Whistling cups a unique collectible

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Whistling Cups - For Eggs N' Milk

By Pat Stott-Prince

Giving a child a whistle is second only to giving them a drum. They will drive you crazy with the uncoordinated clatter of noise.
Nevertheless, this was the practice at one time. A popular Victorian christening gift was a silver baby's rattle, with dangling bells and whistles. Rather than a toy for the baby, it was more of a contraption the adult could wave about and whistle to get baby's attention.
By today's standards, this would be rather a dangerous item to give a baby to play and chew on.
Whistling items from long, long ago, had a different significance depending on the culture. Dr. Josef Kandert, in his book, The World of Toys, Hamlyn London England 1992, relates:
"A whistle was given to children as a gift on important local holidays in various parts of Europe." Easter was one of these important holidays. Could it be this is the carryover to an egg cup that may hold an Easter egg? A christening was also an important occasion in a child's life. A popular gift for baby was a silver egg cup set or a silver drinking cup. Some of them had whistles. They are a rare find on today's market.
This practice of old seems a more reasonable explanation as to why whistles were put on egg cups and milk cups, rather than letting a child whistle while waiting for his egg to boil or for a milk refill. A mannerly child of the early 20th century would never be allowed to blow a whistle at the breakfast table.
As progression into the 1930's took place, table manners and utensils became more lax. Perhaps it was discovered that children would eat and drink at mealtime more readily if it was fun. We do see children's ABC plates, pictures at the bottom of nursery cups and drinking straws that swirl the milk around. By the same token, we see adult whistles and pictures that add to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, but we will not go into that.
Why whistles were put on egg cups and milk cups is a subject for speculation if you are a collector or one who is curious about such trivia. The egg cups and children's milk cups we find now are from the first part of the 20th century. Milk cups were produced into the 1960's while the whistling egg cup seems to have fallen out of favour in the 1940's.

It appears that they were first made in Germany and then mimicked by companies in Japan. Not all of them have a company mark, so other clues have to be used to determine which country they are from. Those from Germany are usually better quality. Some are marked with Made in Germany in a double circle. Sometimes the word Foreign is in the double circle. The word Foreign can be found as a single word back stamp too.
Whether the single word Foreign is from Germany or Japan is sometimes difficult to tell. Clues may be found from the quality of the piece and from the colours used. The German pieces have more subtle shades for the colours than the Japanese one. They also tended to use black or turquoise as a highlight around another colour. The Japanese used bright primary colours.
Cold paint was often used on parts of the cup. Even if it was one dab of the brush, it could be stamped handpainted. Much of this cold paint washed right off in hot soapy dish water. Both countries used a shiny luster of different colours. Again, the German luster tends to retain its brilliance while the Japan luster shows signs of wearing off.
Many from Japan just read Japan, or Made in Japan, in a rust colour. Some have a company mark that will identify it to a particular period between 1900 and the 1960's. The later milk cups usually have a black single word Japan mark or the crown in wreath Japan mark. These milk cups are very shiny and are made from a different ceramic base than the earlier ones. The animal or bird on the milk cups can sometimes be found on egg cups too.
Most say, Whistle for your Milk, but other sayings are used according to the picture. One with a deer on it reads, For a Little Deer. The message varied, but it was to inspire the child to drink up. A whistle on an egg cup that is a train, boat or English Bobby, seems apropos, but sometimes the whistle masquerades as a tail as for an animal or bird which does not make much sense at all, but whimsical items seldom do.
The whistle on the milk cup is usually beside a small bird on the top of the handle. Many of the birds were knocked right off their perch by little milk guzzlers. The milk cups often had words written on them as well.

The same egg cups and milk cups can be found without a whistle. The train eggcup is one. Most of the bird egg cups are common enough sans whistle, but the whistle ones are as scarce as hen's teeth. (pun intended!)
The encyclopedia definition of a whistle is; "a device that makes a sound when air or steam is blown through it. Most whistles consist of a tube with a sharp edge or lip. The air or steam is blown in one end of the tube and goes into a swirling motion when it strikes the lip. This motion first compresses and then expands the air, causing a sound."
An experiment of blowing through the nine whistle egg cups I have, resulted in the conclusion that the German ones give a whistle somewhere on the scale of C, while the Japanese ones produced just a blowing sound. The milk cups have a smaller whistle and seem to work quite well. On many of them, it looks like the whistle was attached as an afterthought. The Japanese ones definitely look like the whistle is "stuck on," while the German ones have a smoother attachment to the cup.

In the world of collecting these two items, eggcuppers are definitely more aggressive and whistle hungry than the collectors of the milk cups. The egg cup whistlers are very much overpriced. Whether they are well made or not, they sell in the price range of $70-$250.
Some of the pictures shown are from the collection of Hugh Smith. Hugh lives in England, and has been collecting egg cups for many years. He is lucky enough to have some unique whistlers in his collection.
The ones we see most often are the little open beak chick, the fluffy feathered hen and the train. The most sought after are the English Bobby, the car with a funny man or rooster driver, elephants, dogs and cats. Unique birds like a stork or peacock also bring a steep asking price.
Collectors of milk cups are a little more sensible in their prices. Perhaps it is because this item is yet to be discovered. The older ones, be they German or Japanese, can be found in the range of $30- $100. Old nursery rhymes or tales like Red Riding Hood are at the upper end of the monetary value.
The newer ones from the 50-60's can be found for under $30.00, depending where you browse. Again, the price depends on the uniqueness of the scene and saying.
The variations seem limitless. Just when you think you have seen them all, up pops a different one. These are delightful collectible items for those of us who enjoy the hunt and the surprise of a find.
(There are many different egg cups that are a knock off of Bonzo, the old English cartoon dog. Most Bonzo egg cups do not have a whistle, just a little tail.)
Eggcuppers in Canada is a quarterly newsletter for collectors or anyone interested in these little treasures. For more information, e-mail patst@muskoka.com
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