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A mustache cup is a beverage container designed to protect the mustache as the user drinks. These cups contain a small ledge, or guard, that runs along the perimeter of the cup along one edge. When the user brings the mustache cup to his mouth, his mustache rests on the ledge, rather than in the liquid. A small opening in this ledge allows liquid to pass from the cup into the mouth. The mustache cup may be most familiar to modern readers from its appearance in the story of Ulysses, where character Leopold Bloom drinks from one of these cups.
Men with mustaches are subject to several problems when drinking from a standard cup. The facial hair can become stained or wet after coming into content with coffee or tea. In Victorian times, hot beverages also melted the styling cream or wax that men used to groom their mustaches.
During the early 19th century, Englishman Harvey Adams invented the first mustache cup, which was designed to allow men to drink more conveniently and with less mess. Due to the popularity of the mustache during this period, sales of the the mustache cup quickly grew. By the early 20th century, the use of these cups fell out of fashion along with the mustache.
During their heyday, mustache cups served as a status symbol of sorts among the wealthy. Female family members frequently gave these cups as a gift to fathers, husbands, and other males. They were typically monogrammed, or engraved with a family crest. Basic mustache cup models were made from ceramic, while finer units came in silver and even gold. Many included a matching saucer, similar to those used with tea cups.
Today, antique buyers may collect mustache cups, especially the more ornate or rare models. A mustache cup made from silver, or one that is very ornate can be sold at quite a high price, depending on condition. During the Victorian era, most of these cups were made to suit right-handed users, making the left-handed models exceptionally rare today.
The mustache cup is often confused with the shaving cup, which peaked in popularity around the same time period. While the mustache cup had its characteristic shelf, the shaving cup may or may not be equipped with a shelf. Shaving cups with a shelf may feature a series of drain holes, but they do not have the opening traditionally found on a mustache cup.