Tuesday 30 June 2020

A look back at Kevin Francis's semi-lost range of Star Trek toby jugs

I love an obscure bit of Star Trek merchandise, and something that caught my eye in the hunt for such oddities recently is Kevin Francis Ceramics' range of Star Trek toby jugs. Or almost range: While the company worked up designs for at least eleven different TOS and TNG characters, only four ever appear to have made it into production - And all of those were in limited editions of between 350 and 650 a piece, so even they are quite illusive items. Continue below to have a look back at what could have been an ambitious and distinctive Star Trek collection.

Toby jugs, for the unfamiliar, are normally a ceramic mug in the form of a character, traditionally a sitting rotund man with his own mug of ale in hand. They can be practical drinking vessels, but they're more often produced to be novelties and collectors items. A few companies have had a go a some form of character or figural mug in the Star Trek realm before, perhaps most notably Applause, who produced quite a fairly large range of character's heads as mugs. A couple of years before them though (circa 1995), Kevin Francis went down a far more ambitious and artisan path.

You can get a really good sense of what they were creating in one of the designs they did manage to get to market, the Borg drone toby mug - As you can see, he's barely a mug at all! This tall standing character casts aside the typical constrains and practicalities of the toby mug format to focus on delivering an impressive ceramic sculpture. Setting this apart from your usual figurine though, at the back of this character you find a Borg Cube streaking through space; this is the handle. A hole at the top of the head allows liquid to be poured in and drunk out from, and so this is still a functional mug (if maybe slightly difficultly so).

Also managing to make it into the world is a Ferengi toby jug. With it's seated pose, this is slightly more familiar as a toby jug, yet the focus is still on it's sculptural qualities. Like the Borg, and most of the characters in the range, the handle is made out of the swoosh of a starship; in this case, of course, a Ferengi Marauder.

One more alien in the TNG range alas never went into production, a Cardassian. Specifically Gul Macet it seems, with his distinctive beard. Of course Cardassians first appeared in TNG, but we're far more used to them as one of the key races in DS9 - So seeing a Cardassian based on their first appearance in The Wounded is quite unusual; maybe even unique, as I don't think anyone else ever made a Macet sculpture of figure.

Just a handful of prototypes of this toby jug exist, and typically they were painted in distinctive and unique ways (as you'll see was common practice with Kevin Francis' pre-production pieces). One wonders if this piece might have had some revisions had it gone into production, as Macet's pose is extremely reclined in his chair. Plus the handle is very close to the back of the chair, so it looks difficult to pick up. Presumably the handle is also meant to be a swooshing ship - Galor class surely, but that detail is a little indistinct in this version too.

Kevin Francis also worked on toby jugs of many of the TNG crew, but only one found it's way into the wider world: Worf. This is one of the few characters that doesn't use a swooshing ship as a handle, but instead has a bat'leth resting on Worf's back to do the job. Due to the orientation of the handle this does have an unfortunate effect of making it look like Worf has been stabbed in the back!

The Captain Picard mug didn't get a proper release, but like Macet, some prototypes exist. Including at least some in what appear to be the proper colours. Picard is presented in his captain's chair, with a swooshing Enterprise-D behind as the handle.

Another prototype of this mug gives us a different take, shifting Picard into an operations uniform, and giving the Enterprise a glorious rainbow finish!

Geordi La Forge was also planned but never delivered. His pose is perhaps the least mug like of the collection; with him kneeling on one knee giving his a pretty small looking volume. Like Picard he has an Enterprise-D handle, which from the front make it looks like he has a shield slung over his shoulder a-la Captain America. Slightly unfortunately it also seems to be swooshing right out of his bottom!

Several different prototypes of La Forge were produced, including colour variants that would put him in every department, plus a lovely purple option!

Another member of the crew unreleased was Data. He was to be presented sat at his bridge station. I've found images of two prototypes of this mug; an expected yellow uniform with the Enterprise-D as handle, plus a white glazed version which uses an anachronistic TOS shuttlecraft handle.

The final member of the TNG crew in the pipeline I have come across was Deanna Troi. There seem to have been two different sculpts considered for her, either in her Starfleet uniform, or one of her distinctive jumpsuits. I've found several different prototypes, but none in what would seem to be the standard style for the series; these all have differently coloured bases and/or experimental uniform colouring. She also seems to be lacking a hole in her head to give her mug functionality, and not all the prototypes have a handle - Evidently still a work in progress when the series was halted!

While Kevin Francis seem to have expended most of their energies on TNG characters, they also did some work on TOS, and another of the handful of designs to actually go into production was Captain Kirk. He is presented in his captain's chair, with a swooshing shuttlecraft behind to form the handle.

At least two more TOS characters were in the works, but neither appear to have made it to market. The Spock toby jug is another of those with a variant on the handle concept, seeming to use his entire science station as a much chunkier handle than most of the other characters!

While the above prototype seems to be the right colours, others show more of those experimental finishes seen in the other prototpes, such as this redshirt Spock, and a white glaze version:

The final character in the TOS collection is Doctor McCoy, who is another of the crouch on a planet gang. Like Kirk, he has a shuttlecraft handle.

So there we go, a lot of work appears to have gone into this collection, but alas for it to have come to nothing for the majority of the characters. I particularly appreciate the alien designs; it would have been fun to see those expanded, especially as the format for these nicely manages to showcase a combination of many iconic elements of a species; their character design, their costume, and their starships.

Images for this article were mostly collected from Ebay over some time, and that, along with other auctions and specialist sellers, if where you can occasionally find both the production and prototype pieces from this range from time to time.


Wixiban said...

I love these toby jugs. A few years ago I was lucky enough to buy a whole bunch of production and prototype versions of most of the characters shown here. Some are signed on the base. I really must get them back out of storage when the lockdown is over.

8of5 said...

Would love to see your set Wixiban, the prototype ones all seem very unique!

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