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Tiki Central Forums » » Collecting Tiki » » What was the first Tiki mug?
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What was the first Tiki mug?
uncle trav
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 27, 2005
Posts: 2292
From: Kalamazoo
Posted: 2014-10-25 06:41 am   Permalink

I don't have much to add other than this thread and ones like it are the reason I was originally drawn to TC. The image of the Beachcomber design by Marc Bellaire posted by Sven is from a 1957 how to book written by Bellaire. He served in the navy in the South Pacific during WWII which may well have influenced his Beachcomber line. Bellaire opened his Culver City studio in 1951 to produce his designs for national demand. Not sure if any of this is relevant but may help narrow the timeline down a bit.

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

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11605
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2014-10-26 09:08 am   Permalink

Good, I didn't have that date info cuz I am not at home. However, the page in that 1957 booklet says:

"The Beachcomber is such a popular Bellaire design that it virtually has become his trademark"

How long does it take to reach such a popularity? More than one year, one would think. So the design might have already existed in 1955…perhaps even in 1954?

To re-iterate DC's post from the previous page:


On 2014-10-19 18:16, Dustycajun wrote:
Nice to see this post active again. After reading through it, I thought of another possible candidate for the answer - the Kalua Room in Seattle. We know from Tikicoma's research that it opened in 1953 and used a Tiki for a logo from the outset.

An early drink menu I have shows this Tiki Tiki mug.

Which was obviously a local production made for the Kalua Room

The drink prices on the menu are also in line with the early Tiki Bob's drink prices seen on this menu.

If not the first, this could have been one of the earliest.


I really think this is a promising direction worth pursuing. I have now been convinced by everybody's findings that the Kalua Room opened with a Tiki Logo in 1953. (DECEMBER of 1953, so really 1954). It does seem likely that that menu was in place at its opening, or shortly thereafter. That WOULD make that mug the first Tiki mug.

But we have no proof of the menu's date, damn. How can we find out? Forensic analysis of a chip of clay from the mug? Who has those two mugs?

And what about that Tiki bowl? Anybody seen one of those?:

I am hoping for some kind of additional confirmation before I add the Kalua Room mug to my Tiki mug timeline on page 1.

[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2014-10-26 09:30 ]

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Atomic Tiki Punk
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 19, 2009
Posts: 7048
From: Costa Misery
Posted: 2014-10-26 2:26 pm   Permalink

The pricing on the menu is consistent with other menus from the early 1950s.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Sep 24, 2005
Posts: 310
From: Los Angeles
Posted: 2014-10-26 6:11 pm   Permalink

Interesting addition of the Kalua Room Tiki mug and a good contender indeed. It is such a rare mug that it didn't cross my mind. I usually associate the Kalua Room with the PNG Bird Drum mug. Anyhow, it would make good sense for them to have made such an early Tiki mug. Seattle was fortunate to have one of the first, if not the first, Trader Vic spinoff with the Outrigger restaurant at the Benjamin Hotel circa 1948. And there is plenty of documentation that the Outrigger used Ceramic Coconut mugs, Tiki Bowls, Scorpion Bowls and Fogcutter mugs for their drinks. The Kalua room opened in 1953-1954 and was undoubtedly inspired by the Outrigger. And so it made its own mugs and invariably a Tiki mug. Maybe the first indeed.

Looking at the Outrigger menu's dated 7/5/52
http://www.tikiroom.com/tikicentral/bb/viewtopic.php?topic=34159&forum=2&vpost=660942, we can compare some prices:

$1.25 Buccaneer - Kalua
$1.25 Mai Tai - Outrigger 1952

$1.25 Virgin Island Sling - Kalua
$1.00 Fog Cutter - Outrigger 1952

Bowl for 2
$2.25 Kalua
$1.75 Outrigger 1952

In general I would have to say the prices are close enough that the one Kalua Room menu is probably from when it opened circa 1954. Which would date the Kalua Tiki mug in the ballpark of 1954-1955. So, is the Kalua Room Tiki mug the first? Hard to say for sure with Tiki Bob opening in 1955...


On 2012-12-01 01:33, bigbrotiki wrote:
I clearly show the genesis of the Tiki Bob mug as stemming from the 1955 menu cover that Alec Yuil-Thornton designed for Bob Bryant, whom he must have known from both of the gentlemen working for Trader Vic. That Thornton based his modernist cartoonish Tiki design on an African Ngil mask is another story (which I related in Tiki Modern)

The Tiki Bob mug is a good guess as the first, not only because it is likely to have been there early after the opening of the place in 1955, but Tiki Bob's was the first place to use the TIKI moniker in its name, and the Tiki figure as a logo, for the entrance Tiki, the menu, matchbooks, mugs and S&P shakers. Which marks the emergence of TIKI STYLE, being born OUT OF Polynesian pop. (I credit Don The Beachcomber in the 1930s as the great originator of Polynesian Pop)

Interestingly both contenders for the first mug were clearly influenced by Trader Vic.

[ This Message was edited by: tattoo 2014-10-27 06:41 ]

[ This Message was edited by: tattoo 2014-10-29 16:15 ]

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Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Jan 16, 2010
Posts: 773
From: wakinekona
Posted: 2014-10-27 11:25 pm   Permalink

A small detail but the Kalua room opened 12/02/53. Uncle Trav, the Marc Bellaire Underglaze Instruction book published in 1957 was put together from ceramics magazine photo articles shot in 1955. In these he shows how to make a beachcomber plate and lots of other stuff as well. In 1951 he opened a 10,000 production studio to "produce his works for the national demand" and by 1953 was in full production (what ever that was) and was named Top California Ceramic Designer of the Year by Interiors Magazine. If you look carefully I think you'll find four mugs/glasses were designed by Marc Bellaire on the Kalua menu the Beachcombers Grog and Island Sour both with somewhat differing beachcomber designs, and I believe the Dr. Fong and Black Pearl are his designs as well. He not only made ceramics but had his designs on glasses and cocktail shakers. So it's possible his wares were nationally available in '53 and were nationwide by '55.

aloha, tikicoma

[ This Message was edited by: tikicoma 2014-10-27 23:28 ]

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Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Jan 16, 2010
Posts: 773
From: wakinekona
Posted: 2014-10-28 12:42 am   Permalink

To confuse things a bit more Bigbro has a pseudo tiki mug from the Tahitian Room in Richland WA.

made by Millie.

I also have one of these mugs

also apparently made by Millie in'59.

So whats this have to do with the Kalua Room? Though Vina opened the Tahitian in '52 before the Kalua Room opened, misters Chin & Lee came from Seattle in '56 to operate the Tahitian room, and we know the mug was made by '59. So it's possible the new owners adapted what they saw at Seattle's Kalua Room (they also added the Witco tiki fountain and outrigger wall carving).
A little speculation to cloud things up.

aloha, tikicoma

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11605
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2014-10-31 12:52 am   Permalink

So it's "Millie", not "Mille" with an accent aigu like mine looks like. That mug is so clearly North American totem pole derived, though:

It's use for the Tahitian Room might just have happened because it was available as a North American tourist souvenir.

Good catch with the OTHER Marc Bellaire designs on the Kalua Room menu. He did indeed use the Harlequin motif sometimes:

…as Tiki-Tacoma mentioned can be seen on the "Black Pearl" and the "Dr Fong" mugs:

So the Bellaire studio time line is definitely useful for approximately dating the Kalua Room menu, and thus the Tiki mug.

…which begs the question WHY the Kalua Room used those "gay" designs and not the more appropriate "Hawaiian"…

…or "Friendly Island" designs from the Bellaire line?:

If these came LATER than the Harlequin design, it would also help the dating. Or, they just didn't come in mug form.

[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2014-10-31 01:09 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 05, 2011
Posts: 1625
From: Long Beach, CA via Dallas, TX
Posted: 2014-10-31 10:06 pm   Permalink

Was the Tahitian Room in Richland, WA related to the Tahitian Room at the Sillman Hotel in Spokane, WA?

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Grand Member (8 years)  

Joined: Jan 16, 2010
Posts: 773
From: wakinekona
Posted: 2014-10-31 11:15 pm   Permalink

Hi Lori, I don't believe the Tahitian in Richland was related to the one opened in the Sillman Hotel in Spokane in the '60's (formerly the Monkey Room as seen in Puamana's site http://www.arkivatropika.com/cgi-bin/item.cgi?item_id=333) that you found a menu from. TikiTempus never mentioned his families involvement in another restaurant (his family owned/co-owned the Richland Tahitian for decades) and Vina, who originally opened it moved back to Seattle. Also there was a Tahitian Room in S.W. Seattle in the '60's at Busey's Restaurant. Popular name then, I wonder why?
I'd love to see scans of your menu, also the Seattle Polynesia lunch menu that you have (yes they had lunch from 11:30 to 2:30 marked on their early drinks menu, using the same marquesian? "shield" design as the menu you have).

aloha, tikicoma

[ This Message was edited by: tikicoma 2014-11-01 01:25 ]

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Club Nouméa
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 03, 2010
Posts: 454
From: Wanganui
Posted: 2015-01-07 12:14 am   Permalink

Just as a footnote to this thread, I would like to add this item as a candidate for the title of the first Tiki Cup (and saucer):

This particular item is on display in Te Papa (the National Museum of New Zealand, in Wellington). It was painted by one M. Hunter of New Zealand, for the NZ Centennial celebrations in 1940.

The cup and saucer were made by the Porzellanfabrik Thomas in Germany.

Upon reflexion, I am wondering whether NZBungalow's theory about US tiki mugs being the result of someone taking a 1949 Crown Lynn mug back to the States may not be correct. It would account for the fact that no US tiki mugs have ever been found that predate the early 1950s.

That NZ tiki mug itself clearly did not inspire any US designs, but seeing it may have put the idea of creating one into someone's head...

The earliest known tiki mug: "Ruru and Weku", designed by Harry Hargreaves of Crown Lynn, New Zealand, 1949.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Nov 20, 2012
Posts: 124
From: The active crater
Posted: 2015-11-13 2:14 pm   Permalink

That is an awesome tea cup. What a unique find. Thanks for all the great posts on this subject. DC your collection never ceases to amaze me.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 03, 2002
Posts: 5319
From: Hapa Haole Hideaway, TN
Posted: 2017-04-18 2:14 pm   Permalink


On 2012-11-30 16:11, arriano wrote:

On 2012-11-30 12:32, bigbrotiki wrote:
But the lack of reaction to your thread, and not the slightest activity in the advancement of this age-old mystery by any readers here, seem like just another nail in the coffin of Tiki Central.

In my book I discuss Donn's brother Hugh whose wife was a ceramicist on Hawaii starting in the 1920s and into the 1940s when the war caused them to move their operation to the mainland. It can be guessed that the family made the mugs for Don the Beachcomer. They did not mark their ceramics.


"Mai-Kai: History & Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant" the book

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Tiki Centralite

Joined: Jan 22, 2013
Posts: 35
Posted: 2018-01-26 4:53 pm   Permalink

Swanky, to the extent the answer to the "first tiki mug" question interests folks like me who are also interested in the origins of Polynesian pop-culture/pre-tiki ceramic drinking vessels more generally, I find your information about the Hawaiian Potters' Guild fascinating.

According to some sources, certain members of the Gantt family not only worked for the Guild, but actually owned it by 1940. Apologies for the ham-fisted citation in advance, but the statement appears to have been made in an issue of Ceramics: Art and Perception somewhere between issues 11 and 14 in an article on Toshiko Takaezu. I don't have the issue, but the snippet shows up in a Google Book search here:
https://books.google.com/books?id=JiNVAAAAMAAJ&q=%22hawaiian+potters'+guild%22&dq=%22hawaiian+potters'+guild%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiH3eiJ8fbYAhVH72MKHczzDWYQ6AEIPDAF. "In 1940, she [Takaezu] moved to her sister's home in Honolulu and began working for the Gantt family who owned the Hawaiian Potters' Guild in Monoa."

Any guesses as to the date of the brochure you posted? As far as I can tell the Guild was founded between 1931 and 1936 (around the time the first Don the Beachcomber opened), and was active into the 1940s. I wonder what those vessels referred to in the brochure looked like? The "Zombie gal" (which they specifically say was made for Don's drink), "Devil beer mugs" and "Hula-girl glasses" all sound pretty cool. Would love to see what they looked like.

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