English gentlemen developed a liking for moustaches early in the 19th century. They thought facial hair improved their appearance of masculinity. This belief continued until the First World War, when it was compulsory for officers to wear a moustache.

Moustache cup Tea museum
By daveyll (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons

The Victorian moustache required a certain level of maintenance. Grease or wax was an everyday item in the Victorian shopping basket, and was used to smooth and shape the facial hair. Rudyard Kipling quotes a woman who described kissing a man who did not wax his moustache as “like eating an egg without salt.”

The Englishman enjoyed a nice cup of tea. This led him to consider ways to avoid wetting his facial hair when drinking. The result was the ingenious moustache cup. A ledge of porcelain with a gap between the ledge and the side of the cup allowed him to sip without melting the wax.

The first known example of a moustache cup was made around 1858 by Harvey Adams and Company of Longton, Staffordshire. Although the moustache’s popularity wained in the 20th Century, I remember my own grandfather (who retained his facial hair to the end) using a moustache cup in the 1960s.

I was delighted, as a left-hander, to discover the existence of left-handed cups, although they were naturally less common that the right-handed version. The Victorians left nothing to chance.

Language geeks may be interested to know that there is a word for the study or art of beards. I plan to drop Pogonology into my conversation soon. The word, which appears to combine the french pogon with the greek logia, is as rare as the left-handed moustache cup itself.