With Movember nearly over for another year here’s a post in honour of the flavour saver, in praise of moustache cups, and some unexpected inspiration from Eat your history: a shared table exhibition for owners of fledgling facial hair wondering where they go to from here. Gentlemen, step away from the razor!
You may already have seen Mow-vember, the contribution being made by our gardens team to the annual fundraiser for men’s health. Apart from several individual moustaches, they’re also tending a grass moustache at Vaucluse House in front of the stables.
Moustaches and beards are fashions that come and go; in ancient Rome they weren’t popular until the emperor Hadrian sported one, after which every portrait bust and statue followed suit. Today in inner city Sydney they’re common, and many afficianados are sporting increasingly complex styles, that hark back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras. This of course raises a practical problem. Hot tea and coffee are a nightmare: coffee crema gets caught in moustaches, and the heat melts all but the strongest of moustache wax. It was an issue that was neatly overcome by the resourceful Victorians.
Novelty and practicality
We live in an age of novelties. The last which has attracted my attention is an invention to meet some of the difficulty of the hirsute fashion of the age, in what is termed a ” moustache cup”… (Bendigo advertiser, 5 Oct 1872)
On display in the curio wall at the Musuem of Sydney Eat your history exhibition is this practical solution – a moustache cup from the collection at Susannah Place. A mid 19th-century invention by potter Harvey Adams, these cups “have a portion of the top covered with a bridge, in which there is an opening, whence the beverage finds its way down the throat of the drinker without soiling his hirsute appendage” (Goulburn Herald and Chronicle, 17 June 1865). Most examples you see, like this one, are for right handers; original left handed cups are much harder to find. Being the owner of a substantial – and often waxed – facial adornment I can swear by moustache cups, and the coffee cup I use at work is a c1900 example. The trick I find is that you have to press your top lip fairly firmly against the guard to stop any leaks. And yes, as Jacqui (the Cook) will attest, I have been known to resort to a straw in the Museum of Sydney cafe before heading in to a meeting. (It’s that or a takeaway cup with a lid).
Hot soup is another peril, so another Victorian invention was – you guessed it – the ‘moustache spoon’:
When soup is taken, unless the eater thereof is dexterous, and understands his business, he is apt to present an uninviting spectacle, and becomes a very undesirable addition to a small, but select dinner party. Hence this spoon. The bridge over the centre prevents the disagreeable results alluded to, and supports the moustache in its passage over the savoury flood. The bridge may be made permanent or removable, and can be attached in a few minutes, and by any common mechanical device.
Goulburn Herald and chronicle, 17 June 1865
Clip-on guards for cups were also manufactured. Like corsets and bustles before them, moustache cups were out of fashion by the 1920s, and were satirised for being ‘a thing of the past’.
“An ornament to the human face divine”
From the 1860s and through to the 1880s facial hair reached quite spectacular proportions and styles.
The painting A days picnic on Clark Island on show as part of the Eat your history exhibition is a cavalcade of facial adornment. It proved a complete distraction during the exhibition installation because of the fantastic details it contains – from tableware to facial hair. Every gentleman in view sports at least a moustache, and many display that distinctive style of the 1870s, the beard parted into a pair of truly prodigious mutton chops. So for the owners of new Movember facial hair wondering what to do after they’ve trialled the 70’s handlebar, here some inspiration from a century earlier. (All images are details from A day’s picnic on Clark Island, Sydney Harbour, Montagu Scott, 1870. State Library of New South Wales: ML3) And don’t forget to visit the Mow-vember page to check out the progress of the grass mo’, and make a donation for a really worthwhile cause!
Satire aside, and with an eye to Yuletide shopping, I have to close with this sage advice:
“The most flattering Christmas gift to a very young man is a moustache cup.”Evening News (Sydney), 24 Dec 1885