History and Mystery: A Baby Named John

baby cupWho was baby John?

All we know for certain about the baby is that he was a boy, born long ago.

Born in 1916, he’s probably left this world by now. But we can guess he was a valued addition to his family, enough so that someone commemorated his birth with a simple and beautiful baby cup, engraved to honor that special boy and year.

What was his life like? The bottom edge of the cup shows little dents and dings—was he a rambunctious boy, who beat his cup against his highchair and laughed when the cat ran away, startled?

Was he born in upstate New York? His baby cup turned up at a garage sale here. Were his parents farmers like so many in this rural area? Did he grow up drinking milk from the family Holsteins and gathering eggs from disgruntled hens? Were his days spent rambling the fields and finding his way home, at dusk, in time for the evening chores?

Was his dad, perhaps, away in the Great War when he was born? Did John himself take up arms in the next war? He’d have been the right age. Did he make it home?

Did he go to school past 8th grade? Did he find love? Was there a son, also named John, who played with the silver cup? Or did the cup sit at the back of a china cabinet, forgotten?

Who puts a baby cup in a garage sale? Maybe John’s children’s children’s children, none of whom remembered him, except as the occupant of an old picture frame, and who had little use for a bibelot, so pretty but prone to tarnish and dust?

A small object like this baby cup, so evocative, so full of secrets, so eloquent in its silent silver glow.

My fond hope is that someone will buy this little treasure, to give to another baby named John, maybe one born in 2016, one hundred years after that other baby was born. I’d like to see this little cup polished and set out, reflecting the sun and another child’s smile.

43 thoughts on “History and Mystery: A Baby Named John

  1. What a poignant post. And a child called ‘John’ would be a such a fitting new owner. But what chance of that? I can’t remember when I last met a young child called ‘John’. Ot perhaps it’s different in the States.

    • That made me curious, so I googled it, and John was the 51st most popular name in the US in 2014. Not sure what that means in terms of actual numbers, of course . . . And, listen, all we need to for Duchess Kate to name the next baby John and I’ll be all set!

  2. A birth mug or a christening mug? We got rather special gifts at our christening. No silver mugs though. My sister and I received gold bracelets. I had little silver spoons which I used for my children. They were beautiful but it was really tiring/boring keeping them clean; they eventually got put in the back of the drawer; the spoons not the children. 😉

    • It’s just as well you didn’t put the children at the back of drawer–there are laws about that! It may have been a christening mug. I thought birth mug because I have another one, my grandmother’s from 1905, and I know that one commemorated her birth. So, your kids were born with silver spoons in their mouths, huh?

      • How wonderful that you have your grandmother’s birth mug. My birth mug was not silver but china, one of the popular Bunnykins mugs. I still have it, along with the matching bowl and plate. As for those silver spoon children of mine…the spoons were second hand so does that count? 😉 Yes, there may well be laws about drawers and children but you reminded me that a drawer was sometimes used as a bed for a baby. And in Finland babies are put in cardboard boxes…..http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22751415 with not a silver mug in sight. Mug, or silver spoon, drawer or cardboard box, these are all signs of people trying to do their best for precious new life in a family. I hope your John mug finds a loving home.

        • You know, I hadn’t thought about drawers used as cribs for years but, you’re right, it was a pretty common solution! I love the idea of special gifts for babies, things that can become heirlooms and be passed down in families. I’m not sure how much that happens these days, although I do read about a lot of special baby quilts!

  3. Sad and beautiful! Anything engraved gets me like this. I have one bracelet that is engraved with my full name, and I can’t help wondering the same thing about — somone wondering the same thing.

  4. I know we said it many times before…but one the joys of Treasure Hunting is the stories we make when we hold those dear items. ‘A baby called John’…sounds like a sweet book to me or a family chronicle! xo Johanna

  5. There’s a sadness and inevitability around our treasures becoming someone else’s garage sale finds! I have a feeling that when something was loved, it finds a new home with someone who will love it too. There is magic and mystery in it – but that too is the stuff of life 🙂 The cup perhaps, found you…………

    • The cup found me but I’m looking to pass it on–one can only have so many baby cups around the house! But I’ve been selling vintage stuff long enough to know that there is someone out there who will be thrilled to adopt this little treasure–the cup and I just need to be patient!

    • I don’t know how widespread it was but I know, for sure, that some farm children received such gifts. I have my own grandmother’s baby cup, dated 1905, and she was from a farm family in a very rural area. That said, the gifts may have come from relatives who were well-off–I’m not sure.

  6. I rushed to rescue my own cup from the back of the cupboard, and polish it. It has my full name (no problem Googling me 100 years from now) and the date of my first birthday. Not a birth or christening mug but close to the time my adoption was finalized and I was legal.

    • Some money, yes, I think these cups were something people sort of found money for, though, because they were a priority. Kind of like the ways people with limited incomes seem to find the money to spend on big fancy weddings now.

  7. I love the idea of giving this cup to another baby, what a treasure that would be!

    I like that you rewrote his story In a way. I think he was a very special child that was deeply loved. Somehow the cup ended up in a box that went to some distant cousins who over time felt it was just extra stuff that they could easily sell at a garage sale. Luckily someone special came along and saw the beauty of the cup and the incredible engraving and felt the cup had more to give! And a new life was born!

    I can’t wait to hear what happens next with this sweet cup!

    • Isn’t the engraving beautiful? I think that’s why I picked it up and bought it. I see this kind of thing at sales pretty often and I usually resist but the engraving on this one just spoke to me and made the cup seem so special.

  8. I know in Ireland it was a tradition in lots of families to give silver cups as christening gifts. I know we all got one, as did my parents when they were born. It’s surprising it was for sale in a garage sale, surely the silver would have a decent value?

    • Well, it’s silver-plated so I’m not sure it has much value in those terms. If it were sterling silver it would be worth a lot! I hope you take good care of yours!

  9. A beautiful cup and to think it is almost 100 years old, so much history in one tiny object. It is a shame you don’t know more but love the idea of giving it to a baby named John in 2016!

  10. Goodness. I thought maybe he’s still alive, then thought about WWII, then just followed along on your speculations–which mine mirrored. It’s amazing the power of objects, even for someone not too attached to the material. They hold stories and can tell them or help us imagine.

    • You’re right–we do respond, in probably predictable ways, to cues that an object offers. I have other baby cups, without engraving, and they don’t move me nearly as much as this one, with the evocative name and date!

  11. Lovely post, I always make up stories about items found at the thriftstore. I think thise cup would also make a pretty vase, with just one single flower. The Dutch name for John (Jan) is still quite popular over here. Might have something to do with a singer that’s quite famous over here, being named Jan 🙂

  12. Watch out, Karry, this is kind of the way my silver obsession started. Now I delight in reuniting long lost pieces with family members who stumble upon them.

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