Importance of niche museums

Jack Rogula, asst. opinions editor

Rows of porcelain heads line the walls of the Toby Jug Museum in Evanston, Illinois—from presidents and historic figures to cartoon characters and actors. Ranging from incredibly large to about the size of a thimble, the “Toby Jugs” are rare ceramic cups, otherwise known as Fillpots or Philpots, in the form of famous icons or recognizable characters. With the Toby Jugs themselves dating from the modern day all the way back to the 1700s, the museum is a treasure trove of hilarious and oddball sculptures. It’s a niche and peculiar collection, but one that deserves just as much appreciation as any other museum. 

The Chicago museum scene isn’t lacking in the slightest, with its world-class array of museums to entertain and inform. Downtown alone supplies lovers of history and nature with the Field Museum, artistic types with the Chicago Art Institute, and those interested in the sciences with the Adler Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry. There’s truly something for everyone. And that’s not even including Lincoln Park Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium, which attract just as many visitors looking to see animals, but more importantly to be amused and awed. 

But what about the museums who don’t have buses advertising their names? The ones that don’t attract nearly the amount of tourists per year, and aren’t immediately thought of as the “big leaguers”, such as the museums listed above. 

Shouldn’t they hold the same amount of importance?

I first visited the Toby Jug Museum with my uncle in middle school—he gifted us Toby Jugs for Christmas, and with the gifts came a visit to the museum. Smack dab in the middle of downtown Evanston, the ceramic heads find their home in a tiny building. It’s small but cozy, with nicely carpeted floors. But the main attraction is the seemingly endless shelves filled with the Toby Jugs. There’s Mickey Mouse, Bill Clinton, Groucho Marx, Clint Eastwood—any character or figure you could imagine. The craftsmanship of the jugs is admirable and breathtaking. Each glossy face has more detail than the last, and looking at them is mesmerizing. Every time you think you’ve found your favorite, around the next corner is one that could fit your niche even more.

The Toby Jug museum might not be for everyone—it’s undoubtedly a bit weird, and the rows of tiny characters can definitely be overwhelming. But it’s a niche and cozy museum, with a collection that rivals even some of the larger and more iconic museums of Chicago, and it deserves more recognition than it’s gotten in the past few years.

And it’s not the only one of its kind.

Everywhere you turn, there are niche museums waiting to be uncovered with treasures of their own, whether they be oddities or arts. They deserve just as much appreciation as any other museum. 

My word of advice is to go out and discover a a niche museum of your own. 

Find your treasures.