My favorite mug is white, with black trim and silhouettes of Viking ships at sea. It fits nicely in my hand and in the cupholder of my car (which I view as something of a power move, using a regular mug in the car instead of a travel mug). The mug was a gift from my mother-in-law, maybe five years back. And I use it almost every day. It’s my favorite mug — my best mug — but I would never, ever offer it to one of our guests, even though I generally believe in giving our house’s guests the best of what we have.
The reason I wouldn’t ever off my Viking mug to a guest is because it’s stained.
For a while now, the mug has started to show noticeable brown patina on its interior. I know it’s the result of thousands (if not tens of thousands) of cups of coffee because there’s less staining on the top centimeter of the mug’s interior — which is usually the point to which I fill the mug with coffee in the morning. The staining also rises in a parabolic curve to the rim of the mug on the side which would be closest to the lips of a person holding the handle of the mug with his right hand. And for a while, I felt pretty embarrassed by this staining. I worried that someone were handed this mug, they would be, like, “Dude! Don’t you know how to wash a mug?!?” Or even if they recognized it as staining, “Ew, gross — how much coffee do you actually drink?!?”
But recently, I’ve started thinking of my Viking Mug as my “Meerschaum Mug.” I learned about meerschaum from my brother Jay showing me his Meerschaum Pipe. From what I understand, the word “meerschaum” comes from the German for “sea foam,” which maybe comes from its color, or maybe from the fact that the material has been found floating in the Black Sea. I don’t know if meerschaum is used for anything other than pipes — and I very much doubt that my mug is made from anything other than ordinary ceramic — but I’m fascinated by the idea of an object improving with age and use and staining. One online marketer of meerschaum pipes describes their appeal as follows:
Meerschaum is a very rare mineral, a kind of hard white clay. Light and porous structure of the pipe keeps the smoke cool and soft. The pipe itself is a natural filter which absorbs the nicotine. Meerschaum is the most flavorful and beautiful pipe you can own. Because of this peculiarity, meerschaum pipes slowly change their colors to different tones of gold and dark brown. This adds an esthetic enjoyment to its great smoking pleasure. The longer a pipe is smoked the more valuable it becomes due to the color change. Today many old and rare meerschaums have found a permanent place in museums and private collections.
Some of my affection for my Meerschaum Mug is probably related to my own progression through middle age. I’m getting older. I’m showing signs of use. I’m “stained” in different ways. And while some of the outcomes of aging can be embarrassing, I also like to think there’s some improvement with getting older. There are clearly established patterns that make me who I am. For better and for worse.
I’m a Meerschaum Man, and I’m glad to have a Meerschaum Mug for my morning coffee.