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    

Frog 500 Vintage Spark Ignition Control Line Free Flight Cl Ff Made In EnglandCaptain Toad: Treasure Tracker (nintendo Wii U, 2014)Disney Limited Edition Princess And The Frog Tiana 17" Collectors Doll 1 Of 5000Old Wood Fishing Lure Antique Tackle Vintage Creek Chub Weed Dee FrogOld Wood Fishing Lure Antique Tackle Vintage Creek Chub Weed Bub FrogJapanese Hanging Scroll : Watanabe Kazan "toad Sennin" @g553Mini Boden Frog Shirt Plaid Cargo Pants Outfit 3-4 YMarvel Legends Series 1 Toad X-men Comic Book Variant Figure Fiat : 500 U.s. Edition Frog Eye 1958 Fiat 500 Nuova U S Edition Frog Eye20th Century Tlingit Northwest Coast Indian Carved Frog BowlMixed Lot Of 5 Leap Frog Fisher Price My Pal Scout Laugh & Learn Kids 238481Adorable James Avery Sterling Horned Toad Charm-so Cute!Je1 Mini Boden 4 5 4t 5t Applique Frog Tee Top ShirtWdcc The Princess And The Frog Tiana Wishing On The Evening StarDaum Frogs With Golden Eyes/green Crystal Covered Bowl "hand Signed Daum France"Large 2 Piece Van Briggle Pottery Girl Indian Nude Turtle Frog Pond Planter Authentic Barry Kieselstein-cord Brown Leather Woven Frog&lady Bug Bag. Perfect.Large 2 Piece Van Briggle Pottery Girl Indian Nude Duck Goose Frog Pond Planter Antique Sterling Art Nouveau Match Safe Vesta Case Gorham ? Snail Frog SnakeWwii German Dress Bayo W/ Scabbard & Frog-"carbine" Blade-carl EickhornWood Heddon 150 Glass Eyes Old Fishing Lure Frog SpotJapanese Hanging Scroll "frog And Calligraphy" @u516Mixed Lot Of 5 Melissa & Doug Fisher Price Leap Frog Childrens Kids Toys 238563Disney Store Princess & The Frog Tiana 17"doll Le To 5000 + Nib Box DamagedOld Wooden Heddon Cone Tail Crazy Crawler Michigan Made Neat Hardware Frog SpotSmocked & Embroidered "frog Prince" Dress W/pants For Sasha DollMarvel Heroclix Hammer Of Thor Thor Frog Of Thunder Chase FigureVictorian Antique Wall Plate Pottery Palissy Majolica? Lizards Snail Frogs As Is2 Vintage Norcrest Japan Bluebird,blue Bird Figurines,w/worm & W/frog,rareMonster High Doll Holt Hyde Accessory Lot Of 3 Speaker Bag, Frog, HeadphonesCaptain Toad: Treasure Tracker (nintendo Wii U, 2014)Scentsy Frog In A Well Warmer Rare 2010 CollectibleAntique Matchbox Holder Vesta Case Figural Jade FrogLeap Frog Tag Reader Lot Of Pen, Case, Usb Cable And 17 BooksDsf Le 500 Princess And The Frog Prince Naveen Ptd Pin Trader Delight Disney PinVintage 925 Sterling Silver Heavy Garnet Frog Pin / Brooch (11.2g) - 466222Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (nintendo Wii U, 2014)Toy Biz Marvel Legends Toad - Series 1 Action Figure MocYugioh Evol, Fire Fist, Frog Monarch, Harpie, Hieratic Dragon Decks, Bulk/lotLimited Edition -lime Green -bluetooth - Beats Pill By Dre And Green Beats FrogPolished Silver Bone Frog #169 / Navy Seal Challenge Coin / Swcc / Non - CpoSpeed Play Pedal System, The Frog, Chrome Moly AnibVintage Zuni Native American Carved Frog All Turquoise Fetish Fantastic Antique Asian Bone Figural Statue Old Chinese Man W/ Broom & FrogPikmin 3 Wii U Played Twice. Complete W/ Manual. Captain Toad Treasure Tracker Canada 2014 $20 Water-lily And Venetian Glass Leopard Frog 1oz Silver Proof CoinLeap Frog Ultra - Pink/white Kids Learning TabletPrimal Wear Hip Frog Racing Cycling Bike Shirt Jersey Xxl 2xlRare Nintendo Amiibo Lot Wii Fit Trainer And Toad New Na Releases In Hand Wii U 3t Boys Set Euc Anavini Classics, Smocked, Frogs, Blue, BoutiqueLeap Frog Tag/ Leap Reader Lot Of 4 Books Leapfrog** Rare Vested Gentress Vntg Dress Dog & Frog! Pink Bk.. Sz 14 Mow Donation!Limited Edition Pflueger Kent Floater Frog - Black Enamel Finish - MintJames Avery Charm - Horned ToadVintage Zuni Native American Carved Pink Stone Frog Figure Fetish W TurquoiseVienna Bronze Cat And Frog With Water Basin, Austrian 19th Century Rare Vintage Frog Figural Signed Sandor Genuine Turquoise Cluster Brooch PinVip Witch With A Frog Rubber Stamp2~27 Print~tula Pink~prince Charming~cotton Fabric~quilt~frog~free Spirit~flowerCanada 2014 20$ Water Lily With Venetian Glass Leopard Frog Proof Silver Coin