As far back as I can remember I knew that my dad flew in B-17s in WWII. As a little kid, I didn’t know or care about details such as which Bomb Group he was in (487th) or the name of his plane, I just knew that he was a navigator and sat in the nose under the clear dome and next to the two little windows and that his pilot’s name was “Otto Petr”. I remember how proud I was when he gave me his sterling silver navigator wings from his uniform along with his “Lieutenant Bars” and “Wing and Prop” hardware. I would spend hours in front of a make shift instrument panel and yoke playing as a B-17 pilot on a dangerous mission, usually inspired after watching Twelve O’clock High on the Saturday Afternoon Matinee. This early interest in B-17s and flying eventually led me to receive my pilot’s license in both airplanes and gliders.
Twenty two years later, after a visit to the B-17 on display at the Chino Air Museum, my interest was rekindled. Wilbur Richardson, a ball turret gunner in the 94th Bomb Group, was there that day working as he does every Saturday at the B-17. Wilbur sensed my enthusiasm and after a day of sharing stories, he invited me to work with him as ground crew on Dave Tallichet’s “Memphis Belle” at an airshow in Blythe, CA the following weekend. On this trip, we started talking about Twelve O’clock High and the significance of the Toby Jug in the movie. It was here that I learned that many people had been looking for the original jug and/or a replica that might have been produced over the years. Like every one else, I hunted in every ceramics shop and antique store around town to no avail.
Making a living doing aviation engineering and product development, I’ve always had the attitude that ”if I can’t find it, I can make it”. I had no experience with sculpting so I hired a local sculptor to replicate the jug. All I had for him to follow was a photo I had taken of my TV screen while a video of the movie was running. The clay model I received was good enough for a rough start but, being a perfectionist, I was driven to find yet another artist who I hoped could get it closer. Some advancements were made by the next sculptor and now it was a full size plaster model but still not as accurate as I was looking for. At this point I decided to try to finish it myself. “All I have to do is make this square inch look like that square inch [in the picture] and I’ll have it”, I reasoned. Well, after a year of trial and error (lots of error) and many, many plaster models, I had a version that looked pretty darn close to the original movie prop.
THE CONTRACT AND MANUFACTURING
In February 1993, I contacted Twentieth Century Fox’s Licensing department to find out how to go about legally reproducing and selling the famous jug. Several months worth of letters and phone calls later, I had navigated my way to the “right person” who’s response to my statement… “I want to talk to you about a production run of the Toby Jug from Twelve O’clock High”… was “you want to do what from what”? I sent him pictures of my model which prompted several meetings and by the end of August 1993, I had the first draft of my contract with Fox, and was given the green light to line up the production.
After several communications to at least explore the possibility of producing the Jug overseas, I abandoned the idea if favor of finding a local ceramic shop to produce the first run of Jugs. I found a “Mom and Pop” operation in Riverside, CA who was very interested in the project and had a good reputation for quality work. In the weeks prior to building production molds, Fox’s archivist was able to provide me with some really good studio stills of the original Jug so further refinements were done to the model. Additionally, I had the words “PROPERTY OF 918TH BOMB GROUP” embossed into the bottom for effect (the original movie prop had a plain bottom). On November 17, I finalized the master model; a seemingly perfect date to finish as it is my dad’s birthday. In his honor, I designated the model number carried on each and every Jug as “1117”. Ten production molds were made and by early November 1993, with great enthusiasm, I met with executives at Fox with three prototype jugs. We hashed out a few contractual changes and manufacturing details and on December 22, 1993 the final version of the contract was approved and the project was off and running.
Despite considerable enthusiasm of friends in my B-17 circles, I was still not sure how well the Jug would sell. I had guessed that there would be a market for at least 1000 of them so I decided to produce them in batches of 500 units; the first batch to be sequentially numbered and bearing “First 500 Series” on the bottom, the second batch to be un-numbered “Standard Editions” marked simply with the model number 01-1117-2 (more on the numbering system later). The first ads had started to appear in aviation magazines in December 1993 and orders immediately began coming in. The first 3 Jugs were sent to patiently waiting customers on January 4, 1994 as we muddled our way through production problems and shipping issues. By the end of January ’94, we had produced only 45 Jugs, all of which had been ordered and paid for the month before and orders continued to come in.
Soon it became evident that I was going to have to find a larger company in order to produce the quantities I needed so on February 28, 1994, I switched manufacturers. The reputable Los Angeles based factory had a potential for huge production runs but I took a hit on the quality and personal service I had been getting. They were able to finish the “First 500 Series” and the remaining 443 “Standards”. With orders still pouring in, I contracted for another batch of 500 “Standard Editions” which were completed in May of 1995. At this point, there was a break in production due to an accident at the plant which destroyed the original master mold. I took this opportunity to fix a couple of small inaccuracies that had been bugging me. The nostrils and nose were re-shaped the eye’s iris and pupil locations were defined and the beard was more detailed. Twenty five new production molds were made and production resumed on
June 20, 1995.
Admittedly, my model number system was out of whack at first. It was the least of my worries in the beginning stages of production and therefore got neglected somewhat. The way I set it up originally was to define the master mold version with the first two numbers followed by the 1117 model number followed finally by the batch number, IE: 01-1117-03 which would be “first master” (01), “model” (1117) and “third batch of 500” (03) etc. A miscommunication SNAFU at the very beginning caused the second and third batches of “Standard” units to receive an 01-1117-03 model number. The forth batch of 500 was not only produced from a new master mold, they also received a new, correct number (03-1117-4), but an entirely new bottom decoration.
In September of 1996 it was reported to me that my manufacturer was going to close its L.A. plant and move operations to Mexico. Feeling that this needed to be an American made product, I left them. I was several months without production when I happened to find a large tile manufacturer within 15 miles of my shop. They had a very skilled art department were trying to diversify so the project was welcomed. The new “Westminster Ceramics” Jugs were noticeably better than those of the previous manufacturers. They were beautifully molded and accurately painted with attention to details such as I had not seen before. Production began in time to fulfill orders for the 1997 Christmas season.
A FEW CHANGES WERE IN ORDER
Continued research into the original colors was beginning to point to the fact that the eyes on the original toby jug were blue, not brown as we had guessed before. I also learned (from an excellent color episode of the TV series) that the hat was more of an “olive” green and the collar was a light green. So, in my continued efforts to make my replica Jug as accurate as possible, these colors were changed with model 03-1117-4. For some reason which is still unclear to me, Westminster had trouble getting the olive green on the hat to my liking so I settled for what they had which was very close. The markings on the underside got fancier with the addition of B-17 artwork in matching green ink. Westminster produced about 1000 918th Bomb Group Toby jugs and about 100 General Savage jugs.
YET ANOTHER MANUFACTURER
In 2000, Westminster was bought out by a larger company and cancelled all custom casting. My remaining inventory was just about depleted when I found another excellent custom slip caster, Christine Montgomery’s Clay Connection in Jackson, CA. Although not as conveniently located as Westminster had been, Christine took the Jug to the next level of quality with her detailed painting and perfect color match, even on the olive green hat! Christine finished the remaining 03-1117-4s, started the UK-1117-5s (a numbered, limited edition sold exclusively from the United Kingdom) and went right into the 03-1117-6s. As of January, 2008, we have started producing our 7th batch of 500 jugs, model numbers 03-1117-7.
In December of 2004, I stumbled on an Ebay auction of a 918th Toby Jug that didn’t sound quite right. The first red flag was that the ad claimed that “the jug was one of 6 or 7 jugs from an original production run made in the early 70s”. Further study of the attached photos positively revealed it to be a poorly made counterfeit. I contacted the gentleman on December 7, 2004 and let it be known that Fox was VERY protective of their trademarks and he was hereby advised to cancel the auction and cease and desist sales of his remaining inventory of jugs. Additionally, I ordered him to send one of the counterfeit units to me and destroy the rest. His brief moment of audacious bravery was quickly dismantled by letting him know that if he didn’t comply, Twentieth Century Fox’s attorneys would be contacting him next. A few days later I received the requested counterfeit jug `and the rest were reportedly destroyed.
CLOSING IN ON THE ORIGINAL MOVIE JUG
Just like everyone else in the world, I wanted to find the original jug and now that I was working directly with Fox, I felt that I had a good chance of doing just that. They got me in touch with their archivist and for a brief time I was optimistic that we were going to find something from the original movie or TV series – hopefully the actual jug or maybe even the molds. We found a lot of the pictures taken during filming of the movie but nothing else and soon I was convinced that the jug was gone.
As I developed a customer base, I realized that sooner or later someone would call me that knew where the original jug went. That call came in about 1998. Randy Baker from the Center for Leadership Studies in Escondido, California called to order some jugs (they use Twelve O’clock High in their curriculum) and in the course of our conversation he mentioned that he had run into a descendant of General Frank Armstrong and that the original movie jug had been an Armstrong family heirloom since 1949. A little research revealed that Armstrong had died in Tampa, Florida on August 20, 1969 so I contacted the Tampa Tribune and had them send me a copy of the obituaries from that day. These articles listed his surviving family members who were ultimately able to lead me to the Jug. Indeed, the original movie Jug had been presented to General Armstrong as a gift from Henry King at the end of filming. Upon General Armstrong’s death, the Jug was bequeathed to his sister, Mrs. I. T. Valentine who cherished and loved her brother’s historic piece. Somehow, in the early 1990s, it mysteriously disappeared from their home and has not been seen since.
Twentieth Century Fox Licensee #4892
Update – Unfortunately Pete has passed away in November 2020. He is truly missed by family and friends. His two children, Nick and Kelly, along with his bookkeeper, Shelley, will continue the company for as long as possible. We are honored to keep his memory alive with the toby jug.