When talking about shaving mugs there is a specific vocabulary familiar to collectors that helps to distinguish different features and allows us to categorize mugs with specificity. Here are some of the most important terms you should know when collecting mugs that will allow you to understand what folks are talking about.
The blank refers to the shape of the piece of china that is the mug, there are three main types of china mugs that comprise almost all types of shaving mugs.
1: The Straight Blank – This is the simplest of blanks, it has a straight shape from bottom to top with no lips or base molded into the profile.
2: The Short Blank – This blank has a base molded in, but a straight lip and are 3-1/4″ tall. They were mugs imported before 1891 and do not have stamps on the bottom identifing the country they were imported from.
3: The Standard Blank – This blank is most commonly found as 3-5/8″ tall, but were produced in heights from 3-1/4″ all the way up to 4″ tall. This mug has a molded base as well as a rounded lip. These mugs date to 1891 or after and will have origin stamps underneath, usually from France, Austria, or Bavaria.
There were blanks produced in the US that are known as semi-vitreous mugs which are actually made of pottery and isn’t china like the imported blanks. You can tell the difference by holding the mug over a bare lightbulb. China will me translucent while semi-vitreous mugs will not transmit light through. Another good trick is that you can tell if a mug has been repaired, or if there are cracks very easily with the same technique, a chine mug will show cracks and repairs very obviously when held over a light.
The wrap refers to an option that was available on shaving mugs for an extra charge. A buyer could request for the mug to have the non-image area, basically the background, of the mug decorated in a different color. The most common colors are maroon, green, and blue, although many different shades and other colors can be found. To many collectors the most desirable color of wrap is black, and most other wrap colors do not add any significant value. There are several varieties of wrap in addition to different colors.
1: The Complete Wrap – This wrap is the most comprehensive wrap, it is essentially the entire area of the mug decorated in the wrap color, top to bottom all the way around, with the main illustration just decorated right on top.
2: The Standard Wrap – This wrap is similar to the Complete Wrap in that the wrap is top to bottom all the way around, except for the main illustration which will usually be decorated in its own box or frame.
3: The Half Wrap – This wrap goes all the way around the mug, but only on the top half and usually will arch over the main illustration area.
The Cartouche is a term that refers to the abstract gilt designs that commonly flank the main illustration to frame and accent it. There are too many variations of different cartouches that were used over time to catalog them all, but cartouches that are especially elaborate, ornate, or well done can sometimes add a small amount of value if it creates a better eye appeal to a collector.
Shaving mugs can have a variety of markings imprinted or decorated onto the bottom of the mug. There are several different types of marks and on any given mug you can see one, none, or a combination of different marks. Let’s discuss the different types you might see:
1: Import / Origin Marks – In 1891 the US passed the McKinley Tariff Act, which required imported mugs to be marked with their country of origin. The most common marks will be those of France, Germany, Austria, or Bavaria. Just because a mug is marked doesn’t necessarily mean it was imported post-1891, but it is a very strong likelihood.
2: Barber’s Supply Company Mark – Many Barber’s Supply Companies or Decorating Companies also had marks that they would apply to the bottom of a mug, these often are red/orange round stamps placed on the bottom of the mug.
3: Decorator’s Mark – Very few mugs are signed or marked by the person who decorated them, but some do have an extra mark that identifies the person who decorated the mug. This mark can vary from a gilt name, a stamp, or other markings to identify the decorator.
The presence of an origin mark doesn’t add very much if any to the value of a mug because it’s a fairly common mark found on mugs. Barber’s Supply and Decorator marks can add a small amount of value to a mug primarily because it helps to authenticate a mug as an original. It’s not a good idea to believe a mug is authentic just because there are marks, but it can be one clue in authenticating a mug.