[Updated December, 2016] There seems to be increasing interest in shaving mugs and scuttles. And with good reason: some are built so that lather stays warm during the shave, providing a more luxurious experience. Others are meant to show off some aspect of the shave…or the shaver. But there are quite a few styles, new and vintage. Let’s see if we can make sense of the different varieties and what they are used for with this introduction to shaving mugs and scuttles.
First, for the purposes of this article let’s try to distinguish between a mug and a scuttle. I think the main difference is that a scuttle is made to hold hot water in a separate compartment. Historically the hot water is for dipping a shaving brush into. Sometimes they are made so that shaving soap or cream can also be kept warm for a more luxurious shave. From there things get a little less clear. Early vintage mugs and scuttles were generally decorated (sometimes elaborately): vintage mugs in particular often depicted the shaver’s occupation although sometimes they showed membership in a fraternal group or perhaps a favorite hobby. Later vintages saw the beginnings of promotional uses.
The classic shaving mug or scuttle is meant to hold a shaving soap. A recent addition is the shaving cream scuttle (or perhaps more accurately, a lather scuttle). The shaving cream scuttle was originally meant to keep the lather on the shave brush warm throughout the shave. However the designs of cream scuttles were “tweaked” to promote the building of lather as well. An off-shoot of the cream scuttle is the lathering bowl, meant specifically to generate lather with a shaving brush after it has been loaded with cream or soap.
Let’s look a little closer at each type.
Vintage Occupational Shaving Mugs
Vintage occupational shaving mugs are probably what most people think of when they see the term “shaving mug.” Here are the romanticized notions of the turn-of-the-century (OK, turn-of-the-20th-Century) barber shop, a place for men to meet and discuss all things while getting their hair cut and shave. There are actually two time frames involved with occupational shaving mugs.
Roughly the years between 1880 and 1920 are considered the original time period for the occupational shaving mug. Most men owned a shaving mug, either at home or at a barber shop. Mugs purchased for home use typically were purchased through local stores (or maybe the Sears catalog), had more variety in style but usually went unpersonalized, without a name. Mugs purchased and held at barbershops were customized with the client’s name and often displayed to encourage the customer to return to the barbershop regularly. Most barber shaving mugs were imported from France or Germany undecorated: it was customary to have the mug then hand decorated with the shaver’s occupation and name. Genuine examples of these types of vintage mugs command the highest prices on internet auction sites.
There was a secondary time period from the 1950’s to the 1970’s where “occupational” shaving mugs enjoyed a modest resurgence. However by the end of this period they were more often just used for decorative purposes and not really used. Prices for these more recent vintage mugs are much lower compared to the previous time frame.
Vintage Promotional, Fraternal, and Souvenir Shaving Mugs
Many shaving soap manufacturers gave free (or inexpensive) mugs to customers as sales promotions, hoping the customer would continue to purchase their shaving soap. Probably the most famous example is the Old Spice “sailing ship” mug (which has many variations depending on production run and date).
Many men belonged to fraternal organizations during the early time period mentioned previously, and for a very practical reason; they often paid burial fees and death benefits for members. The organizations had designs that made membership unique. Fraternal shaving mugs for common organizations like the Masons are plentiful on internet auction sites.
When people went on vacation they might bring back a souvenir. Souvenir shaving mugs represent many vacation locations. They were also used to commemorate events like the completion of a church, school, or town hall.
Shaving Soap Scuttles (Vintage and New)
As mentioned above, shaving soap scuttles are distinguished from shaving mugs by having a separate area for hot water. Vintage scuttles are often elaborately decorated. More recent versions are less elaborate but still available. Promotional shaving soap scuttles tend to be of a more recent time frame and are less “practical” in the shaving sense. They’re usually just used for display purposes.
The Moustache Cup?
Often mistaken for a shaving mug of some kind, the moustache cup is actually a drinking mug.
New Apothecary Mugs, Soap Scuttles, Mugs, and Do-It-Yourself
Apothecary-style shaving mugs are really just a mug with a ball-type handle. They are meant to give the feel of an old-time pharmacy but they are actually a fairly recent development. They tend to be plainly decorated and promotional in design. Some people find they are able to hold this type of mug better than other types for the purpose of shaving.
Modern “regular” shaving mugs are generally mass-produced (some are really just repurposed coffee mugs). The better ones will be relatively tall (but not too tall!) and wide on the bottom to promote easy loading on the brush.
A really good “do-it-yourself” solution is a large latte’ or soup cup. These 16 oz. (or more) bowls with a handle can often be found at discount shops for a very reasonable price.
Shaving Cream Scuttles
The past few years have seen the rise of the shaving cream scuttle. Sometimes called a “Moss scuttle” after it’s “inventor,” Dr. Chris Moss, a shaving cream scuttle was originally designed to keep a shaving brush and lather warm throughout the shave. Cream scuttles were quickly modified so shavers could build lather in the bowl portion as well as hold brush and lather during the shave. The first cream scuttles were made by Sara Bonnyman Pottery but soon others appeared, such as Georgetown Pottery.
The lathering bowl is another somewhat recent development. Actually people have used bowls to lather in for a long time, but these bowls are purpose-built specifically to build shaving lather with a shaving brush. They’re usually distinguished by having a “rough” or textured inside-bottom to improve lather-making production. Some potters have integrated the textured bottom concept to a scuttle design mentioned earlier so this type of bowl has started to fall out of favor.
Keeping That Lather Warm
Here’s a video I did a few years ago that goes into keeping lather warm and how to use scuttles:
Some people end up collecting shaving memorabilia like occupational mugs and scuttles. Here are some additional information resources.
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Also published on Medium.