The attitude to facial hair throughout history has been exceptionally fickle, and the moustache is no exception. As fashions have come and gone, so too have the tools and accessories for grooming and keeping unruly mouth brows in check. One such bizarre contraption was the Victorian moustache cup.
From the mid 1800s, the moustache became a staple on the face of any dignified English gentleman at a time when masculinity was very much associated with facial hair. According to Atlas Obscura , the clean-shaven soldiers of the British Empire were heavily influenced by the facial hair of their “well-plumed Indian troop.” Between 1860 and 1916 army guidelines (under Command 1695) actually included a specific rule which stated that “the chin and the upper lip will be shaved, but not the upper lip.”
From here, the fashion of wearing a generous tash became increasingly popular back home. During the Victorian era, moustache etiquette was actually all about identity, spawning manuals and rules related to grooming and physical appearance.
The Ringling Brothers, an American traveling circus company, and their moustache cups. (Charmainezoe’s Marvelous Melange / CC BY 2.0 )
But keeping a bushy flavor saver in check required time and attention involving frequent trimming, waxing and dyeing. The problem with all this wax and dye in the popular crumb catcher was that this masculinity could turn into a disastrous mess with a simple cup of hot tea, and what had been a dapper lip toupee could suddenly look more like a snot mop.
This is when the moustache cup came to the rescue in the form of a simple lip inside a cup which provided protection. While you may think I’m pulling your facial fur, most sources concur that the moustache cup was the brainchild of Harvey Adams, an English potter who created this life-altering invention some time between 1850 and 1860. From England it spread like wildfire and soon it was being used throughout Europe and America.
The moustache cup also triggered a line in moustache guards which could be fitted onto cups, and moustache spoons for eating soup. Nevertheless, with the arrival of the First World War in the 20th century, fashion changed once again and by 1930 moustache cups were no longer needed. In the British army, the rules were changed out of necessity (lack of time and resources to keep moustaches groomed in the trenches). Nowadays they are collectors’ items and can sell for a pretty penny.
Top image: A gentleman and a moustache cup. Source: be free / Adobe Stock
By Cecilia Bogaard