I am admiring the teacups I have been sent so far by subscribers and friends (thank you!) and decided it was time to tackle this rare and unusual vintage baby cup. I spent several hours online examining vintage baby or birth cups and was unable to find anything similar.

There are many types of baby or birth cups celebrating the arrival of a new member of the family, but this one is particularly fascinating to me because on the one hand, it commemorates the birth in 1882 of a little girl named Theodora, but also, it seems to be telling a more important back story which has to do with the cup's country of origin, and the family's status in that country.

rare vintage birth cup 1882

Theodora Bernards was born in Germany in 1882. Her name has been painted on one side of the cup and my friend believes that "Dora" might have received it as a child. It is also thought that her siblings might each have had a birth cup, but contrary to Dora who immigrated to the USA, they remained in Germany and the family on both sides of the ocean lost touch with each other. This is a story that has happened to many of us, isn't it?

Theodora is my American friend's grandmother.

baby cup
baby cup

I was intrigued as to the reason for depicting a soldier on horseback with a drawn sword. My friend cannot read the German script found above each image which would probably tell us a little more of the history of that time. However, it was helpful to know that Theodora was born in an area in upheaval in 1882.

The artist may have used this war-like image as reference to the Triple Alliance signed in 1882 between Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary which was kept secret for a time, and renewed four times again in the years preceding World War I. Was the artist warning that countrymen would fight for their country?

If the cup was painted, say a year or so after the birth, it is possible that the signing of this treaty was no longer such a well-kept secret.

Theodora Bernards' family hailed from Alsace-Lorraine, a parcel of land that France ceded to Germany in 1871 at the end of the war between those two countries. This territory was ceded back to France, then later returned to Germany, then again ceded to France in 1945.

Imagine the confusion for citizens who lived through all these reversals. Little wonder that Theodora decided at some point in time to leave her homeland for more stability in America.

watercolour painting of vintage birth cup 1882

However, I think the more likely story is that the soldier with the drawn sword may have been painted to commemorate the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

Was Theodora's father a soldier in the cavalry? I think this is closer to the truth.

The man's uniform is the same as the uniforms worn by soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War fighting under Otto von Bismarck who wanted to unify Germany and build an empire.

The soldier's aggressive stance where he appears to be leading a charge of the cavalry would suggest to me that the artist was referring to the Franco-Prussian battle.

His sash and epaulettes in the painting on the cup also suggest that he was no ordinary soldier but someone in command.

Was the family honouring his participation in a recent war by having him shown in full war uniform and stance? It is all very intriguing, but these are only my theories not supported by any family history. I hope my friend will one day find the definitive answer so that she knows more about her ancestors.

The painting on the birth cup is very detailed and I am afraid I did not do it justice.

After researching information related to the birth cup, I wanted to find out what was happening in the USA in 1882, the year Theodora was born, and also since her descendants are American citizens.

I used old newspaper copies from that year as collage in the background for the cups. I found several interesting events for 1882:

- Cornelius Vanderbilt shot himself and died in April 1882. The motive "as given by his friends, was the result of mental aberration, brought on by several years' suffering from epilepsy." The article in The Daily Express states the gruesome condition in which his friend found him.

- Other suicides are listed in this newspaper along with advertisements for attorney and wholesale and retail produce and provisions, and insurance.

- "Hotel Arrivals" are also found on this page, a list of men, some who are ranchers.

- the town of McAllister in "Indian Territory was almost obliterated by a terrific cyclone."

-there was a proclamation for the reward for the arrest of Frank and Jesse James, express and train robbers. Jesse James was killed by a gang member in 1882.

collage and watercolour vintage baby cup 1882

I didn't like the darkness of the sepia ink on the newspaper.

The painting apps I have on my tablet are very handy to soften a look or to add different effects to any art with which I am dissatisfied. I uploaded a photo of the collage and experimented with different looks and below, in the final photo, is the end result.

I had fun with this challenging vintage birth cup and I hope my friend won't mind the theories I suggested as to the background of her treasured keepsake.

Perhaps one day she will be able to find out more when she scratches an item from her bucket list: a trip to her ancestor's homeland, Germany.

digital reworking of collage and vintage birth cup 1882

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