[This is an update of an article that originally appeared on Sharpologist in 2014] There is continued interest in shaving mugs, bowls, and scuttles. And with good reason: some are built so that lather stays warm during the shave, providing a more luxurious experience. Some are built to make lather more quickly. And others are meant to show off some aspect of the shave–or the shaver. There are quite a few styles, new and vintage. Let’s look at the varieties and how they are used with this introduction to shaving mugs, bowls, and scuttles.
Varieties Of Shaving Mugs And Scuttles
First, for the purposes of this article let’s try to distinguish between a scuttle, a bowl, and a mug. 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 become a little less clear.
Early vintage examples were generally decorated (often elaborately), sometimes depicting the shaver’s occupation (although they could also show 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.
Let’s look a little closer at each type. Amazon, West Coast Shaving, and Truefitt & Hill links are affiliate.
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-(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 here.
The years roughly between 1880 and 1920 are considered the original time period for occupational shaving mugs. Most men owned a shaving mug, either at home or at a barber shop. Those purchased for home use typically were purchased through local stores (or maybe the Sears catalog) and had more variety in shape but usually went un-personalized.
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 more often than not they were just used for decorative purposes. Prices for these more recent vintage mugs are much lower compared to the earlier time frame.
Vintage Promotional, Fraternal, and Souvenir Shaving Mugs
Many shaving soap manufacturers gave free (or inexpensive) promotional 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 sometimes brought back a souvenir of the trip. Souvenir shaving mugs represent many vacation locations. They were also used to commemorate events like the completion of a church, school, or town hall.
Often mistaken for a shaving mug of some kind, the mustache cup is actually a drinking mug.
Vintage Shaving Soap Scuttles
A vintage shaving scuttle is often elaborately decorated. More recent versions are less elaborate but still available. Promotional scuttles tend to be of a more recent time period and are less “practical” in the shaving sense. They’re usually just used for display purposes.
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 of mugs for the purpose of shaving.
New soap scuttles are functional but mainly promotional (in that they usually simply designed and decorated, and show the logo of a shaving brand like Truefitt & Hill, Col. Conk, or Carter and Bond).
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.
The New Breed Of Shaving Cream Scuttles
Originally called a “Moss scuttle” after it’s inspiration, 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 many others have since appeared, such as Georgetown Pottery, Shavebowl, and there is even a “travel” shaving scuttle from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA).
The lathering bowl is another somewhat recent development. Actually people have used bowls to lather in for a long time, but these 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.
Keeping That Lather Warm
Here’s a video I did a few years ago that goes into keeping lather warm:
Some people end up collecting shaving memorabilia. Here are some additional information resources.
National Shaving Mug Collectors Association
Collecting Occupational Shaving Mugs
Victorian-era shaving mugs often depict owner’s occupation
Occupational Shaving Mugs
The Shaving Mug Review
From The Barber’s Chair
Real or Fake: Shaving Mugs
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