This mustache cup was donated to our collection in 1948. The white porcelain background is decorated with a butterfly and floral design, along with raised white beading and gold-colored trim.
A white “mustache guard” is attached to the lip of the cup. No maker’s marks were discovered on this piece. “1883” is signed on the bottom of the cup, which may or may not be the date it was manufactured.
Facial hair was a symbol of masculinity and a fashion statement during the 19th century. Men styled their mustaches with waxes and oils using combs, trimmers, and curlers.
Drinking tea or coffee when one had a styled mustache was problematic, because the wax and oil that came in contact with the hot liquid caused the mustache to lose its shape and made the drink detestable.
To solve this problem British potter Harvey Adams invented the mustache guard in the 1860s, which allowed a mustached man to drink through an opening between the guard and the lip of the cup while keeping the mustache dry.
The cups quickly became a hit in America. They were a popular birthday or Christmas gift sold at Sears and other retailers for as little as 15 cents (about $4 today).