Sunday, January 6, 2008

Have you ever seen a mustache cup?

Not so long ago, Dumpdiggers left a friendly comment on The Victorian Era to celebrate a great piece of writing titled Mustaches and Manners. The humorous post details those giant waxed mustaches that were so popular in men’s fashion throughout Europe and America during Queen Victoria's reign in England. I reported that sometimes Dumpdiggers unearth broken 'mustache cups' in 1800's era dump sites - hard proof of the forgotten fashion of big facial hair.

The Victorian Era blog is actually paying homage to a very specialized blogspot called Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century that showcases so many fascinating nuances of the ‘Age of the Mustache’.

Personally it would drive me crazy to have a mass of tangled hair growing on my upper lip, but that's me... and my Grandma. Yes, my Grandmother once told me that a man only grows a mustache when he has something to hide – and not just the skin on his face. Consequently I always shaved before visiting her.

US Civil War general Lew Wallace's mustache was obscene. How could anyone take this guy seriously? Ulysses Grant blamed him for the losses at Shiloh, and ruined his military career, and yet, he persevered and became even more distinguished... This mustached man was the U.S. Minister to Turkey, 1881-1885 and he wrote the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ which has never been out of print, and has been filmed three times. Not bad for a guy with something to hide huh Grandma?


For a myriad of reasons mustaches flourished throughout the Victorian Age. At the height of this fashion, well born gentlemen would frequent upscale barber shops and saloons to procure mustache wax, which was stiff pomade they could apply to their moustaches to hold the hairs in place, especially at the extremities. Such wax would also have restorative properties, and of course that became more and more important as the length of the hair increased. No man could sport a ‘handlebar mustache’ without mustache wax.

COMPOSITION Mustache wax was quite commonly scented and sometimes color pigmented. Historically the product was fashioned from beeswax, coco butter, and petroleum jelly. More sophisticated recipes include gum Arabic and soap, essential oils for scent and all manner of colouring.


After bathing, and trimming his mustache, a gentleman would melt a ½ gram (a dab) of mustache wax in a pan. Using a special comb, the gentleman would then carefully apply the hot wax to his mustache to keep the curls intact. And therein lay the problem - a stiff upper lip would always soften during high tea.

Every time a man raised a steaming teacup to his mouth, the steam would melt the wax, and it would drip into his tea. And worse than that, after drinking coffee and tea, fair haired men's moustaches often became stained!

Strangely it wasn’t until 1830 that an English potter named Harvey Adams introduced the first mustache cup, which had a ledge he called a 'mustache guard' across the top. The guard had one semicircular opening against the rim of the cup to allow the user’s mustache to rest safe and dry on the mustache guard.

Harvey Adam's invention (look for maker's mark 'HA&co') spread all over the Europe until almost all respectable potters featured a product with a similar design. A multiplicity of mustache cups were fashioned in Meissen, Royal Crown Derby, Imari, Royal Bayreuth, Limoges and other famous manufactories between 1850-1900 as each potter created his own version of this masculine tableware.

Are mustaches fashionable again? Perhaps, but they'll never be as popular as they were in the Victorian Age.

Do you have a mustache? Are you seeking a vintage mustache cup? Perhaps you are wondering how much such an object would cost? Here are two auctions on eBay we can follow:

The pretty red cup above is one from Saxon Germany and at the time of this writing, it already has three bids - the current bid is $26 bucks and there's still six days left in the auction.

Next is a very pretty mustache cup & saucer, painted with yellow flowers, green & brown leaves & stems with turquoise blue & white background and gold trim that has just appeared on the auction site at $9.99.

Anyone looking for more information on the history of this tableware innovation could read a comprehensive report on mustache cups from the respectable online resource, The Gavel.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Harvey Adams was not born until 1835...