Saturday, November 13, 2010
A Close Shave With Death - The Truth About Those Fancy Shaving Mugs
In the last few years, increasing numbers of collectors have been taken by the beautiful variety of shaving mugs that used to grace barber’s shelves by the dozens. Of particular interest are the so-called “occupational” mugs – those that depicted the various occupations of the people of the town. There were mugs for the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, each featuring images that illustrated their occupations and often their name. There were also mugs for lawyers, train conductors, tailors, chimney sweeps and even baseball players. Those mugs without pictures often had the name of their owners proudly painted across the pure white or otherwise decorated surface. Some of these styles of mugs are worth just a few dollars. Others, especially the occupational mugs, can fetch hundreds or even thousands of dollars from serious collectors.
Typically, these mugs sat on a shelf in the barber’s shop, yet they were the property of the owner of the mug. In fact, when the mug’s owner died, the mug was returned to the family by the barber.
While we are on the subject of death, I wanted to pass along a bit of shaving history that is slightly macabre…and the REAL reason for those cheerfully decorated mugs – fear of the Grim Reaper. Since it is likely that you weren’t born in the early 1900’s, you might not be aware that it wasn’t until 1928 that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. And it was a good ten years before it was widely used. If you were unlucky enough to get a nasty bacterial infection prior to Fleming’s discovery, you just had to ride it out and hope for the best.
So those gentlemen who could afford them, bought their own mugs primarily to avoid catching another customer’s blood-borne bacterial infection. It was THEIRS and could never be used by another customer. Those who could not afford their own, took their chances that the barber washed his common mugs carefully between shaves.
In truth, if the barber employed even the most basic hygiene methods, like a good scrubbing with soap and water, the chances of passing along an infection would have been nearly zero; but it does say something about the tenor of the times before antibiotics were commonly available.
Anyone for a nice personalized shaving mug?