A COUPLE of months ago, someone telephoned me asking for information on what they described as an "unusual mug".

They described it as being of dual purpose, for it had two receptacles, and the person describing it had some elaborate theories about it how it might be made for fusing two different drinks, or perhaps squeezing fruit juice from one compartment into the other.

In fact, they were describing a shaving mug!

The two compartments could be simply explained -- the larger one was for the hot water, the smaller one the soap. Such mugs were extremely common from the period from around 1830 through to about the outbreak of the Second World War. They were made in an enormous variety of different designs, some by important porcelain companies, most by routine and anonymous manufacturers in humble pottery. Some were made of tin, others of hallmarked silver, and while some were of fairly conventional shape, others were in the form of dolphins or elephants or even famous figures of the day.

All are collected today, with values varying from around £5 to perhaps a £100 or so for a particularly rare and fine example, though premium prices can shoot upwards if something really unusual crops up and a collector just hasn't got an example of that particular type.

The pottery models are by far the most common and mostly they had some sort of decorative scene on the side, perhaps a landscape or an animal, though some had little mottos or even the names of places, for they were widely sold as souvenirs around the country, many of them featuring the names of coastal towns.

Until the 1930s, it was a widespread practice for men to be actually shaved at their barbers rather than at home, and some men kept their own shaving mug, sometimes inscribed with their own name at the barbers ready for use when they went in. (There was a similar practice at public houses where regular drinkers would sometimes keep their own glass or tankard behind the bar!)

You will see a lot of shaving mugs cropping up around the antiques shops and fairs, mainly with two compartments, though sometimes there were three or four, the additional ones for keeping the shaving brush and razor. Many will bear no manufacturers mark, but those that do will always fetch a little more, and any mugs that have a particularly unusual decorative scene on them, or perhaps the name of the owner or a date will also have additional value, for its these kind of things that collectors require. The vast majority of shaving mugs are likely to be in the £10 to £30 price category, and while a common sight until the Second World War, became increasingly rare thereafter. The practice of men shaving themselves rather than having the practice carried out at a barbers shop gradually made the shaving mug obsolete, and its demise wasn't helped by the invention of the electric powered dry shaver!