Today we have a ceramic teacup and saucer with an extra feature: a partial cover, attached to the rim, with a semi-circular opening. This addition had the highly specific function of running interference between the hot beverage in the cup, and the drinker’s facial hair.  In short, this is a mustache cup.

The invention of a cup with a mustache guard is attributed to English potter Harvey Adams, in the 1860s.  Mustaches were very popular in Europe and the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and like many other fashions, they inspired inventors and manufacturers to create new tools (don’t forget our mustache curling comb). Our example has no maker’s mark, but based on its history, the cup is likely an American-made piece from around 1900.  The design is relatively plain; to enjoy some more elaborate examples, of ceramic and silver, try an image search on your favorite search engine or auction site.

This handy utensil helped prevent soggy and stained mustaches.  In case any modern mustache-sporting readers – who’ve soldiered on through life without a special coffee cup, thank you very much – might think their forefathers were a bunch of wimps, remember that Victorian- and Edwardian-era facial hair styling often required the use of wax.  A piping hot beverage in close proximity to a quantity of mustache wax could result in a cup of melted-wax-flavored tea, not to mention an unfashionably limp mustache.

This particular cup was donated by Mary Beth Fleming; it belonged to her great-grandfather, Charles Clark Waters (1866-1934) of Neelsville. We are also fortunate to have two photos of Mr. Waters, which rather delightfully provide visual evidence for the cup’s necessity.  Here he is in 1890 (left), in a portrait taken by Bachrach & Bro. in Baltimore, and circa 1910 (right), taken by Clinedinst in Washington, DC.  As always, click the image to enlarge.

Left: Courtesy Mary Beth Fleming. Right: Donated by Charles and Marian Jacobs.

Left: Courtesy Mary Beth Fleming. Right: Donated by Charles and Marian Jacobs.

Mr. Waters appears to have favored the curled-ends handlebar style of mustache (though he could have been experimenting with other styles for the 20 years between photos, of course).  Judging by other historical examples – including patterns featuring the words “forget-me-not” or “remember me” – mustache cups were popular gifts.  Perhaps Mr. Waters’s wife or children presented him with this cup and saucer one Christmas or birthday?