1987 - 2011 Doulton Market Review & Recent Jug Rarities
Ohio Royal Doulton Collectors Club
In this article, I'll give my perspective on the Doulton jug market and share recent details on sales.
From the following list of large character jugs, which is the most valuable in the current market: Toothless Granny, White Haired Clown, Regency Beau, Mr Quaker, or recent rarity Marley's Ghost? The answer is Marley's Ghost (see table at bottom of article).
Over the past year I have been watching the Internet auction site e-bay and tracking the sales for more valuable Doulton character jugs that were for sale from U.S. based sellers. While this is not a perfect indicator of the Doulton jug market since not everyone uses e-bay, it does provide a valuable snapshot of the relative scarcity and desirability of a jug.
For example, some of the supposedly rare 60's jugs have appeared with regularity on e-bay while Marley's Ghost has appeared just twice from U.S. based sellers in over a year. During the course of a week around 550 jugs are put up for auction, which works out to over 28,000 jugs a year. A number of the jugs being auctioned are from estates or inheritances, so that gives you an idea as to what people had in their collections since the entire collection is being put up for sale. Most auctions don't have a reserve price beyond the opening bid, so the price it brings is due strictly to the bids of prospective buyers.
First, some background on the Doulton jug market from 1987 to now. When I started collecting in 1987, the 60's jugs were some of the most valuable and desirable of all Doulton jugs with most of the large sizes typically going for $700+ (the previous table shows prices from a June 1989 Pascoe & Company price list). The values on these jugs remained fairly constant through the 1990's and into the 2000's.
However, in recent years the value of these jugs has decreased considerably, often 30% or more ('11 prices are shown in the table from Pascoe & Company's web-site). I feel there are three main reasons for this decrease in the 60's jugs, as well as all older Doulton jugs:-
First, there are fewer collectors today than there were in 1987. This can be seen in part by the total size of recent jug limited editions that have typically been from 100 - 350, while 20-25 years ago the edition sizes would have been 2500 - 9500. Another sign of fewer collectors are the disbandment of the Royal Doulton International Collectors Club several years ago. Fewer collectors of course result in less demand and lower prices.
Secondly, people who were active collectors at the time the 60's jugs were in production have been selling off their collections as they downsize or their heirs have sold off their collections in estate sales. Many of these jugs have been off the market and in the same collection for the past 35-50 years, but are now coming onto the market more frequently because of the number of collections that fall into this situation.
Thirdly, Internet based auction sites have made it far easier for people to sell and find items of interest. Prior to this, to find a 60's jug for sale you mainly either had to go to a dealer or frequent auctions/estate sales hoping to find one of the jugs you wanted. However, you were limited to your local area. With the Internet, I can easily search the country for a particular jug and set up automatic searches to alert me when a jug of interest becomes available. For example, on e-bay I have purchased items directly from heirs that were not interested in Doulton and from estate auctioneers located across the country. These sellers will often put an item up for auction with a low opening bid and with no reserve. Because of sellers like this, I routinely see many of the small size 60's jugs sell for around $100-150 with large sizes going for $150-300. I purchased a large Gondolier in perfect condition from an estate auctioneer in Washington state for $154. Back in 1987, there was no way that a transaction like this could have taken place.
Auction sites like e-bay have allowed sellers to go directly to buyers with no one in between. Now, this is a bare bones, no frills way to acquire Doulton, so you do miss out on the personal touch and knowledge that a dealer provides. Plus, people have a significantly greater trust and comfort purchasing from a Doulton specialist than from some person they don't know on the Internet. However, sales like these drive down the prices of the whole market.
My collecting coincided with Doulton's jug colourways fad of the mid 80's. In 1985, the first of these colourways jugs, the large Mad Hatter with a yellow bowtie, was produced in a limited edition of 250 to celebrate the opening of the first Royal Doulton room at Higbee's in Cleveland. Despite being priced at a premium, these jugs sold out within hours. Doulton had found a way to make money and sales from existing jug designs by slightly changing the colours and charging a premium for the jug. Limited edition colourways were a way to get around that standard pricing and entice someone who already had the jug to purchase the new version. The colourways could sell for significantly more than the standard jug.
As with most successful marketing ideas, Doulton soon followed the Mad Hatter with a flurry of colorways, thus flooding the market and running the concept into the ground. The enthusiasm for colorways waned.
With the colourway craze dissipating, the next big thing for character jugs was special and limited editions. While these had been done occasionally in the past, they were not done very often. However, in the 1990's, the primary way for Doulton to introduce new jugs to the market was through limited editions, with a smaller number of designs joining the general jug range. This practice continued into the 2000's, with very few new jugs being introduced as general issues. The limited editions were produced for a variety of groups, with the price varying from jug to jug but always at a significant premium compared to the jugs in the general range.
The 2000's marked a change in Doulton jugs, as a general range of jugs basically disappeared, production ceased in England and shifted to Asia, and the limited editions which had been in the range of 1000 - 2500 just a few years before, became extremely limited at just 100 - 350 pieces. Even at these extremely small edition sizes, some of the jugs could take a while to sell. One reason for this was the high retail price for some ($495 and up). Another reason for lacklustre sales was a minimal interest in the designs (i.e. WWI and WWII Soldier jugs) at $150 for an Asian made product. The last couple of years have seen a paucity of new jug introductions, with no English made jugs since 2006's Mikado and Samurai Warrior. Since the start of 2010, only 4 new jug designs have come onto the market.
Who are the collectors that purchased the limited editions of the mid 1990's? I would theorize that they were mainly newer collectors that were in the active acquisition phase of their collecting career (plus the new jugs were still cheaper than the 60's jugs). People who had collected the 60's jugs when they were current would have been mature collectors in the 1990's and would likely have been in the stationary (neither actively buying nor selling) or downsizing phases of their collecting career.
Not all limited editions from the 1990's can be considered recent rarities. While the stated edition sizes are similar for most of them, some are much more valuable and rarely appear for sale. One reason may be that the actual number of jugs produced was less than the edition size. This appears to be the case with Marley's Ghost because it so rarely appears and commands a high price when it does.
However, without production records, it is hard to know for sure. One way I have tried to determine the relative rarity of a jug is from watching e-bay.
Based on this, here is my list of recent jug rarities:
From the table, you can see that Marley's Ghost is the most desirable. The Phantom of the Opera jug was the most commonly available, but it is very popular and ranged in price from $312-$405. Most of the jugs sold for around $250-350. Somewhat surprisingly, the Capt. Cook jug with just one appearance only sold for $267, less than any of the Phantom of the Opera jugs. This list is not necessarily exhaustive, as it is based on my personal observations and most of the 90's jugs are infrequently on e-bay.
For those of you that are still adding to your collection, or attend auctions, these are jugs that you want to be on the watch for. They appear rarely for sale on e-bay and only occasionally turn up for sale from dealers. While Doulton jugs as an investment may not perform well, they are enjoyable to collect and still give better returns than money invested in Lehman Brothers, Enron, GM and many Internet start-ups from the 1990's.
© Vern Woodruff 2011. Web version Jean Goodwin © CD&B 2012.
Illustrations © 2012 Jocelyn Lukins, from Lukins, Jocelyn, Collecting Royal Doulton Character & Toby Jugs 1934-1989, Venta Books, 1985,1989. Courtesy Jocelyn Lukins. Book enquires to editor.
Toothless Granny. By Harry Fenton
The Clown (White haired). By Harry Fenton.
Regency Beau. By David Briggs.
Mr Quaker. By Harry Sales.
Gondolier. By David Briggs
Mad Hatter. By Max Henk.
The Mikado. By Max Henk.
St. George. By Max Henk.
Merlin (1960). By Garry Sharpe.