What started me thinking about frog mugs was a trip to the National Maritime Museum's shop, where my boyfriend bought a replica of a creamware frog mug in the museum's collection, with a design on the outside depicting the Battle of the Trafalgar (above). It's inscribed 'Lord Nelson/Engaging the Combin'd/Fleets of Cape/TRAFALGAR', 'The young Alexander of France/May boast of his prowess in vain/When Nelson appears tis confest/That Britains are Lords of the Main'.
In case you're not familar with the frog mug tradition, this drinking vessel (also sometimes called the 'surprise mug' or 'toad mug') has a miniature ceramic frog modelled on the inside, so that when you drink the liquid you get the shock of your life as the critter emerges from the depths.
Some sources say the mugs were originally made in Liverpool and Sunderland where they were used in taverns frequented by sailors - but how old is the tradition? I wondered if the frog mug was particularly popular in the 18th century because of its anti-French overtones; after all, English sailors of the Trafalgar period frequently referred to Frenchmen as 'Monsieur Johnny Crapaud' [crapaud=toad]. One mug even has the inscription:
May England's oak,
Produce the bark,
To tan the hide Of Bonaparte.
A bit more history here (and my apologies to any French readers!)