fenton chose to portray him in a red coat . . .

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Royal Doulton Character Jug Handles Part 2

Gulliver with Lilliputians standing at the top of a tower

Another exceptional design is the Gulliver handle based on his bizarre travels and his shipwreck on the island of Lilliput, with the two little Lilliputians perched on top of a tower as they attempted to lift a strand of hair from the characters head in order to tie down the ‘giant’.  As Gulliver was only produced for a short time, from 1962 to 1967, it has now become a sort after jug.

From these and many more examples, we can see the inspired and creative potential for character jug handles and how they have become more and more inspired over the years.  One of my favourites is Genie and his hair that becomes the flame that then becomes his lamp and in this case I must admit the body of the jug with is wonderful pointed ears, huge eyebrows, all seeing eyes and pouty lips places him firmly in my top ten.  He was only produced for one year, 1991 and his short production run has also made this a jug to keep an eye out for.

Genie  Santa Clause

Deciding on what association to create with a character must be a dilemma in itself for the artist, but Michal Abberley seems to have come up with an ingenious solution to this dilemma with his Santa Claus character jug.  The handle has evolved from the very basic candy cane to a reindeer, toy stocking and Christmas tree to name a few.

In some cases slight changes to the handle during production period have resulted in a significant increase in value of the jug.  The miniature Old Salt is worth a mention here, first introduced in large and small size in 1961 with a mermaid handle.  With her left arm raised behind her head leaving a noticeable space in the crook of her arm.  The miniature size produced in 1983 however no long has this space due to production problems it is assumed.  There were however a few piloted and produced with the arm crook space present and these have become highly sought after by collectors and therefore worth significantly more than the no arm crook space miniature.  Another to keep an eye out for is Anne of Cleeves, her handle is in the shape of a horses head, in 1980 these were produced with ears pointed up, standing proud of its head.  However, as many of these suffered damage during transit it was decided a remodel was called for and the later version shows the ear lying flat against the head.  Again, the pointed ears earlier version is harder to find, more sought after and therefore commands a far higher price than the later flat ears version.  I would be amiss if I did not mention the Beefeater in this paragraph, this handle is not illustrated in the standard way.  Introduced in 1947, the handle bears the initials ‘GR’ (George Rex) signifying the Beefeaters position as a member of the King George’s royal family.  In 1953 when Elizabeth ascended to the throne, the jug was updated to represent the new monarch with the initials now reading ‘ER’ (Elizabeth Regina).  The earlier GR version now commands a far higher price than the ER version and there also exists a third version which is known as the gold handle Beefeater.  This handle is decorated in many colours with an intricate gold thread pattern running through it and yes, you guessed it, this is the most highly sought after of the Beefeater variations.

BeefeaterOld Salt

Slight variations exist in many jugs and it’s advisable to have a closer look at your collection to see if you have one of the sought after variations without even knowing it.  In particular, John Peel’s riding crop was produced in both orange and grey – the orange version is the less common of the two.  The earlier John Barleycorn handle disappears into the jug while the later version stops at the side.  The John Doulton jug issued in 1980 to founder members of the collecting club shows the clock pointing to eight o’clock with the two o’clock version being a later release.  Very early versions of Sairey Gamp have an ‘S’ on the underside at the bottom of the handle.

My Top 10 Character Jug Handles (this changes almost daily):

1. Scaramouche

2. Captain Hook (1st version)

3. Ugly Duchess

4. Johnny Appleseed

5. Genie

6. Merlin

7. Fortune Teller (2nd version)

8. Old Salt

9. Buddy Holly

10. The Collector

On that note I wish you well on your hunt for even more treasure in your collection and if you have any questions at all please contact me at and I will do my best to assist.

Buddy HollyFortune Teller - Second version

Royal Doulton Character Jug Handles – Part 1

As this is my first Royal Doulton blog, I thought it only fitting that I pay homage to the character jug handle. Be warned however that I have a very strong suspicion that my passion for this subject and my wish to keep you in suspense is going to necessitate the need to blog this in two parts.

I have found that there is a rarely discussed aspect of character jugs and that aspect is their handles and the rich variety thereof. In my opinion the reason for this is that the portraits steal the show more often than not. Needless to say, I have made it my personal ambition to shift the spotlight onto what I believe should be ‘the star of the character jug show’, that is the lesser spotted character jug handle.

The handles show the same imaginative creativity and rare variations as the body of the character jugs and are therefore well worth a closer look. The first that comes to mind is the extremely rare, Smuts jug – how many collectors have ever noticed that the head of the Springbok is featured at the back of the jug?

 Smuts jug with a springbok on the handle

The very first character jugs, John Barleycorn and Old Charley, originally had uninspired utilitarian handles, but the idea of bringing in interesting bits and pieces relating to the character was soon incorporated. For example, in 1935, Granny was released with a handle created in the form of a skein of wool. Simon the Cellarer’s handle showed his keys and the first Dick Turpin, the highwayman, featured his ‘tool of the trade’, his gun. The next year Touchstone’s comparatively simple handle was adjusted to include two comic masks. Yet not all handles were transformed this way, of the 12 character of the tinies collection, only John Peel with his riding crop and Sairey Gamp with her umbrella, had handles thatfurther told the story of the character.Sairy Gamp with umbrella handle

The 1960’s welcomed another 10 new jugs, including Ard of ‘Earing, with the handle taking the form of his cupped hand held to his ear to better hear. And then one of my favourite favourites, Ugly Duchess, with her flamboyant pink flamingo perched on a croquet mallet handle, which is without a doubt the reason she holds a very special place in my heart. There are many other jugs that feature animals as handles such as Long John Silver’s parrot, Gone Away’s fox and St George’s dragon and many, many more.

 Ugly Duchess with pink flamingo handleArd of Hearing with his hand cupped over his ear handle

The majority of handles represent the obvious associations with the character such as Sancho Panca’s horse, Mark Twain’s quill and ink pot and the Falconer’s falcon, but there are some very obscure exceptions to this. The first that comes to mind is Merlin and why the star of David features on the handle and it seems the reason is the star of David was an ancient magical symbol before being adopted by the Jewish faith. Often a handle will feature more than one object associated with the character; Pied Piper’s flute and rats, Sleuth with his magnifying glass and pipe and last but certainly not least, Captain Hook’s alligator and clock, just to name a few examples.
Captain Hook with aligator and clock handle