Open Friday - Tuesday, 10am - 4pm

Moustache Cup

Ashleigh McLarin, Exhibitions Curator


During the Victorian Era, moustaches were an element of genteel, masculine culture. They sat prominently on the upper lip and had authoritative associations. Great care went into their presentation ̶ males would curl, oil, wax, and dye their moustaches to ensure they were best kept without a hair out of place. However, there was a trap for moustached males, and this was the afternoon cuppa ̶ something no Englishman could avoid. When drinking a hot beverage, one’s moustache would inevitably get wet, and the wax or dye would melt into the tea or coffee, not only tainting the taste but causing the moustache to droop ̶ the embarrassment!

There was a design solution to this everyday dilemma, and the English potter, Harvey Adams, is widely attributed as the inventor. He designed the moustache cup in the 1860s, and the demand was immediate. Obviously, this everyday experience had been causing much bother. The moustache cup is a teacup with a concealed ledge on the inner side. It sits horizontally and has an ovoid opening at the lip of the cup. The ledge guards the moustache, and the small opening allows the user to enjoy their beverage without the risk of dishevelment. The design was quickly embraced in Britain and Europe and later in America. The moustache cup design was created at a specific time, reacting to the environment and needs of Victorian gentlemen. They signify the Victorian era and its cultural mores. It is a niche item as its prominence was short-lived. Moustache cups are now predominately a collector’s item.

Although moustache cups typically came with a matching saucer, the moustache cup in our collection came on its lonesome (1966/12/7). It was donated by Mrs D. Nelson. The cup is slip cast in porcelain and has a textured outer, evoking the grooves of a conch shell. The glaze is a cream lustre. Shell-style cups, like this one, were popular as they exuded the elegance of Victorian masculinity. The elegance of this cup is in its lightness and its shimmer. The shell cup was popularised by Belleek, an Irish pottery company, known for its delicate porcelain bodies and lustres. This cup is not as refined as a Belleek, and it does not have the shell feet which are indicative. This moustache cup is well used as indicated by the wear on the lip of the cup where the glaze has worn off. It must have been the someone’s vessel of choice in their afternoon tea ritual.


Moustache popularity has ebbed and flowed throughout history. The Victorian moustache epoch tapered out by the 1920s. Moustaches reappeared in a big way in the 1980s to be passé in the noughties, and now moustaches are back in vogue. “Movember” has raised the profile and creativity of the humble moustache. We commonly see the handlebar, the pencil, the chevron, the walrus, and the imperial walking down our streets. Moustaches were considered dapper in the Victorian era, as they are again today. Perhaps we will see a revival of the moustache cup to help individuals through the trials of moustache care.


Caption under group picture
The dominance of the moustache in the early 20th century
Whangārei County Council 1906-11 (2004/16/2/2)
Back: C. McDonald, F. C. Hilford, J. McKinnon. G. McKay, W. A Carruth, H. Morey
Front: N. McKenzie, R. J. Kernohan, A. G. McKenzie, B. Tades, W. M. Fraser