Grandpa Bill’s shaving mug came to me 30 plus years ago, when my mom and stepdad downsized and moved to Arizona for a time. The vintage piece belonged to her father and I felt honored to become its keeper.
Although I displayed the shaving mug for a few years, fear of it getting broken caused me to pack it away, out of sight. And out of sight eventually does become out of mind. I forgot about my grandfather’s mug and lather brush until a few days ago.
In recent years I’ve brought keepsakes and treasures out of storage, incorporating them into my décor. It’s time again to display this vintage item.
Shaving Mug History
It was common for men to have shaving mugs and lather brushes, between 1880 and the 1920s. They either kept a mug and brush at home, or the barber they frequented kept a personalized set on hand for them.
Those purchased for home use were usually bought through local stores or the Sears catalog. The home mugs had more variety in shape and size but typically went un-personalized.
Many shaving soap manufacturers gave free, inexpensive mugs to customers as a sales promotion, hoping the customer would continue to purchase their shaving soap. Probably the most famous example of this is the Old Spice “sailing ship” mug.
The soap was dropped into the mug and a wet brush used to create a rich lather for shaving. Lather was applied to the face with the same brush. A razor blade whisked off lather and whiskers.
Barbers used personalized mugs for clients, believing the practice prevented shaving rash. In reality the rash wasn’t caused by sharing soap. It was caused by unsterilized razors.
Read more about the history of shaving.
Grandpa Bill’s Shaving Mug
My mother remembers watching her father use his mug and brush. As a wee girl, she found the process of shaving fascinating. Grandpa Bill used a long bladed razor to carefully remove the shaving lather and his whiskers.
My grandfather was killed in an accident when my mother was only four years old. Memories of him are few, and all the more precious because of their rarity.
Since he passed away in 1944, the mug and brush now in my possession are at least 74 years old, and possibly older. Mom knows nothing about where her dad acquired his shaving set or how long he had it. Perhaps because of her fond memories, the mug and brush passed to her as a young adult.
A clean shaven Bill Gregory with his wife Mildred and baby daughter, Patty…who is my mother.
A Keepsake Uncovered
I’m grateful that Mom passed the shaving mug on to me. Although I never had the privilege of meeting my maternal grandfather, I have felt a close connection to him all of my life. He has been my guardian angel, a presence in Spirit who has watched over me and comforted me. I call him Papaw Bill.
I’m even more thankful that when I suddenly remembered the mug and brush, I knew exactly where I had stored them for safekeeping. Holding the simple mug and the brush with the chipped paint, I can imagine Papaw Bill holding them as well. The mug hums with the long ago energy of a kind and thoughtful man who loved his family and cared for them. Closing my eyes, I can almost catch a whiff of the clean, soapy scent of shaving lather.
The shaving mug and brush are on display in my bedroom tonight. They seem right at home on a bedside table, resting among vintage Christmas pieces. I’ll light a candle before going to bed, next to the mug, in honor of my grandfather. I’m thinking of William Gregory…Billy to his wife and friends, Daddy to three children, Papaw Bill to me.