Modern mugs, which are most commonly used for coffee or tea, likely evolved from beer steins. Larger than tea cups, mugs are generally defined as handled beverage containers made out of stoneware, earthenware, porcelain, or glass, serving approximately 12 ounces. Mugs are not usually included in formal china settings, whose tea or coffee cups are traditionally daintier. Besides their size, mugs are differentiated from tea cups by their insulating properties; they have thick walls and flat bottoms.

The earliest drinking mugs date to the Stone Age and were carved out of bone. Ancient Greek ceramists attached handles to their drinking vessels, while early metalworking techniques allowed artisans to create bronze, silver, or even gold cups with handles for hot beverages. Wood was also used for ancient drinking mugs, but for obvious reasons, few examples have survived.

Since ancient Egypt, jugs have been made into the shape of human figurines—similar objects have also been found in English archaeological digs from Roman to Medieval times. Modern-day “character jugs” came about in the 18th-century in the form of “Toby jugs,” first made by Ralph Wood and his fellow Staffordshire potters. This seated British character, known as Toby, had a hat with three corners that could each form a separate spout for drinking.

John Doulton at Royal Doulton’s Lambeth art pottery took this concept and made his own line of political Toby jugs in the 1800s. In the 1930s, Doulton chief designer Charles J. Noke revived the idea of character jugs, but instead of showing the full figure, Noke's only featured the character's head and shoulders, like a handled bust. By the 1950s, Doultons’ character jugs included Dickens and Shakespeare characters, legends like Rip Van Winkle and Johnny Appleseed, and caricatures of Native Americans.

From the 14th century to 19th century, when mugs were used to serve beer in taverns all over Germany, England, and later the United States, clever potters came up with a way to use mugs for drinking games and betting. Puzzle mugs feature a trick that prevents the vessel from operating in the usual manner. Some have holes in the rim so that the only way to drink from them is through a secret opening in the handle. “Fuddling cups” are made of three mugs attached by their handles and each mug's walls—if the contents are not sipped in a particular sequence, the liquor will drain out. And a “Pythagorean cup” has a small syphon hidden in a center rod that prevents the mug from being filled any higher than the height of the rod.

The earliest reference to coffee dates to 10th century Ethiopia. From there, it spread to the Middle East, then to Italy in the 16th century, after which it was brought to the rest of Europe and the United States. In the mid-17th century, cafes and coffeehouses began to open around Europe.

In the United States, many credit the Boston Tea Party as the reason coffee became the favored hot drink of America over tea. That winter night in 1773, American colonists disgui...

Mochaware, a type of earthenware with dendritic (tree-like) slip patterns, was made in England starting around 1770. While the slip was still wet, the tree-like patterns were created by dropping bits of tobacco infusion, or even urine, on the pot. These pieces were made at British potteries in Staffordshire and Yorkshire to be exported to America. The ware was cheap, designed for lower- or middle-class households.

In the early 1800s, quart-size creamware, mochaware, and pearlware mugs were used in pubs and homes all over the northeastern United States. These mugs featured a wide array of geometric and abstract plant-like patterns. Nineteenth century pubs often sold beer in mochaware mugs.

Around the same time, mugs were also used for shaving, as most homes didn’t have hot water from the tap. These shaving mugs, also called scuttle, often can be distinguished from drinking mugs thanks to their brush rests.

After the turn-of-the-century craze for novelty advertisements took off, drinking mugs became an obvious place to advertise one’s wares. Some advertising or novelty mugs are thrown or carved into unusual shapes, but more often than not, the image is simply printed on the mug. Celebrated mid-century dinnerware company Fiesta even put out a line of advertising mugs called Sit 'n Sip. Today, common means for transferring images to coffee mugs include screenprinting, photographic emulsion, and decals.

In 1930s America, bars and restaurants inspired by a romanticized ideal of Polynesian culture produced so-called Tiki mugs, which were similar to Toby jugs, except that their inspiration came from Polynesian human figures called Tiki. Hugely popular in the '50s and '60s, these Tiki mugs usually contained fruity tropical-themed cocktails.

Glassware mugs were also prevalent in the middle of the 20th century. In the 1940s, Anchor Hocking's heat-resistant Fire-King line was popular for coffee-mug sets, particularly in the opalescent sea green Jadeite color.

Even the respected British pottery giant Wedgwood got into the coffee-mug act with its Queen’s ware line, which featured porcelain mugs commemorating major events in the royal world, including the Coronations of Edward VIII, George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II; the Festival of Britain; and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Feeding America

Feeding America

This archive of 76 influential American cookbooks from the late 1700s to early 1900s, assembled by the Michigan St… [read review or visit site]

Tupper Diva

Tupper Diva

Kristian McManus’ fresh, airtight collection of Tupperware catalogs and related ephemera from the 1950s and 6… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Tiki Caliente 6 Severed Monkey Head Tiki Mug By Doug Horne And John MulderKahiki Tiki Mug By Hoffman Pottery - Rare Handled Moai - Freeship To UsaOne Of A Kind Gecko Fat Lava Big Toe Tiki Mug Hawaii SquidMojave Oasis 2011 Moai Tiki Mug #172/200Fire King Jadeite Mugs Lot Of 24 Fire King Green Glass Jadite Jadeite Coffee Mug Cup D Handle Restaurant Ware2 Fire King Jadite Jadeite Green C Handle Restaurant Ware Coffee Mug CupVintage Trader Vic's Suffering Bastard Tiki Mug The Mai Tai JoeAvex/contigo Vacuum Insulated Stainlesssteel Autoseal Travel/coffee Mugs/flasksVintage Fire King Milk Glass Mugs-multicolored Daisy-purple- Lime-redCrazy Al Hoo Doo The Voo Doo Artist Proof Tiki MugFrankie's Tiki Room 5th Anniversary Mug - Squid Designed - Sandstone # 13Hukilau 2010 Tiki Mug Manufactured - Munktiki Designed - NielsenTiki Farm Miehana Tiki MugWitco Large 3' Tall 60's Tiki Wood Idol Mug Elvis Bar6 Fire King Green Glass Jadite Jadeite Coffee Mug Cup D Handle Restaurant WareThe Unlucky Tourist Tiki Mug Decanter From Dirty Donny And Tiki Farm 2004Klean Kanteen Insulated Thermos & Coffee Mug - 12 Oz StainlessKakaui Tiki Mugs - Volcano Bowl - Serigraph - Shag Designed - Tiki FarmKeurig Special Edition B60 Coffee Maker-black/chrome Display Model W 2 Mugs !!Fire-king O-pee-chee Bazooka Bubble Gum Canadian Advertising Coffee MugOld Hires Root Beer Mug Mettlach Stoneware Stein Villeroy & Boch Shelley China Dainty Chintz 4" Coffee Mug Htf Exc EnglandStarbucks Global Icon Collector City Series Waikiki Hawaii 2011 Coffee Mug CupLarge Lord Kitchener Royal Doulton Toby Character Mug JugOne Vtg Fire King White Restaurant Ware Heavy Mug C-handle Very Rare! - Not MintNightmare Before Christmas Oogie Boogie Tall Coffee Mug The Disney Store ReadFire-king Swift's Ice Cream Dipper Dan Coffee Club Advertising Mug Tiffany & Co Bone China Blue Bow Ribbon Coffee Mug - 1Shelley China Heavenly Blue Dainty 4" Coffee Mug Htf Exc England3 Vintage Antique Snoopy Peanuts Noel Mugs Anchor Hocking Fire KingStarbucks Coffee Christmas Holiday Tree Ornaments Mug Gold Red White 2010 11 13Fire King Jadite Glass D-handle Mugs(2)...good Condition. Ruska Tea Coffee Mug Set Mint Lot Of 21 Vintage 1970s Arabia Finland 2014 Starbucks Double Wall Coffee Mug For Insulated Tumbler Travel Cups WhiteVintage Burger King - Fire King Mug / Cup - Exl CondEmbossed Hot Coffee Shop Sign Diner Restaurant Java Beans Roaster Silver Set TeaShelley China Dainty Rosebud 4" Coffee Mug Htf Exc England Rose Bud1958 Snoopy Mug Anchor Hocking Schulz Milk Glass Coffee Mug Oven Proof!Mod Palm Springs Shag Tiki Mug Long Sold OutColeman Limited Edition Set Enamel Coffee Percolator And Four Mugs Model 815-099Bahooka 40th Anniversary Tiki Mug Manufactured - Squid Designed - Tiki FarmShelley China Blue Rock Dainty 4" Coffee Mug Htf Exc EnglandRaggedy Ann Foods Grocery Store Fire-king Advertising Coffee Mug Starbucks House Blend Brewed Coffee Verismo Pods, 12 Count-nashville Coffee Mug*nwt* Paris Starbucks France Relief Mug Coffee Black And White CityNikon Camera Lens 24-70mm Thermos Coffee Tea Cup Mug/ Ashtray /pen Hold + PouchStarbucks Double Wall Coffee Mug For Insulated Tumbler Travel Cups BlackYixing Yellow Zisha Clay Gaiwan Tea Bowl Tea Mug 150ml Gw046Rare~1965~peanuts~snoopy Curse You Red Baron~coffee Mug Cup~anchor HockingFunny Gag Gift The Original Toilet Mug Fun Prank Beverage Coffee CupFire-king Warner Bros. Tweety Bird Cartoon Character Coffee Mug Royal Doulton Clown Toby Mug Jug Vintage 1950 Rare, Made In EnglandMaikainoau Tiki Mug - MunktikiFire King Jadite "d" Handle Four (4) Vintage Coffee Cups/mugs 3 Vintage Jadeite Fire King C Handle Heavy Restaurant Coffee Mugs Chocolate CupsCoffee Mug Cup Prescription Morning Funny Pill Bottle Rx Tea Hot Chocolate DrinkSigned Royal Doulton The Lawyer D6498 Hand Painted Ceramic Character Toby Mug NrSet Of 11 Vintage Orchids Of Hawaii Tiki Polynesian Mugs Cups Japan Ceramic4 Royal Albert Old Country Roses Beaker Coffee Mugs 1st Quality Vgc