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”)

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

The Bowes Museum: Ceramics

This gallery showcases highlights from the 5,000 items in the museum's ceramics collection dating from 1500-1900. I… [read review or visit site]

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]

Ceramics at The V&A

Ceramics at The V&A

A great reference on ceramics from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Learn about different ceramics techniques and 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    

Fire King Stuckey's,mcdonalds Good Morning Coffee Mug Plus 2 Other Adv.mugsVintage Fire King Jadite Restaurant Ware C Handle Hot Chocolate Mug Set Of 4 MntFire-king Peanuts Snoopy Skateboarder Sweetheart Bread Advertising Coffee Mug 8 Vintage Fire King Jadeite D Handle Flat Bottom Anchor Hocking Oven Ware MugsFire-king Stuckey's Coffee Club Stacking Style Advertising Coffee Mug StuckeysFire-king Peanuts Snoopy Charlie Brown A Friend Is Someone 2 Lean On Coffee Mug Vintage Fire King Jadeite G 215 Coffee Mug And Saucer Set Of 4Vintage Snoopy "curse You Red Baron " Fire King Milk Glass Mug/cup Peanuts 19651 Vintage Fire King Jadite C Handled Cup Mug By Anchor Hocking 3 Fire-king Sapphire Blue Philbe D-handle Coffee MugsRare Anchor Hocking Fire King Mug Strawberry Shortcake Orange Blossom MarmaladeSnoopy Peanuts Woodstock Mug Anchor Hocking Fire King Milk Glass Coffee Cup11 Fire King Amber,peach Luster,& White Kimberly Stackable Mugs Oven WareDarci Sendaway Something Extra "the Main Course" Apron Bread Coffee Mugs, BagAnchor Hocking Milk Glass Peanuts Lucy Cartoon Character Coffee Mug Royal Doulton 7in Anne Boleyn Mug Vintage D6644 1975 Jug Snoopy Come Home Fire King Anchor Hocking Milk Glass Collectible Mug VintageVintage Russel Wright Iroquois Casual Coffee Mugs/cups - 3 Green, 3 PinkBauer Plainware Matt Carlton Coffee Mug Orange Perfect Authentic Rare RanchoRoyal Doulton Character Toby Jug Mug Antagonist Custer & Sitting Bull Mickey Mantle Bowling Alley Center 200 Club Old Fire-king Advertising Coffee MugRoyal Doulton Capt Ahab Large Toby Mug # D 65001909 Montgomery County Firemens Association Jenkintown Pa 2 Coffee Mugs MaddocksVintage Denby Stoneware Large Coffee Mug –greenwheat Pattern—a. College.M A Hadley Country Racing Horse Mugs & Coffee Dish Lot 5757534 & 1658565God Bless Our Pad Coffee Cup Mug Vintage Milk Glass Gold Flowers GlasbakeMoody Blues In Search Of The Lost Chord Coffee Mug(not A Cd Or Lp) 2015 Death Wish Coffee Christmas Mug #195 Of 200Gucci Greek Mythology 4 Piece Coffee Mug Set Blue/pink/green/yellow Gold N/mint!Death Wish Coffee Mug Waterford Crystal - Dunmore Coffee Beer Mug Tankards - Set Of 8, Exc. Cond.Death Wish Coffee Expresso Size Cup & Saucer W/ Dwcc Logo, Not A Mug ~ Rare6 Vintage Fire King Jadite Plain Mugs Oven Glass D Handle Death Wish Coffee Mug Saratoga Coffee Trader 4 Fire King Heavy Jadeite Mugs, 2 Slim Chocolate & 2 C Handle No Reserve! Fire King Advertising Mug “burger King” Excellent Rare Vintage CollectableSet Of (4) Vintage Green Jadeite Oven Fire-king Ware Coffee Mug D HandleX Cops Vintage Original Coffee Cup Mug Gwar Slave Pit Rare Unused Disney Designer Villains Alice Wonderland Queen Of Hearts Footed Coffee Mug CupStarbucks 2011 16 Oz London Relief Black Collector Series Coffee Mug ; Big BenWedgwood China - American Clipper Ships Flying Cloud - Rust - Tankard Or MugVintage Gwar Rock Band Coffee Mug From 90's TourRare Fitz And Floyd Tea Lip Service Teapot Marilyn Monroe W Kissy Mugs CupsRoyal Doulton ~~ Mugs, Miniatures, Figurine + Aramani !!2 Vintage Fire-king Jadite Mugs Oven Glass D Handle Flat BottomPendleton 18 Oz Coffee Mug Indigenous Petroglyph Large Tea Cup Blanket Design Snoopy Peanuts Large Ceramic Tea Pot And Cup/mug SetAwesome Royal Doulton Toby Character Jug, Bacchus, Large 7" MugVintage Bosco Skiing Falling Bear Mug Rare Fire KingRoyal Doulton Large Toby Jug Character Mug Simon The Cellarer Chinese Doucai Porcelain Milk Cup Coffee Cup Mug Drawn Chicken Flower Have MarkAntique Ford Motor Company Employee Cafeteria Shenango China Coffee Tea Cup MugRare Nos Mackenzie-childs Handmade Ceramic Garland White Dots 4" Tea Mug, C.1998Royal Doulton Character Mug The Cardinal Toby Jug Large Near MintWedgwood Basilica Coffee Mug - Ex DisplayDansk Brown Mist 4 1/2" Tall Coffee Mugs (2) - Denmark Blue Backstamp Mackenzie Childs Coffee Tea Mug Lot - Set Of 5! - Good Used ConditionRoyal Doulton Toby Character Mug Granny **mint Condition**Vtg Fire King Glass Mug Charlie Brown & Snoopy I Feel Strangely Confident TodayGrimm-prop-diamond Lake Monster Coffee Mug-grimm Warehouse Prop Sale