Sunday, August 1, 2010

Reggie Stands Corrected . . .

Two weeks ago, in my post on our recent purchase of a large, part service of old Paris porcelain, I speculated that one of the pieces we acquired, a handled cup with a ledge across the top that limits the flow of liquid when drinking from it, was likely designed for use by a bed-ridden invalid.  I thought the piece across the opening was intended to protect a patient from having the cup's contents spill upon him or her when drinking from the vessel.  I assumed that this was the cup's purpose, since our 19th-century forebears were far more plagued with bed-confining illnesses than we are today.

I thought this was possibly an invalid cup . . .

Two of my commenters, however, speculated that what I thought was an invalid cup was, in fact, a mustache cup, a form popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century, when men fashionably sported impressive and elaborate mustaches, often waxed.  The design of the cup, they wrote, was to allow mustachioed men to drink hot liquids without risking melting the wax in their mustaches, or staining them.

A mustachioed sipper of beverages

When I read that I was, to be frank, skeptical.  I had never heard of a mustache cup, and I suspected that such term was a later, made-up name that romanticized the original and less happy intended use of such a cup by invalids.  It reminded me of the modern-day and ridiculous use of "petticoat table" to describe a pier table, or "Holy Lord Hinges" to describe HL hinges.  In other words, I thought it sounded like a silly faux-bit.

He'll have some coffee, please, but only if you have a mustache cup

My commenters wrote that an invalid cup actually has a spout, unlike my cup, to pour liquids into the mouth of the afflicted.  I doubted that, too, as I thought they were probably referring to a posset pot, a handled vessel with a spout used to drink posset, a drink popular in England in to the nineteenth century at celebrations such as weddings.  Here is an example of a posset pot, circa 1705, found on the website of antiques dealers Mark and Marjorie Allen:

I thought my commenters were referring to this, a posset pot . . .

But Reggie stands corrected.  After doing some basic research I have determined that what I speculated was an invalid cup is, as my commenters correctly guided me, actually a mustache cup.  And for that correction Reggie is most grateful, for he humbly strives to use accurate and precise language and terminology whenever possible, and is most happy to be corrected when he hasn't.  Besides, being gracious about it makes him feel better about his own, at times tedious, propensity to correct others' errors in matters of terminology, pronunciation, and language.

He requires a more elaborate delivery device than a mere mustache cup

According to what I learned, the mustache cup was a form initially popularized in the mid-nineteenth century by a potter named Harvey Adams, of Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, England, and which came to peak popularity in the second half of that century, when mustaches were in their greatest vogue, or, should I say, flower.  Adams' mustache cup included a ledge, called a mustache guard, with an opening at the cup's edge that allowed the mustachioed user to drink hot beverages through the opening while keeping his mustache safe, dry, and unstained.

A fastidious candidate for a mustache cup

Here is an example of a mustache cup that I found that is similar to ours, as featured on the Cajun Collection:

. . . but what they were really referring to was this, an actual mustache cup

One of the more entertaining blogs that I came across in my search on this subject is Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century, a site that features many period photographs of mustachioed men who were the prime market for such cups.  I found this image of a mustache cup there:

A mustache cup with an appropriate theme

Reggie is confident that what he has is a mustache cup, and not a shaving cup or mug, an example of which he found on Antique Associates of West Townsend, Inc., and which looks like this:

This is not a mustache cup; this is a shaving mug

And here is an example of a shaving cup/mug that is in Reggie's own collection, that he inherited from his mother, whose childhood nickname appears somewhat incongruously upon it:

Mummy Darling's mug

So, what, in fact, is an invalid cup?  I found a good example of one on The Pirate's Lair, a site that features antique china, silverware, and furnishings used by the U.S. Navy and other navies:

So, this is an invalid cup!

An invalid feeding cup, as it is more prevalently known, is similar to a mustache cup in that it has a ledge covering a portion of the cup's opening so that fluids do not spill out of it when feeding a bed-ridden invalid.  However, unlike a mustache cup, but similar to a posset pot (and as my commenters noted), it has a spout attached to it so that its contents, most usually a restorative broth, can be easily poured into the mouth of the waiting patient.  It is thought that the one featured in the above photograph was made circa 1890-1915, and would have most likely been sold by a chemist for residential use.

He probably owns a mustache cup, or two

Reggie thanks the two anonymous commenters who brought to his attention the error of his description of what he now believes is, indeed, a mustache cup.  He is most grateful for the journey into the arcane world of china terminology that it precipitated, and for the knowledge that he has since gained.

A regular tea cup will do for him, at least for now . . .

All cabinet photographs of mustachioed men from the collection of Reginald Ambrose Darling.  Photos, except where noted, by Boy Fenwick


  1. Absolutely fascinating. Thank you, Reginald. I bitterly regret the constraints of gender that forbid me from ever requiring a mustache cup. Alas!

  2. Well it stands to reason that if mustaches were so popular as to be able to support a blog on Mustaches of the 19th Century, a mustache cup couldn't be too far behind. You are so right, one of the things I enjoy the most about blogging is the quest for information that goes with it and all we learn in the process from our fellow bloggers. I for one, have learned more sitting in this chair in the past year than had I gone on a world tour of the top museums! The information available with just one click these days is mind boggling. All you need is an inquisitive mind...

  3. How old are you, irretrievablybroken? Wait long enough and you, too, may be able to grow an impressive set of whiskers...

    Hermione Darling (who, alas, knows this from personal experience)

  4. You are so thorough, and gracious-Reggie Darling. You, Boy and Me are ON for L'Absinthe tomorrow at LA. I hope you enjoy IT as much as I did . xo, La Gaye

  5. Reggie,
    This is such an enlightening post, and one could see how the harmless indiscretion could have happened upon viewing said cup.
    It is a lovely accompaniment Reggie, cheers!

  6. Maybe for some unseen-by-me regional reason, the way that--although more obviously--there are more barbed-wire collectors in the plains states than in New England, a lot of people in the Midwest must collect mustache cups, because every antique shop wit a lot of smalls has at least a few. That's why I recognized your cup for what it was right away: I've seen a ton of them. What I've never seen before, though, is a mustache cup discreetly subsumed into a larger dinner service. With their baroque profiles, florid graphics & liberal use of gold or applied enamels, most of the ones I see seem to be at great pains to call attention to the necessity for using them, rather than discreetly integrating their unusual form with a more conventional decoration.

    That "petticoat mirror" thing gets to me too, except that around here, volunteers at local historic houses at least get the name right, even if they can't spell it or explain the word correctly. Besides the petticoat story--"it's called a 'peer' mirror so ladies could peer at their hemlines" --I've also been told that "it's called a Peer mirror because in England, where it was made, there was a tax on large mirrors, so only Peers (what we'd call 'Lords') could afford them." My favorite, though--and I have to admit that I'm partly to blame, since I always make a point of asking our guide where the term 'Pier' originated-- was "They're callled pier mirrors because they were so fragile that the makers would only guarantee safe delivery as far as the pier, or dock, where they were unloaded off the ship where you would then pick them up in your own wagon" which last explanation was more enjoyable than anything I saw inside that particular house.

  7. Correct. In shallow shelves in my parent's powder room sits a collection of just such cups and mugs, always a subject of conversation with visitors when I was young.

    I think this is the first instance of seeing one surviving as part of a dinner service---and in my business we see a lot of things.....

  8. Interesting. Magnaverde's comment appeared after I typed and posted mine, so that's two of us seeing moustache cups surviving as part of a dinner service for the first time.

    As for the HL hinge and petticoat mirror stuff, let me add 'coin silver was a way of using the family's wealth by melting down their coins and making useful objects'. When I took over as board president of an historic house museum up here, one of our summer volunteer guides did every GD one of them, plus Christian Cross Doors in his tour. When I tried to suggest that he not do so, he flatly refused. And his real life profession? History teacher.

  9. Now I am positive that those were mustache cups in MD's collection. They came from her grandparents' house in Indiana. Have you checked with Frecky to see if he could possibly have them?

    And, I so wish that one could "Like" comments here the way one can on Facebook. There are several here that would prompt such a reaction - not the least of which would be Hermione's.


  10. I agree Sister D and the courage to post them!

  11. Hermione Darling: I will wait, then, with excitement! One so likes to look forward to things.... Already I fear dribbling on my chin whiskers, which are multiplying at an alarming rate. Did those resourceful Victorians design a cup for THAT?

  12. Alas, I do not have MD's mustache cups, although I wish I did as I have a rather bushy mustache these days.


  13. Yes, it is indeed a mustache cup. My mustachioed great-great grandfather had one!

  14. Reggie, have a stiff drink and proceed with waxing your mustache.

    Magnaverde, that last about as far as the pier is the best I've ever heard. I'd love to hear some of your explanations, or at least the ones you've gathered over the years, about chamber pots, or pos as I knew them growing up. Singular po, plural pos.

  15. Very interesting, though until I read Hermione's comments I was a bit confused as to why your mother had her own personalized shaving mug.

  16. Magnaverde and DED: "Cross and Bible" doors is a particular favorite of mine, as is egg and dart molding symbolizing life and death. And Magnaverde, that rant on pier tables was priceless. I once heard a docent refer to flow blue china as "flow through" china. I had to ask her to repeat it twice, it was so delicious.

    Anonymous 8:25-- I, too, wondered why MD had her own shaving mug, until I realized that she was of a generation where ladies still shaved their legs, and occasionally other places too delicate to mention on this blog. All will be revealed in a post-script that Reggie is working on at the moment . . .

  17. Holy Mustache!
    It was a pleasure meeting you this past weekend, and after I left the garden party your surname of Darling rang a bell.
    I have an Argentine cousin named Carla Darling who used to write a gossip column for a tango magazine.
    She had a faint lady mustache and perhaps would love a pretty mustache cup.
    Are you perchance related?
    xo xo
    PS I have added you to my humble blog list.

  18. It is both absurd and wonderful that you were more familiar with a posset pot than a mustache cup -- I agree with an earlier comment that mustache cups must be more common in the Midwest, where I grew up, because I'm sure I've seen thousands over the years. Though I must say that your example does seem remarkable, agreeing with a couple of other comments, in that I've never seen one meant to match a set. Aside from some unadorned ironstone examples I've seen, they tend to be quite garish.

  19. the invalid cup- i loved it! thanks for the interesting tidbit. i feel smarter after reading this... :)

    further more, i love this blog, and plan on following it. i have high hopes of becoming fast friends. :)

  20. I love this post. Reggie Darling, you are delightful!

  21. Really?

    Absolutely fascinating. I don't think I've ever run across one. I have use for shaving mugs, but the mustache cup.... ! I'll have to ferret one out to give to my magnificently bearded and mustachioed father-in-law.

    What a fine and diverting post.

  22. Great post as always.

    Always, Bumby

  23. I got thinking, Reggie: not only is the cup's shape different than the regular cup, but also its gilt inner band is missing. If this were truly a standard item among the various pieces one might have ordered, why don't we see more of them as part of a large services? After all, most men wore a moustache at the time. Are the cup's markings the same as those on the other pieces, and is the body's weight & thinness comparable? If not, maybe this was not an offering by the original manufacturer, but rather a custom piece created after-the-fact by another manufacturer, using their own non-matching blank but trying--except for the rim--to match the banding on the pre-existing service.

    I say that because I've been thinking a lot about custom porcelain lately. A recent fire up at my dad's place left an 1810 Miles Mason tea service--including a pot with the most elegant combination of low oval body, high cope & looping handle I've ever seen--nothing but a pile of blackened shards. The few pieces that somehow survived the flames were broken when the smoldering box they were packed in was tossed out a second-story window. There have to be people who can recreate the cups' swaggering red-&-gold Greek key pattern on a standard modern can form, but the pot's exaggerated shape was such a short-lived fashion that the mold can't possible exist, so I'm afraid I'm out of luck on that count.

    On a more amusing note, clueless interpreters aren't retricted to only historic houses. I'll always remember the lady guide at a Decorator Showhouse in a tony suburb who described a blotchy, blurry mess of an attempt at Venetian plaster as "a lovely faux-pas finish." And I with no videophone!


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