June 18, 2024

Origin of the “Monkey Mug”

The inspiration to model the “Monkey Mug” came from one Van Briggle collector’s trip to Mexico City in the spring of 1974.  While visiting the Museum of Anthropology, Robert Wyman Newton was impressed with the use animals in the pre-Colombian artifacts, and in particular, a vase carved in the shape of a monkey.

Mr. Newton had a desire to create something for Van Briggle Pottery, and after becoming close friends with the Van Briggle Pottery owner, Ken Stevenson, he produced a mug mold.  Mr. Newton preferred that the mugs be produced in brown; however, Mr. Stevenson advised him that Van Briggle Pottery did not produce a brown glaze at that time.  The first “monkey mugs” were produced in a white glaze, known as the “moonglo” glaze.  Mr. Newton thought white an acceptable alternative to the preferred brown color, as he had never seen a monkey in Ming turquoise!

Several months had passed, when Mr. Newton received a package from Van Briggle Pottery, containing a monkey mug in brown!  This new color, developed with the “monkey mug” in mind became known as the glaze color “russet.”

As all collectors are aware; Robert Wyman Newton formulated The Catalogue of Van Briggle Designs, an invaluable information source pertaining to the designs created between 1900 and 1912.  Now we know that Newton also created one of the highly collectible Van Briggle designs – the “monkey mug!”

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  1. Marsha Davidson says

    Kathy, I just read your article about the origin of the Van Briggle “Monkey Mug”. In February of 1976, my husband and I were traveling from Texas to Colorado, to be married on the way. I worked in the office next to Robert Newton, and he told me of the creation of his monkey mug design for Van Briggle. I was very familiar with
    the Van Briggle pottery, since my mother had collected it. When we were in Colorado Springs on our honeymoon, we stopped at Van Briggle Pottery, and purchased four of the monkey mugs in a matte white finish. We have used these for 37 years and still love them as much as we did when we purchased them. They have been an interesting conversation piece in our home. I have also collected many other Van Briggle mugs as well, and we use them every day for our coffee. I was so excited to see this article giving Robert the credit he deserves for the wonderful design.

    • Marsha: I’m so pleased that you shared your story! Robert deserves much credit for all he has done to preserve and document the history of Van Briggle. Please check out our new project “First 953 Designs” found on the top head toolbar. My daughter has begun to enter information individually for each of the first 953 designs, created between 1900 and 1912. Perhaps you would be willing to share photos of some of your collection for this project! Give me another 20 years to complete the work! Kathy

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