Of Mugs & Men

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“Of a thousand shavers,” said Samuel Johnson, “two do not shave so much alike as not to be distinguished.” And even today, despite such drearily standardizing influences as the aerosol shaving-cream can and, worse, the electric razor, shaving essentially remains a matter for each man to settle in his own way. But individual expression in tonsorial accouterment was in far fuller flower in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and personal shaving mugs became the rage. They were ordered through one’s barber, and oftener than not were kept on a rack at his shop, where one went for his daily shave. Mug decoration went through a number of ever-fancier stages, reaching an apogee with the “occupational” variety, specimens of which are shown above. For five dollars or so, a man could identify himself by trade or profession (Müller the iceman, Field the dentist), by the name of his firm (Spangler & Sons, sawyers), or by avocation (baseball, horse racing, motorcycling). Most designs were hand-painted from bare outlines; the second mug from the right in the top row is rare in that the image of Mr. Kurz, himself a photographer, is reproduced photographically; this type was much favored by politicians and office seekers. Some customers probably got all lathered up just looking at Dr. Goodwin’s mug, which bristles with macabre humor.