Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shave and a Mug -- Two Bits

Actually it cost 4 bits, or 50 cents.  I found this shaving mug at a yard sale on Becker Road this morning at one of the more run-down houses directly on Becker near Fine Road. 

This is known as an Occupational Shaving mug.  Occupational shaving mugs were popular from the 1870's to the early 1900's and were known as such because they bore images of the owner's trade.  John Karttman's (I believe that's a "K") mug seen above  has images of tin snips, a square and an engineer's hammer so I would guess he was some type of machinist or metal worker.

White blank mugs would typically be shipped from Europe (this one is stamped Austria) to be hand-painted by local artists.  Often the mug was kept at the barber shop.  Customers kept separate mugs because they believed rashes were caused by using communal mugs.  As it turned out, it was actually poor or complete lack of sterilization of the barber's razors.  Shaving mugs were status symbols for barbers and as well as their customers. The amount of mugs a barber had boasted the size of his clientele.

I believe the mug above was painted by a local St. Louis artist as it bears a striking resemblance to my great grandfather's mug in both the imagery and the gold filigree.  My grandfather's shows images of a claw hammer, trowel and some unidentified tool.  Any guesses?:

As I was looking at the mug at the yard sale, a man in his 50's sitting on the front stoop asked me if I knew how he used his shaving mug.  Sizing up his bushy, biker's beard I replied, "You don't?"  He insisted he did use one and that he always turned it upside down to allow it to drain.  He claimed leaving water sitting in the mug promoted bacterial growth, which sounds logical.

As for John Karttman, I couldn't find him anywhere on the internet.  Only his mug remembers him now.


  1. i'm guessing the unidentified tool is some kind of level?

    i need to find myself a good shaving mug. right now i just use my cupped hand, which works ok, but really, i have the brush and the razor, i should probably get a mug, no? it would be fun to carry on this tradition and have a local artist paint contemporary things on it in that old style, like a computer mouse, a tablet, and a laptop. : )

  2. A level is a good guess. I also thought possibly a plumb bob.

    As for your mug -- you're a local artist. Should you paint your own mug?


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