Can you remember all the mugs you’ve ever owned? Yes, I did say ‘mugs’ and yeah, I know that sounds like a completely pointless and abstract question, but just for a moment maybe have a quick think. I can’t recall many (life is far too short…) but each of the few that I do is reminiscent of a moment in time, a moment in style. There was a very early one, not mine personally, but one that had been in the family for years, which was a large beige/fleshy-coloured mug with a gentle, sleeping face moulded into it… I know now that it was a 1950s Cadbury’s ‘Sleeping Beaker’ which came complete with blue plastic ‘night cap’ (a lid which kept your cocoa – or more specifically, your Bournvita – nice and warm, and also served as a saucer). Ahh. It really didn’t matter that the slumbering head had been severely trepanned, I just loved its narcoleptic eyes. In the late ‘60s my sister and I each had a Batman and Robin mug; these were much loved but, like teddy-bears and comfort blankets, they were finally over-loved into disrepair and destined for the great drawer of useless things in the cupboard in the sky. At various times since then I’ve received, bought and given mugs that reflected various interests, tastes and trends, be it ponies, celtic knots, cats, smileys or whatever… Anyway, you get my point; mugs can be transitory fashion items and, like so many small, decorated but essential things, you don’t always appreciate at the time just how much they are of a time.
So here’s one that really is of a time, a time long gone...
Found in a charity shop (oh yes, again, the hallowed charity shop!) about 25 years ago, this really suited my obsession with ‘60s psychedelia and freakbeat and it is the only mug I’ve kept for more than a few years, simply because it’s such a classic it is almost a cliché (freakout! …flower power!.. zonk!). I thought it must be a repro retro item even at the time of buying it in the ‘80s, until I looked at the bottom and did a bit of research. It’s a genuine example of the crockery designed by Paul Clark for Perspective Designs, a company set up in 1966 specifically to market the work of young British designers.
They made kitchen accessories, stationery, gifts and even fibre-board furniture items that were very much part of the whole British Pop Art culture. Paul Clark was in his twenties at the time and was perhaps best known for earlier designing a range of ‘Buy British’ coffee mugs with printed Union Jacks, targets and other variations of red, white and blue graphics which were amongst the best-selling crockery of 1965. He also designed some weird and wonderful clocks – one of which I’ve seen a picture seems to be made up of two rotating perspex discs of different sizes, one blue and one red, with no numbers and only one hand… I have absolutely no idea how anyone, other than Stephen Hawking perhaps, could tell the time from it, but it did look rather neat… maybe that was all that mattered, plus it was probably a conversation piece as well as (or instead of?) a timepiece.
Anyway, I don’t know quite why but I can’t part with this psychedelic mug so I’m keeping it just for show and it’s already made it as a conversation piece - even if only on here. I could even keep a pot plant in it (no pun intended). Meanwhile I’m rather sorry to say that I’m drinking my coffee out of a simple Tesco four-for-a-tenner mug, with absolutely nothing in the least bit memorable about it…other than where I bought it.