Terry Kovel, author of more than 100 books about collecting, including Kovels’ Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide 2023, the 55th edition. Her nationally syndicated newspaper column appears in more than 150 newspapers. Kovels.com
Coffee mugs don’t attract much attention from very many collectors. There are no published mug price guides or large collectors’ clubs for mug aficionados. That lack of attention creates an opportunity—old mugs often can be found for just $1 or so at thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales…but some of these mugs can be worth quite a bit of money when sold on eBay.
Valuable coffee mugs include…
Rare Starbucks mugs. The well-known coffee chain sometimes sells mugs linked to particular cities or regions. These local Starbucks mugs have become collectible, and the rarest examples can fetch $100s.
Examples: A 2009 Puerto Vallarta mug featuring a picture of a seahorse recently sold for $1,350 on eBay.* A 2009 Sacramento mug featuring California’s state capitol recently sold for $405. A 2008 Seattle mug with a picture of Mount Rainier recently sold for $400.
Out-of-production Disney mugs. Anything Disney is likely to be collectible, though, of course, old and rare items tend to be worth the most.
Examples: A set of six black mugs, each featuring a Disney villain, recently sold for $175. A mug from Disney’s Epcot Center in the shape of a purple dragon head sold for $139.50. A mug textured to suggest a woven basket, featuring silhouettes of Lion King characters, brought $49.95. A mug picturing a flying Mary Poppins in silhouette brought $32. A mug from Starbucks’ “You Are Here” collection picturing Disney’s Epcot Center recently sold for $152.50, even though it is not at all old. This Epcot mug was discontinued not long after its release because it shows a monorail with a purple stripe, and the actual purple-stripe monorail was involved in a fatal crash in 2009.
Non-Disney cartoon mugs. Out-of-production Looney Toons and Peanuts/Snoopy mugs often have value, as do some mugs from less well-known cartoons.
Examples: A set of four glass mugs from the 1980s featuring Snoopy in election-themed drawings sold for between $50 and $90. An orange-on-white mug featuring Snoopy and the phrase “Curse You, Red Baron!” on the back sold for $295. A mug shaped like the Looney Tunes cartoon character the Tasmanian Devil sells for anywhere from $60 to $130.
Superhero mugs. Anything featuring a comic book superhero has a decent chance of being collectible. Famous superheroes such as Superman and Batman are always good bets, but mugs featuring less popular characters sometimes are rarer and even more valuable.
Examples: A pair of Warner Bros. Studio Store mugs featuring Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy—two of Batman’s comic book adversaries—recently sold for $140.
Mugs featuring TV shows or movies from the 1980s or earlier. There are many Hollywood memorabilia collectors, so mugs tied to popular actors and productions can have value.
Examples: A cast mug from the John Wayne movie The Hellfighters recently sold for $1,580. A mug from the 1950s promoting the show I Love Lucy and featuring a drawing of Lucille Ball sold for $350. A mug given to the cast and crew of the 1974 John Wayne film McQ recently sold for $100.99. A mug promoting the 1978–1982 sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati sold for $158.60. A white glass mug promoting the 1984 film Ghostbusters sold for $134.50.
Warning: Some popular TV show and movie mugs were produced in such large quantities that they are not very rare or valuable. A 1981 M*A*S*H “Officers Mess” mug rarely brings more than $10, for example.
World’s Fair mugs. There are collectors who buy items from old World’s Fairs.
Examples: A mug from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair picturing that fair’s Electrical Building recently sold for $108.25 on eBay. A red-on-white mug from the 1964 New York World’s Fair featuring an image of the iconic “Unisphere” on one side and the words “A ‘Fair’ Size Mug” on the reverse brought $29.99.
Tiki mugs. These mugs were made to serve tropical drinks such as mai tais, not coffee. Vintage examples sold decades ago by Pacific Island–themed restaurants such as Trader Vic’s now can have value.
Examples: Trader Vic’s 1963 “Honi Honi” tiki mug, which features swimmers diving into the sea, sells for anywhere from $25 to $149.95 on eBay. A tiki mug marked “Tiki Bob’s San Francisco” recently sold for $405.
Moscow Mule mugs. The “Moscow Mule,” a vodka-based drink that enjoyed brief popularity in the 1950s, traditionally is served in a copper mug. The drink currently is experiencing something of a resurgence, creating demand for vintage Moscow Mule mugs in good condition.
Example: A set of four Moscow Mule mugs stamped “A Cock ’N Bull Product” on the bottom dating to the 1950s recently sold for $89.
Fiestaware mugs. Fiestaware, a line of ceramic dishes typically glazed in bold solid colors, is very collectible, and Fiestaware mugs are no exception. The value of Fiestaware varies greatly depending on the rarity of the glaze color—lilac is rare and quite valuable, for example. A small percentage of Fiestaware features images, and some of this atypical Fiestaware is valuable.
Examples: A sunflower-yellow Fiestaware mug with images of Fiestaware plates in multiple colors sold for $54.75. A set of four white Fiestaware mugs featuring an image of Tweety Bird and the words “Seasons Greetings” sold for $69.99. An 18-ounce jumbo mug and saucer in the rare lilac color recently brought $44.50.
Russel Wright mugs. Wright, an acclaimed industrial designer, created some very popular dinnerware sets in the 1940s and 1950s. These sets are in great demand today among collectors of “mid-century modern” housewares—a single mug from one of his sets can bring more than $100 in some cases. Look for Wright’s name printed on the underside.
Examples: A mug from Wright’s “Casual” line in a rare cantaloupe color recently sold for $244.50. Another from that same line in pastel yellow brought $129.57…and one in white sold for $107.50. Less desirable colors such as avocado, pink and nutmeg often bring between $25 and $65.
Mugs from highly regarded art potteries. Mugs made by respected 20th-century art potteries such as Bauer and Hull are sought after by collectors. For information on distinctive trademarks, put the name of the pottery in an online search engine.
Examples: A blue Bauer Pottery “Ringware” mug dating to the middle of the 20th century recently sold for $153.50. (Ringware features a series of ridges circling the pottery.) A Hull Pottery mug made between 1943 and 1957 featuring an image of Little Red Riding Hood recently sold for $361.25.
*All prices listed reflect results of recent eBay auctions. But mug values can be very volatile, in part because this is not yet a well-established collecting field. Caution: Hand wash old and potentially valuable mugs—some can be damaged by dishwashers.