Occupational shaving mug depicting a horse-drawn ambulance and driver, $19,000 (£14,900) at Morphy.

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Made from French or German porcelain blanks, these were locally named in gilt and embellished with polychrome enamel scenes to reflect a customer’s profession or hobby.

They were sold at the time for between 50 cents and $2.50 each and stored on a wall-rack at the barber’s shop awaiting the patron’s next 10 cent shave.

Some of these can today bring remarkable sums.

Rarity value

The December 18-19 sale at Morphys (23% buyers premium) in Denver, Pennsylvania, included more than 200 mugs apportioned into 180 lots.

Although most portraying mainstream occupations and pastimes sell for $100-500, others depicting more unusual professions and sports command a premium.


Occupational shaving mug depicting a racecar driver, $6000 (£4700) at Morphy.

Particularly sought-after here was a mug decorated with an image of an early racecar c.1910 together with the gilt lettered name Seeley J Benedict sold at $6000 (£4700) and another of a similar date with a detailed image of a man operating single-propelled airplane with the name William Diehl Jr which hammered for $5000 (£3900).

Other rarities – typically made-to-order pieces rather than those that could be bought off-the-shelf – included a mug with a deep-sea diver alongside the name John Dodd and an image of a horse tied prostrate on a bench awaiting the care of veterinarian RG Holland. These sold at $4400 (£3450) and $7000 (£5500) respectively.

At the very height of the collecting hobby was the $19,000 (£14,900) mug depicting a horse-drawn ambulance and driver with the name C McNulty in fancy gilt lettering. It was estimated at of $300-600 but this is a well-known design of which only two or three are recorded.

Another version of this mug labelled for Louis Gardner sold for $29,000 at Yoder Auctions in Wisconsin in February 2008, a sale where a one-of-a-kind mug of a parachutist flew to $45,000 – an auction record for any occupational shaving mug.

Amphora selection


Amphora crocodile vase, $26,000 (£20,400) at Morphy.

From a selection of 28 pieces of Amphora earthenware offered at Morphy’s, a rare c.1902 vase took a bite out of its estimate.

A piece known from Byron Vreeland’s collecting guide Monsters and Maidens: Amphora Pottery of the Art Nouveau Era, the 16½in vase in green and gold earth tones depicts a detailed crocodile with its mouth agape and tail wrapped around the vessel’s wide base. In mint condition, the rare form sold for a hefty $26,000 (£20,400) against an estimate of $15,000-20,000.


Amphora starfish vase, $14,000 (£11,000) at Morphy.

Another prized Amphora vase, with two sculpted, red-glazed starfish applied to its body, guided at $2500-3500, made $14,000 (£11,000).