With my pipe in one hand and my jug in the other
I drink to my neighbors and friends
All my cares in a whiff of tobacco I smother
For life, I know, shortly must end
From: The True Hearted Fellow – British drinking song, circa 1835
For years the Tobys sat on a small bookcase at the end of a long hall in my mother-in-law’s home. Ron and I inherited the whimsical collection and have added to it without giving much thought to the history behind the little earthenware and china vessels. Tobys are modeled on characters from British history and literature. Sherlock Holmes and Captain Hook joined us as a nod to our love of mystery novels. Others Tobys were just in our paths at the right time and at the right price. Ours is a hodge-podge collection, not unlike a group of friends who meet in the village pub for a cool beer on a warm summer evening.
Tobys had a practical purpose in Georgian England. Beer was easier to come by than clean drinking water and was consumed in quantity by the public. Having one’s own, easily identifiable cup and jug at the local pub was considered by many to be a necessity. Tobys and pubs are a natural fit in history and in Whispers.
When my co-writer, Susan, and I were plotting the early episodes of Whispers, we had a wide-ranging discussion about the objects that would cross Maggie’s path in the auctions. We needed items easy enough to find, but rare enough to be interesting. I brought out a variety of Tobys and the idea of Ashlin’s collection was born. Susan wanted a blonde mermaid that would remind Asher of Lindsay. I warned her that most Tobys are male characters, but within a day or so she’d found two mermaids; one on the Internet, one in a friend’s living room. In Episode Three, the Captain and the Mermaid Toby joined Asher’s collection on a shelf over Ashlin’s bar.
The Toby collection has been in my home for more than twenty years, but it wasn’t until doing research for Whispers that I learned the history behind the fanciful figures that fill the corner of our den. Just one more perk of writing a mystery serial!