Antique and Vintage Frogs and Toads

It shouldn’t be surprising that frogs have been endowed with magical powers in mythology and folklore all over the globe. They begin their lives as fresh-water tadpoles, breathing through gills on their necks, then transform completely into adulthood, as they sprout legs and live near, but mostly outside of, the water in which they were born.

As adults, frogs breathe and drink through their strange, moist, and slippery skin. They spend most of their days dormant and relaxed, but can hop to surprising heights. When threatened, the only defense they have is to swell up to a much larger size—shockingly, this simple ruse works. Their eyesight is so poor, they’ve been known to accidentally consume another frog. And during the spring mating season, the male frog greets the twilight with a specific song—less charitably called a croak—to beckon a mate. When a female hops over, the male grabs her and doesn’t let go all night, until her eggs have been released and he’s fertilized them.

Toads also start out as tadpoles, and because of this similarity they are often confused with frogs, but toads are a distinct amphibian species. Toads have drier, wartier skin, and often wander far away from the water where they were born to live in fields, woods, or gardens, returning only to mate. When toads are threatened, they’ll often shoot venom out of their skin.

Throughout history, the toad has been the red-headed stepchild to the frog. While frogs were considered attractive, friendly bringers of good luck—though they come in a wide array of sizes and colors, we picture them as benign green animals, ribbeting away on lilypads—toads are considered ugly and threatening. Indeed, the Christian church considered toads downright evil in the 16th and 17th centuries.

That’s why most talismans, ornaments, amulets, and other amphibian-themed artifacts tend to feature frogs rather than toads. With their strange song, frogs were believed to bring the rain and the spring, messengers of good fortune, fertility, abundance, creation, and the rebirth of life’s cycles. Their ability to weather storms and the lack of food, air, or light, as well as their quick recovery from wounding, also make them symbols of longevity, strength, and vitality.

Thanks to these qualities, frogs became associated with eternal life and the cult of the dead in ancient Egypt. As they did with their cherished cats, Egyptians also mummified frogs, whose song along the Nile signaled fertility. Interestingly, according to the Bible, the second punishment God placed on the Pharaoh for holding Moses and his people as slaves was a plague of frogs. Thousands upon thousands of frogs are believed to have emerged from the rivers, coming into homes and beds and hopping into stores of food. Apparently, such overabundance—likely caused by a river flooding after a long drought—could drive a country of frog-lovers crazy.

In other places, ancient beliefs held that frogs possessed the souls of dead children and should not be killed. Frogs were also thought to shield people from the evil eye, give t...

Over in ancient Greece and Rome, the frog’s foamy deposit of eggs was similar to the seafoam birth of the goddess of love and fertility, Aphrodite or Venus, so naturally the deity favored frogs. Frogs made their way into the tales of Aesop and Aristophanes, too.

In Asia, the Japanese see frogs as signs of good humor and happiness; they say that frogs can always find their way home no matter how far they wander. Today, Chinese peasants still put frog totems in their rice fields to bring rain and an abundant harvest. In Indonesia, frogs and toads feature prominently as temple sculptures, in their pattern-dyed fabric known as batik and in traditional music and dances.

Christians in medieval Europe, both rich and poor, wore frog pendants and bracelets to symbolize Christ’s resurrection. Beginning in the Middle Ages in the Netherlands, the Frog Prince has been a prominent character in the Carnival or Mardi Gras celebrations leading up to Lent. The person elected to this role gets to wander and drink as much as he wants, as the town is covered with frog imagery and revelers wear frog images on their coats and hats.

The fairy tale “The Frog Prince” dates to the 13th century, but the most famous version was published by the Brothers Grimm in 1813. In it, a frog helps a young princess retrieve a golden ball, but in exchange for his assistance, he demands she give him a kiss. She resists, but when she eventually kisses him, he turns into a gorgeous human prince. In 1976, a Freudian psychologist by the name Bruno Bettelheim analyzed the story in terms of sexuality and coming of age. In fact, frogs are regular images in erotic cults.

The South American dyeing poison dart frog—a tree frog, which belongs to a family different from your typicial fresh-water frog—has long been killed so its venom can be used in arrows. Many other frogs and tadpoles have all sorts of more positive medicinal uses, possessing natural antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals that have been used to treat heart disease, colic, and ulcers. Naturally, every part of a frog has been used in folk medicine to cure toothaches, fevers, and skin conditions.  And frogs were an essential ingredient of many witches’ spells, particularly love spells.

Throughout the centuries, decorative frogs have been fashioned out of every material imaginable. In places like Southeast Asia and Brazil, semi-precious stones set into frog-shaped objects are gifted to loved one to attract good fortune. Jewelers all over the world make fine frog jewelry from sterling silver, gold, and diamonds. In India, frogs play an important part in religious rituals, and so gold frog statuettes are everywhere. In Mexico and much of Latin America, you can find chubby, passive terracotta frogs that have been hand-painted in stunning colors. In China, beautiful frog figurines are made with cloissoné or enamelling.

In Europe and America, frog gifts tend to be kitschy, gimmicky objects like costume jewelry, radios, telephones, and lampstands shaped like amphibians. A major exception occurred around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, when Russian court jeweler Carl Fabergé made a gorgeous four-inch-tall nephrite jade frog with diamond eyes. Art Nouveau potteries like Sèvres played with images of frogs, ponds, and lilypads in their artful glazes and gilded bases. Some of the top 20th century glassmakers like those at Murano, Steuben, Cambridge, Heisey, Tiffin, Fenton, and Fostoria have included frogs in their glass menageries.

In literature, Mark Twain had his first hit in 1865 with his story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” about a frog-leaping competition in Angels Camp, California. As it turns out, such contests were popular entertainment in America at the time, as bullfrogs can jump to startling heights.

For children, Mr. Toad may be one of the most well-known amphibian characters, an anamorphic lovable rogue who favors Harris Tweed. Mr. Toad first appeared in the 1908 Kenneth Grahame novel, “The Wind in the Willows,” then A.A. Milnes’ 1929 play “Toad of Toad Hall,” and finally in the 1955 Disneyland attraction called Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

Mr. Toad is second only in popularity to Kermit the Frog, a puppet created in the 1950s by Jim Henson and featured in “The Muppet Show” and on “Sesame Street.” Kermit was known for crooning, “It’s not easy being green,” embodying the good-hearted, easy-going nature of frogs from ancient amphibian mythology. But sometimes life is not so easy for frogs, such as when they are fashioned into lures for bass fisherman. Bass, it seems, will snack on any critter lurking on the surface of a pond, even a benevolent frog.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique German 14kt Yellow Gold Figural Tree Frog Pin Brooch Gemstone EyesT-rex Crunchy Frog Classic Overdrive Effects Pedal DistortionJohn Ditchfield Glass Paperweight Silver Frog On Lilly PadDaum France - Pate De Verre - Frog Bowl - Art GlassJones Condamine Antique Bull Frog Hand Made Metal Cow Bell A Ormand C1900Heddon Dowagiac Surface Lure #210 "tuff Frog Color" Vintage Wood Fishing Lure Heddon Dowagiac Surface Lure #200 "frog Color" Vintage Wood Fishing Lure Forge World Warhammer Monsters - - Nurgle Plague Toad - - Resin Daemon End TimesRare Us Civil War Ames Artillery Sword Scabbard Model 1833 Belt Frog/728 Japanese Authentic Antique Staghorn Netsuke "gama Sennin" Toad Frog3 Byers Choice Halloween Carolers Witch W/broom Frog Prince Pink Princess W/wandDesigner James Avery 14k Gold "horned Toad" Charm Disney 1949 Vintage Ichabod And Mr. Toad Rko Pictures Theatrical Lobby CardStunning 1922 Frankart Nude Dancer Bookends W Frog On Base! Fabulous Condition!Beautiful Lalique Rainette Art Glass Frog FigurineHeddon Basser ( Head - On ) 8509 J Tough Frog Scale With Correct BoxWwii German 98k Mauser Bayo W/ Scabbard & Frog-elite Diamant 1939-nice BladeLot 16 Disney Dvd Movies Lion King Nemo Princess Frog Wall E Monsters Inc Cars +Disney Pin Dsf Soda Fountain Beloved Tales Princess & The Frog Tiana Pin Le 300James Avery 9pc Charm Lot 15.5g 14k Gold Butterfly Frog Cross Prayer Texas A&m Antique Spatterware Stick Spatter Rabbitware Platter Rabbits & Frogs No Reserve!Pflueger Kent Frog Fishing LureScarce Paw Paw Bait Company Bull Frog LureLeap Frog Tag- Books, Pens, And Activity Cards1932 Ford Stromberg 97 Frog Mouth Scoop Air Cleaner 94 Holly 31 34 35 40 Hot RodBeautiful Barry Kieselstein Sterling & 14k Frogs Ring Size 7.75Royal Copenhagen Faun With A Frog Figurine 1713 Mint 12138Barry Kieselstein Cord Sterling Toad And Lily Pad Ring Size 6 Fantastic!Hsn Heidi Daus Bronzetone Pave Frog Crystal Pin P242Wwii Japanese Type 30 Arisaka Bayo W/ Scabbard & FrogPair Of 1905 Circa Shakespeare Rhodes Mechanical Frogs Euc Kelly's Kids Boys Boutique Frog Prince Applique Shirt Fall 2013 Size 3/4Frosted 1930s Glass Car Mascot Of A Frog In Lovely Condition Lalique StyleMib Rare Men Nike Zoom Kobe Vii System Poison Dart Frog Lakers Size 12.5 488371Supreme Kermit The Frog Tee Shirt L Large Black Ss 2008 RareAntique Paw Paw Wood Weedless Frog Fishing Lure Creek Chub Glass Eyes Great LureKnights Templar Crusader Medieval Double Leather Belt Sword Frog Large Disney - The Princess And The Frog Series - Ray Raymond Le 250 PinKistler Magnesium Frog And Slop RodHermes Paris Recent & Unworn $195 Red Frog Motif Silk Men's Tie 5115 Ha ~ MintTim Cotterill's Bronze Frog "hungover"Early Ketchum's Frog Gang Harness LurePaw Paw What A Frog Watta Frog Wooden Fishing Lure Nice Condition Marvel Legends Series 1 Toy Biz Captain America, Toad, Iron Man, HulkBig 30x30 Mm. Bewitchaing Aaa White Cz Sterling 925 Silver Frog Enamel Ring 7Vintage Heddon Luny Frog Lure Circa1927-32 # 3500 Green Frog Very Good ConditionAntique Vintage Japanese Wood Carving Netsuke Collection Mouse Frog Snail AnimalSigned Baccarat France Crystal Clear Art Glass Frog Toad Sculpture Paperweight Vintage Paw Paw Wotta Frog #73 3 3/4" C. 1941 Wood Lure Excellent BeautifulCanada 2014 $20 Murano Venetian Glass Frog On Water Lily 1oz Silver ProofAor2 Frog Shirt Medium Regular Type 3 Navy Seal DevgruCarved Snake And Frog Handled Japanese CaneWwi British P07 Enfield Bayo W/ Scabbard & Frog-originalOld Early Vintage Antique Frog Lure Hand Made Primitive Wooden Folk Art #3Antique Vintage Japanese Wood Carving Netsuke Collection Monkey Frog DrawerVintage 925 Sterling Silver Antique Finish Large Frog 2-tone Brooch Pin 27gDisneys The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad Blu-ray/dvd Combo New / SlipcoverGregoire Green Toad Frog Crystal Sculpture Paperweight Signed Lalique France16mm Film: Horror & Sci-fi Trailers (lot Of 21) Don't Go In The House - Frogs -"old Imari Frog" Royal Crown Derby Paperweight Gold Stopper 1955 Vintage Perfect