Stirrup Cups – Definition

Prattware stirrup cup of two hounds fighting over a dead swan

p4A ItemID E8921181
A Staffordshire pottery or creamware stirrup cup, England, 18th century, modeled in the form of a cow's head and decorated in translucent underglaze enamels

p4A ItemID E8855203
English, mid to late 19th century porcelain stirrup cup in the shape of a hound head, collar with gilt decoration including the words TALLY HO

p4A ItemID E8845762
Pair of ox head porcelain stirrup cups, mottled glaze

p4A ItemID F7978936

Stirrup Cups

The use and design of stirrup cups can be traced back to ancient Greece, in the use of rhytons for the drinking of libations. Rhytons were invariably modeled as the head of an animal or a mythological creature. They featured two openings – a wide opening at the top (or the neck of the animal) and a small hole at the bottom (or mouth of the animal). The drinker would hold them aloft over the head and the liquid would pour from the cup into the mouth. By contrast, stirrup cups only have one opening, at the mouth, and are therefore simply cups.

The manufacture and use of stirrup cups in the second half of the 18th and the 19th centuries coincided with the increasing popularity of the village hunt, where landowners and their party would meet and go fox hunting. As riders sat in the saddle just before the hunt, a stirrup cup would be brought to them, which was drank and the cup returned. This explains why there is no need for a base on the cup. Also known as a ‘parting cup’ stirrup cups more generally were given to guests when arriving or departing in the saddle.

Information courtesy of Freeman’s, May 2013.


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