Saturday, September 4, 2010

Puzzle Mugs

I've recently become interested - nay, fascinated - with puzzle mugs. I was introduced to my first puzzle mug at a historical re-enactment about a year ago, and it's been on a back burner in my mind ever since. Somehow, I stumbled across puzzle mugs in my internet wanderings, and now I feel I simple must have one. But what is a puzzle mug, you say?

According to The New England Antiques Journal, "the puzzle jug, intended for use in inns and public houses as a humorous drinking challenge, is a centuries-old tradition which still survives as a novelty today." A puzzle mug is generally defined by the holes around the top of the mug, thus preventing the drinker to be able to consume his beverage from it in the normal fashion - namely, by just sipping it out of the mug. If the drinker attempts this, he will inevitably spill the contents of his mug all over himself. In order to drink from the mug successfully, you have to use one of the holes in the rim of the mug (generally there are several of these). Because of the nature of straws, you have to cover all the other holes in the rim that you're not drinking out of in order to get liquid to flow to you.

A puzzle mug, circa 1760 (from The New England Antiques Journal). Notice the flower-shaped holes in the sides of the mug, preventing the user from drinking in the normal fashion. To drink, one must sip from one of the holes in the rim while covering all of the other holes in the rim. How does it work? The handle of the mug serves in the same way as a "sippy cup" does. The handles would be hollow, and thus work like a straw, bypassing the cut holes in the sides of the mug. In addition to the holes at the top that had to be covered, there were also sometimes hidden holes in the handle itself that one had to cover.

The most puzzling puzzle mug mentioned in The New England Antiques Journal was one made by the Welsh: "the spouts are actually dummies which serve no function and the key to accessing the contents is a small row of holes disguised by the brown line running around beneath the pierced neck. There are twelve holes in groups of three and in each group two holes are dummies, leaving one hole to be covered. Frustratingly, the working hole is positioned differently in each group and it is difficult to sort out which is which without peering closely and running the risk of spilling the contents at the same time."

Puzzle mugs continue to be a collector's item today, and are very much a novelty item. Apparently the puzzle mug's popularity was starting to wane in the Victorian era (at least that is what I surmise), because during this era paintings of nude women began appearing in the bottom of puzzle mugs. What, you say? During the straight-laced Victorian era? Surprise! Puzzle mugs each have their own distinctive features, but frequently came with sayings glazed onto their ceramic surfaces, such as:

Here Gentlemen come try your skill
I’ll hold a wager if you will
That you don’t drink this Liquor all
Without you spill or let some fall


In this can there is good liquor
Fit for parson or for vicar
But how to drink and not to spill
Will try the utmost of your skill

I've started looking for one of my own (one that looks period but isn't actually from the 1700s - I don't want to have to worry about breaking it while I'm eventing!) When I find and purchase one, I will post up pictures of my wonderful puzzle mug. Until then, I will have to content myself with drooling over the various designs and styles.

(Again from The New England Antiques Journal - they were one of the few sites I could find online that possessed what seemed to be valid information - they had pictures of mugs to back up each one of their claims/examples)

1 comment:

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