Freelance contribution by Jennifer Stowe

Teaware has a long and at times amusing history; and tucked in amongst the tea accoutrements are a few oddities worth mentioning. Such items are sure to make you chuckle.

This cute little cup is delicate, colorful, and very feminine; but wait…It has TWO handles! Have you ever seen a teacup like that? Chances are no, because it’s not a teacup. This is a bouillon cup, and the two handles are held when sipping consommé or other clear broth soups. So, not a teacup at all. Looks can be deceiving.

Teaware Oddities - Photo of bouillon cup
Teaware Oddities - Photo of mustache cup

How about this one? Still looks like a teacup, it has one handle—just as it should—but what’s the bat wing doing in there? This is a mustache cup. Yes, you read that right. During Victorian times and into the Edwardian era, these were offered to men with facial hair in an attempt to keep the mustache dry and their mustache wax from melting. As improvements in razors were made and beards fell out of fashion, so too did the mustache cup. It is amusing to note the overly floral and pastel motifs often found on such cups. Not at all what one might expect a man to use per today’s sensibilities and gender norms.

Next – coasters, perhaps? That would be an excellent guess. These are called cup plates and were used for a short period of time by hot tea drinkers in early 19th-century America. When tea was too hot to drink directly from the cup, a small amount was poured into the saucer, given a moment to cool, then drunk. But the teacup could not be replaced back into the saucer or it would get all wet and it was unthinkably poor manners to set a cup directly on a table! So the cup plate was created. The cup was placed on the cup plate while one sipped from the saucer. Made in early American glass factories, these plates are quite collectable today and often feature some kind of local historic or commemorative motif.

Teaware Oddities - Photo of tea plates
Teaware Oddities - Photo of luncheon plate with ashtray
Teaware Oddities - Photo of closeup of ashtray on luncheon plate

 This next one is easy. A circa 1950-60’s luncheon plate with matching punch/teacup, right? Well yes, but… What’s that small, square compartment next to the saucer space all about? It looks like an… Ashtray! Yep, your very own, personal, built-into-your-luncheon-plate ashtray. Now that truly is an oddity!

Founder of the Mid-Tennessee Tea Association, Jennifer Stowe is a registered nurse, master herbalist, and tea educator. She is a nationally-recognized professional speaker whose topics include all aspects of tea and herbs, health, and etiquette. She is the author of six tea-related books and her articles are featured in various newspapers and magazines.  Jennifer is the founder and owner of Three Sisters Tearoom in Campbellsville, Tennessee.

Images provided and copyright held by author