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Origin of Trader Vic coffee grog mug

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We all know the Trader Vic's coffee grog mug - the "only female tiki mug" (it's said).

(Not my mug - from an eBay auction)

I saw today, in a booth that sells African art, a bowl-like head with a long handle that looked like a pipe (but isn't).

Gotta be from some same earlier source, no? Any clues, anyone, from what country this is? (The dealer wasn't present.)

"Zazz captivates felt."

[ Edited by: Formikahini 2012-07-15 21:11 ]

This seems like a closer match:

Beautiful piece, Sven!
It does look like both the TV mug and the pipe/bowl thing I found were from this idea and probably this region (the Congo).

Do you suppose Vic's mug maker copied this exact piece?
Where is it currently?

Don't know its location, but if you hold them next to each other, they are not an exact match. One can assume that other authentic head-shaped cups by the Kuba exist, so maybe there is one closer to the Vic design. Also, the mug maker could have used artistic license and simplified his design.

I always liked the clear copyright under the Vic mug:

On 2012-07-16 08:47, bigbrotiki wrote:
I always liked the clear copyright under the Vic mug:

Ha! :lol:
"ComPLETEly our idea!"

Fugu posted on Sun, Sep 21, 2014 4:50 PM

I was at an antique store yesterday and came across this Kuba cup souvenir that seems to be an exact match to the TV coffee grog mug. I flipped it over and it had a sticker that reads "University Museum Philadelphia". I assume it was a gift store item from the Penn museum that was a replica of a real cup in their collection. I did check their website and don't see the original (there are some similar pieces, but not the identical cup). There was nothing to indicate how old the antique store item is, so who knows. Just thought I would add this bit of information to the thread.

So cool, Fugu!
Makes me want to hit a certain museum in Philly! :D


On 2014-09-21 16:50, Fugu wrote:

Cool and actually very interesting given its red patina. It does seem to be a pretty close match to the TV grog mug and it's reddish color actually resembles this early version of the TV grog mug.

Almost an identical match indeed!I think it's a pretty good guess that this Penn Museum Kuba Cup is the inspiration for the TV grog mug. And it would explain for the initial red color of the TV grog mug.

Thanks for sharing Fugu.

[ Edited by: tattoo 2014-09-25 23:05 ]


Interesting thread, I have a washed up version of the 63 black TV mug, the design on mine is not so pronounced. I wish had one of the red ones.

Fugu posted on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 12:00 PM

I've never seen a red TV coffee grog mug. Very cool!

Lovin' the red one, too!

And, as I suspected, ain't no more pre-TV gals at the museum shop no more :(

Hey, worth a shot, right? :lol:

Fugu posted on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 6:40 PM

If you want the one from the antique store, I'm happy to mail it to you if it's still there next time I swing by :) I think it was $45...unfortunately my photo is blurry on the price tag. I remember thinking it was on the pricey side though.

Thanks for the offer, Fugu, but it's too pricey for me too.

Still tempting, though :roll: ...

I just picked up what is commonly know as the tall headdress Trader Vic's Coffee Grog mug. I was struck by how much smaller the mug is compared to the more commonly found black 1963 marked mug. Not only is the glaze a different color but the detail of the larger black mugs are always of bad quality it seems. The details on the smaller mug are much more defined. All of the examples I looked at on Ooga Mooga state that they were produced by Red Wing. The example I found today has a clear JAPAN mark on it. I thought I would post a couple of pics to show the differences.


More on the coffee grog mug. Why? I'm really bored. The first mention of the Trader Vic's Coffee Grog mug that I can find is the famous pointed chin skull mug. This mug was was patented by Vic in 1939. By this time his first bar in Oakland California had morphed into the now familiar Trader Vic's.

This mug was patented only as a drinking vessel and not attributed to the specific drink. The next mention was in what I believe was an article in Time magazine dated to around 1944. The skull mug is now used to serve the Hot Buttered Rum. This version of the mug sports the darker glaze.

The next mention is a recipe in Trader Vic's Book of Food and Drink from 1946.

Now we move forward to 1947 and Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide. Recipes for both the Coffee Grog and Hot Buttered rum are listed as well as a notation to see the proper mug in which to serve the drink. The pointed skull mug is shown in the same guide from 1947.

Another jump forward in time to 1963 and we find the black glazed mug commonly called the short headdress mug. These mugs are dated on the bottom 1963. Fairly common and often lacking in quality and definition. This mug was purportedly made by Red Wing Pottery.

Now to a Trader Vic's menu dated 1965. Both the Hot Buttered Rum and Coffee Grog drinks now have their own mugs. Here's where it gets a bit murky. The menu graphic shows what appears to be what has come to be known as the tall headdress mug. This mug is shorter and smaller in size from the 1963 dated mug and sports a lighter glaze and has much sharper details. This mug is marked as being made in Japan. The mug is now called the Headhunter's mug.

Finally to the 1972 revised edition of Trader Vic's Bartender's guide. Both drinks again have separate mugs. The Hot Buttered Rum mug is now the cheaper round chin mug. Most likely the heavier more detailed stocks of the original skull mugs where liberated, lost or broken so it was replaced with the cheaper version. Again the 1963 Headhunter mug is shone. What does this all add up too? Not a damn thing. My only question is where and when does the smaller tall headdress mug fit in the time line. I've got way to much time on my hands at the moment :D

Here is a lineup of all the mugs talked about.

"Anyone who has ever seen them is thereafter haunted as if by a feverish dream" Karl Woermann

[ Edited by: uncle trav 2015-10-08 07:39 ]

I notice the Headhunter's mug was also used to serve what the 1965 menu calls the Coffee Diablo. I was able to find a recipe for the Cafe Diablo in Vic's 1947 guide and two different recipes in the 1972 revised edition.


Wrote to Kier Fullmer at Trader Vic's regarding this highly detailed and red version of the Grog Mug. I have never seen a red version before and suspected that it might be an early version of the mug given the sharp detail.

I was hoping the marking on the bottom might give a clue at to the origins of this mystery version.

Kier was kind enough to forward the images to CEO Peter Seely who suspects the red version is an early prototype of the mug. With the number underneath being the glaze number. Pretty cool indeed and it might even thee very first copy of the mug.

Here's the e-mail Kier wrote back to me:

Thank you for the email and the fabulous pictures of an amazing specimen!
I have never seen the “Headhunter” in Red before!
I asked our President and CEO, Mr. Peter Seely, if he recognized it as he is the Trader’s grandson and I thought he might remember it.
He believes that this is actually a one off sample and that the number on the bottom is the glaze number.

Again, thanks for showing it to us we always love to see little pieces of history that people find.

Have a great day!


Although Trader Vic eventually decided to go with the Black version, I must say I do like the red version quite a bit. And it matches the color of the original Kuba cup that this mug is based on.

Anyhow, just a little bit more Trader Vic history.

Saw these at Polinesio in Havana. Polinesio was a Trader Vic’s pre-Castro

Great research Tattoo. Thanks for digging deep and taking the time to share the information with TC.

Great post! Had to order two for myself today from ebay! lol

I picked up this version of the mug in an antique store in Mineesota last year. Anybody else ever seen this glaze? The outlining of the eyes and lips gives it much better definition than the solid glazed versions.

[ Edited by: Aloha pinball 2016-01-10 08:42 ]

Never have seen that color!
Of course, I was stunned by the gorgeous red one on here, so there are obviously some mugs out there about which we know nothing!
Thanks for posting.
(And what a great first post :) )

It may be a very early run of the 1963 molds before they got worn out. Sometimes it looks as the black glazed versions were just dunked in a bucket and thrown in the kiln. Yours is nice and crisp and the color does add to the detail. Nice find.

I thought I might revive this old thread by updating the record of strangely-colored TV coffee grog mugs. Here is a blue one that I found in the wild last year. It has a spot of gold cold paint on the neck and metal earring inserts. It has the usual marking on the bottom, found on the more common black ones. Has anyone seen one like this before?

IMG_8868 (1)

IMG_8869 (1)

[ Edited by The Professor on 2022-03-19 12:52:57 ]

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