The Moustache and Its Cup

Recently, the moustache has made a surprisingly strong come back. Not since the Victorian era has it been such a coveted accessory. The Victorian man, no matter his social status, was sure to don a perfectly stylish and manicured moustache as a part of any proper gentlemen’s attire. From the handle bar to the bushy walrus style, the moustache was as varied as the person who wore it. Furthermore, the Victorians (known for their innovative and unique “knick-knacks” of the day) had the best accessories to maintain a perfectly stylish ‘stache, case in point, the moustache cup.

Photograph of Moustache Cup (WCMA, 1960.4.2)
Caption: A floral design moustache cup and saucer.
Credit: WCMA,1960.4.2.

A moustache cup is a tea cup or mug with a ledge set inside and a small hole to sip tea through, meant to keep the moustache clean and dry. Facial hair, specifically the moustache, grew in popularity during the Victorian Era in England. At one point becoming a mandatory part of the British Army uniform as it was thought to command authority. This trend spread across England to Europe and then to North America, as did the moustache cup. Invented around 1860 by English potter Harvey Adams, the moustache cup became so popular that Adams was able to retire just
15 years after inventing it.

Photograph of a man with a moustache (WCMA, ph 4509, A1976.148.366)

Caption: Dr. Hugh Ross sporting a very fashionable full moustache, circa 1900.
Credit: WCMA, A1976.148.366, ph 4509.

A moustache became a symbol of masculinity and men took great pride in maintaining a well groomed upper lip. The ideal moustache had to be firm, stiff and not too long or too short. Some men even carried a small comb with them for upkeep throughout the day. Often a bit of wax was added to hold every hair in place and men’s vanity even went so far as to dye their moustaches. However, during afternoon tea the heat from the tea would cause the wax to melt and the dye to run making for a very embarrassing moment, not to mention a now unkempt moustache. 

The moustache cup solved this problem, becoming all the rage and an essential part of a proper household tea service between about 1860 and 1916. Available in most china patterns, they could even be customized with the owner's name or initials and typically came with a matching saucer. Unfortunately, however, the moustache and the cup fell out of favour around World War One when it became difficult for men to maintain these grooming habits in the trenches. Facial hair also made it difficult to get a tight seal of a gas mask on the face which was extremely dangerous as chemical weapons were a major component of the war. 

Photograph of Moustache Cup (WCMA, 1995.1.3)

Caption: This fine china moustache cup belonged to Pasquale Marucci, who found it in the early 1920s on his Grange Street farm in Guelph and began using it.
Credit: WCMA, 1995.1.3. 


Photograph of a man with a moustache (WCMA, ph 12394, A1995.150)


Caption: George Grange with a well manicured moustache, circa 1910.
Credit: WCMA, A1995.150, ph 12394.

 In the years since World War One, the moustache has popped up on many distinguished Hollywood faces from Clark Gable to Tom Selleck, but sadly the cup did not follow. The moustache cup served a very specific and needed purpose at the time and today they are highly collectible. Perhaps with the resurgence in popularity of facial hair among men we could see these cups making a comeback too.


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