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    

Very Rare Stamped Wrong - Sam's Seafood Maori Tiki Farm Mug Huntington Beach Ca12 Nos Fire King Turquoise Delphite Blue Coffee Mugs Cups Unused Original Box 12 Nos Fire King Turquoise Delphite Blue Coffee Mugs Cups Unused Original Box Kona Tiki Mug #1 By Tikirob Aka Mauitiki Krampus Beer Stein Munktiki Munkstein Mitch O'connell Tiki Farm Mug Kickstarter8 Fire King Turquoise Delphite Blue Glass D Handle Coffee Mugs ~ Fkow ~ 1950s ~ Dragonball Z Color Changing Coffee Mug6 Fire King Jadite Restaurant Ware G-212 C-handle Extra Heavy Duty Coffee Mugs Fireking Anchor Hocking Snoopy Mug ***curse You Red Baron*** Lot Of 6 Cups!!!4 Fire King Jadeite Restaurantware Coffee Cups MugsStarbucks Pikes Place Market City Mug - Collector Series Global Icon With SkuVintage Fire King Jadeite Restaurant Ware C-handle Heavy Coffee Mug CupVintage Fire King Jadite Jadeite Coffee Mugs Restaurant Ware 10 Coffee CupsMunktiki Skull Monkey Tiki MugCursed Tikis "creature Shrunken Head" Tiki Mug Universal Gill Man #100 Atomic Vintage South Seas Bar Tiki Mug Boston, Mass. 1960'sTiki Farm Trader Vic's Suffering Bastard Tiki Mug Green Pattern 200219thc Doulton Lambeth Arthur B. Barlow Salt Glaze Stoneware Mug / Tankard / EwerGreen Maluhia Tiki Mug By " The Pizz " And Made By Tiki FarmModernist Bosko Moai Collectibe Cobalt Sulfur Limited Addition Tiki Mug 28/404 Fire King Jadeite D Handle Coffee Mugs Jade-ite Green Milk Glass ~ No Reserve Bosco Bear Mug: Rare "snowball Fight" Bosco Cup, Fire King, Very Good Cond Rare Fenton Dave Fetty Cobalt Blue Hanging Hearts Art Glass Coffee Mug Cup W/boxHawaiian Eye Limited Edition Stoneware Tiki Mug W/ Lid #60 Of 100 Kevin Kidney Vtg Design By Mauna Loa Detroit Tiki Coconut Mug Cup Bowl 1960's Hard To Find!Cursed Tikis Classic " Hula Girl Shrunken Head " Tiki Mug #375 Long Sold Out Nwt Lilly Pulitzer For Target Mug Set Of Four Espresso Coffee Cups W/ Caddy7 Fire King Jadite D Handle Coffee Mugs Jade-ite Green Milk Glass 12 Anchor Hocking Vintage Fire King Fired On Colores Cups, Mugs Great Set 18c Yongzheng Jug Mug Tea Pot Figure Qing Antique China PorcelainFire-king White Heavy C Handled Restaurant-ware Mug 1 Lb Pound Htf #3Collectible Dragon Ball Z Color Changing Coffee Mug Heat Reactive Goku Rare HtfLot Of Fire King Anchor Hocking Mug Cup Ghostbusters Movie BowlingMunktiki Death Metal Skull Tiki MugLot Of 6 Royal Doulton Mini Toby Mug Jug Figurine PorcelainFire King Oven Ware 13 Jadeite Mug "c" Handle Starbucks Vancouver Canada 2009 Global Icon Collector Coffee Mug Rare6 Fire King Jadite D Handle Flat Bottom Coffee Mugs Jade-ite Green Milk Glass 3 Fire King Jadeite Restaurant Ware Slim Hot Chocolate C Handle MugsDragon Ball Z Color Changing Coffee Mug Heat Reactive Goku RareStarbucks City Mug Tampa Hard To Find!Tiki Lamp Finials Atomic Hawaiian Not Mug PolynesianFire King Jadite Green C-handle Restaurant Ware Coffee MugStarbucks Seattle Global Icon City Mug Collection, Discontinued,rare & NiceGoku Dragon Ball Z Color Change Coffee Mug Funimation Heat Reactive Hot TopicHuge Fireking Mug LotLot Of 10 Vtg. Fire King Jadeite Coffee Mugs Different Shapes Numbers Oven WareDragon Ball Z Goku Heat Reactive Color Change Coffee Mug Dragon Ball Z Goku Heat Reactive Color Change Coffee Mug Set 4 Vintage Hazel Atlas Candy Stripe Turquoise & Red Milk Glass Coffee Cup MugCursed Tikis "toe Jam" Tiki Mug Rat Fink Limited To 25 In Toxic Blue Hot Rod 3 Fire King Oven Glass Sapphire Blue Philbe D Handle Coffee Mugs ~ Not Perfect ~Harry Potter I Solemnly Swear...mischief Managed Heat Transforming Coffee Mug Dragon Ball Z Coffee MugCollectible Dragon Ball Z Color Changing Coffee Mug Heat Reactive Goku Rare HtfCollectible Dragon Ball Z Color Changing Coffee Mug Heat Reactive Goku RareLot Of 5 Royal Doulton Mini Toby Mug Jug Figurine Porcelain + 1 ExtraTwo Fire King Jadeite D Handle Mugs CupsRoyal Doulton D6528 Dick Turpin 7" Mug Toby JugSnoopy Curse You Red Baron Fire King Coffee Mug Peanuts 1965 Anchor Hocking