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
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
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,