The Carrick Hill ceramics collection has many unexpected objects in it but this group of English mid-19th century Frog mugs is definitely one of the more eccentric. We don’t really know much about how this collection was assembled or even who collected them – were they just quirky items that Bill and Ursula Hayward found and brought back from their many trips to England or were they inherited from a parent or grandparent?
Frog mugs were also known as ‘Surprise’ or 'Toad’ mugs and they were originally designed as a rustic practical joke as the interior of the mug contains a full-size pottery frog or toad which is revealed to the drinker as the liquid is consumed. The earliest examples of mugs containing frogs date from about 1775 but they continued to be produced throughout most of the 19th century. An unsuspecting guest would be startled as he drank from the mug to see a frog emerging from the beverage as it was consumed and the frog would appear to spit at the drinker through the hole in its mouth as the mug was tilted.
Frog mugs often feature transfer-printed designs with pictorial images and moralistic verses, sayings or patriotic inscriptions and some are inscribed with individual names, an indicator that the cup may have been given as a gift to mark a wedding or special event. Some of these mugs feature hand-painted relief moulded designs, some have patriotic verses commemorating the Crimean War and the English and French victory over the Emperor Napoleon. Several of the larger cups were made in the style of a ‘loving cup’ with two or even three handles and two of the more unusual mugs are modelled with satyr face masks. Some mugs contain more than one frog nestled at the base while a couple even include a lizard!
Frog mugs can be found in many museum collections in Australia and around the world.