What’s Up? with Antiques | Egg Cups
Apr 18, 2011 08:55PM
● By Anonymous
While she has several carousel horses, their size alone makes it impractical to keep adding to her collection. In contrast, most egg cups were designed to hold one egg and they measure less than three inches in diameter, so it’s easy to accumulate hundreds of them—and Joyce does own hundreds. They line the many shelves on her kitchen walls, arranged according to theme and country of origin. Some are made of wood, some of fine porcelain or sterling, and others are made out of wire, plastic, or clay.
A collector of egg cups is called a pocillovis and the hobby of collecting egg cups is pocillovy, which comes from the Latin term povillum ovi meaning “small cup for an egg.” Though special sets of collectible egg cups can, and do, sell for hundreds of dollars, most old and antique egg cups are relatively low in price and, therefore, accessible for collecting.
“When it comes to egg cups, antiques dealers don’t know what is going on, which is good for me,” explains Joyce. She has several from the 1940s, made of metal and resembling a coiled spring, which she purchased for 10 cents. A set of six egg cups, made in Czechoslovakia and still in their original box, features decorations with pictures from The Good Soldier Svejik, a children’s story by Jaroslav Hasek. “I don’t know why they made the egg cups with the story,” says Joyce. “But they did.” Due to her zeal for egg cups, they have been given to her as gifts over the years, along with many accessories that go with eating soft-boiled eggs, such as the special timer, the covered baskets designed to keep the eggs warm, small knitted hats to keep the egg tops cozy, and the little spoons for scooping out the eggs.
Fresh eggs laid by chickens at the family farm are gathered daily. In Joyce’s household, eating an egg or two or three every day is a ritual. Free to roam about, the chickens are truly “free range,” in the literal sense. “I don’t lose many,” says Joyce, who hails from Belgium. “Yes, the foxes lurk about, but it’s really the hawks I am concerned about when they fly south in November. So I bring the chickens inside for a week.”
The first step in preparing each egg is to break the air bubble on the inside of the egg’s round bottom, and Joyce has a special gadget she uses for that. The eggs are then placed in boiling water for exactly three minutes so they come out perfectly soft boiled. (Joyce has two timers that she particularly likes to use.) As soon as the timer goes off, the eggs are put into a bath of cold water for a few minutes to make the shells easier to crack. Then they go into a special egg cozy to keep them warm while Joyce chooses egg cups—her preference is one of fine aristocratic porcelain.
Joyce has found and purchased cups everywhere. One was even discovered in a hardware store, hidden inside a toolbox. “As to how much an egg cup is worth…it’s worth as much as it’s worth to the person buying it,” she says. The majority of egg cups in Joyce’s collection are from the 19th and early 20th centuries; but, according to historians, egg cups have been in use since man was able to boil water.
Guests are invited to choose whichever egg cup they’d like to use. Once seated at the table, you are invited to select an egg from the egg cozy and place it in your egg cup. The top of the egg is then sliced off, or “beheaded,” by an “egg decapitator”—a special pair of scissors designed for this purpose. They’re not easy to find these days, but Joyce says they are still being made in Italy.
Produced by hens that feed on grass and insects, in addition to chicken feed, the fresh, soft-boiled eggs served in Joyce’s kitchen have deep orange-yellow yolks. “Never eat an egg with a silver spoon,” she cautions. Joyce favors tiny, but heavy, plastic spoons for eating soft-boiled eggs.” The old saying, “Born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” doesn’t seem to hold much weight when it comes to eating soft-boiled eggs. The sulfur in the egg yolk causes the silver to oxidize and darken, creating a bitter taste.
Editor-in-Chief Nadja Maril answers readers’ questions in her blog, “All About Antiques,” at WhatsUpMag.com. If you have a question related to this column or a previous column, email her at email@example.com. A nationally known author, appraiser, and former antiques dealer, she also invites readers to send photographs and suggestions for future columns to 929 West St., Suite 208A, Annapolis, MD 21401.
View Egg Cup slide show below.