The History of the Julep Cup and Its Cultural Significance

Sterling silver julep cups are generally associated with the Kentucky Derby. It represents good times and exciting horse races. The long History of the Derby is that these cups are usually filled with a mint julep, a mixture of bourbon, mint, sugar, and ice. Silver julep cups signify much more than just their association with a race. In history, various cups made from different metals have been developed with a specific association with serving and enjoying certain drinks. Whether you have inherited some julep cups handed down through generations in your family or are looking to sell them, it is important to know the History and markings of sterling silver julep cups.

What is a Julep cup?

A julep cup is a drinking vessel traditionally used to serve a mint julep, a stimulating cocktail made with bourbon, mint, sugar, and crushed ice. The julep cup is usually made of silver or pewter and has a tapered shape with a beaded or banded rim. The Julep cup is designed to keep the drink cold and frosty and enhance its aroma and flavor.

Sterling silver julep cups

The History of the Mint Julep and the Julep Cup


The mint julep is a drink with a long and rich history, dating back to the colonial era. The word “julep” has its origin in the Arabic word “julab” meaning “rose water,” which was a sweetened drink used as a medicine in ancient times. The mint julep evolved from various versions popular in Europe and America, using different spirits, herbs, and sweeteners. The mint julep as we know it today originated in the American South, especially in Virginia and Kentucky, where bourbon whiskey and mint were abundant. The mint julep symbolized Southern hospitality, elegance, and leisure. It was often served at social occasions like weddings, parties, and horse races.

The Julep Cup also has a fascinating history, tracing its roots to the early silversmiths of America. The first julep cups were made in the late 1700s and early 1800s by master artisans such as Asa Blanchard of Lexington, Kentucky, and William and Archibald Cooper of Louisville. They created the classic design of the julep cup, with a sleek and simple shape, a beaded or banded rim, and a polished finish. The julep cup was a prized possession for many wealthy families, who collected and engraved them with their initials, names, or dates. The julep cup was also a standard gift for special occasions, such as christenings, weddings, or anniversaries. The Julep Cup became a staple of the Kentucky Derby, the famous horse race that started in 1875, and has been the official drink of the event since 1938. The Julep Cup is still a cherished and sought-after item for collectors and enthusiasts who appreciate its beauty, craftsmanship, and History.

The Styles and Features of the Julep Cup

The Julep cup has many variations in style and features, depending on the region, the maker, and the period. Some of the most common styles are:

  • The Kentucky julep cup: This is the most classic and iconic style of the julep cup, with a smooth and tapered shape, a beaded rim, and a polished surface. It was popularized by Asa Blanchard, who made hundreds of julep cups in his Lexington shop from 1808 to 1838. His julep cups are considered the finest examples of American silverware and are highly valued by collectors. Other notable Kentucky silversmiths who made julep cups include William and Archibald Cooper, William Kendrick, and John Kitts.
  • The Georgia Julep cup: The style is similar to the Kentucky Julep cup but has a more flared shape, a banded rim, and a matte finish. It was influenced by the English silverware imported to Georgia in the early 1800s. Some prominent Georgia silversmiths who made julep cups include E.J. Johnston, William and Joseph Lamon, and William Carrington.
  • The Preisner julep cup: The style is a modern and mass-produced version of the julep cup, made by the Preisner Silver Company of Wallingford, Connecticut, from 1935 to 1985. It has a straight, cylindrical shape, beaded rim, and shiny finish. It is made of pewter rather than silver and is marked with the number “140” on the bottom. It is the most affordable and accessible type of julep cup and is often used for promotional or souvenir purposes.

The Julep Cup has many features that showcase the skill and artistry of the silversmiths who made them. Some of these features are:

  • The hand-hammered pattern: There is a subtle texture on the surface of the julep cup, created by hammering the metal with a small tool. It gives the Julep cup a rustic and antique look and reflects the light pleasingly. It also helps to hide any scratches or dents that may occur over time.
  • The engraving: The decorative technique involves carving or etching a design or text on the metal with a sharp instrument. It adds a personal and artistic touch to the Julep cup, including initials, names, dates, monograms, crests, or symbols. It can also indicate the maker, the owner, or the occasion of the julep cup.
  • The decorative edge: The feature adds some flair and elegance to the rim of the julep cup. It can be a simple or elaborate design, such as a bead, a band, a scallop, a rope, or a leaf. It can also enhance the grip and comfort of the Julep cup.

The Cultural Significance of the Julep Cup

The Julep cup is more than just a vessel for a drink. It is a cultural icon representing the American South’s History, tradition, and identity. It is a symbol of:

  • Celebration: The julep cup is often used to toast and commemorate special occasions, such as weddings, birthdays, graduations, or holidays. It is also associated with the festive and glamorous atmosphere of the Kentucky Derby, where thousands of spectators enjoy mint juleps in julep cups while watching the thrilling race.
  • Achievement: The Julep Cup is often given as a reward or recognition for a notable accomplishment, such as winning a race, a contest, or a prize. It is also a sign of status and wealth, as it is made of precious metal and requires skill and craftsmanship. It is a way of showing off one’s success and prestige.
  • Hospitality: The julep cup is often used to welcome and entertain guests, friends, or family. It is a way of expressing generosity, warmth, and friendliness and sharing a common bond and heritage. It is a way of making people feel at home and comfortable.

The Care and Maintenance of the Julep Cup

The julep cup is a valuable and delicate item that requires proper care and maintenance to preserve its condition, Beauty, and functionality. Some tips for taking care of the julep cup are:

  • Polishing: The julep cup should be regularly polished with a soft cloth and mild silver polish to remove tarnish, dirt, or fingerprints. After polishing, rinse it with warm water and dry it thoroughly. It should be stored in a dry and cool place, away from direct sunlight or heat sources. It should also be wrapped in tissue paper or cloth to prevent scratches or dents.
  • Washing: After each use, the julep cup should be washed with warm water and mild soap. It should not be soaked or scrubbed, as It may damage the metal or the engraving. It should be rinsed well and dried immediately with a soft cloth. It should not be put in the dishwasher, which may cause discoloration or corrosion.
  • Appraising: The julep cup is a valuable and delicate item that requires proper care and maintenance to preserve its beauty and functionality. Some tips for taking care of the julep cup are:
  • Using: The julep cup should be used with care and respect, as it is a historical and cultural artifact. It should not be filled with hot liquids, which may warp or crack the metal. It should not be used for acidic or carbonated drinks, as the metal may erode or stain. It should not be used for anything other than mint juleps, as They may alter the flavor or aroma of the drink. It should be held by the top and bottom edges, not the sides, as It may prevent frost formation on the cup’s outside.

In last

We hope you enjoyed learning about the History and significance of the Julep Cup and that you appreciate its beauty and craftsmanship. We would love to hear from you and invite you to share your thoughts and experiences. Do you own or collect Julep cups? Do you have a favorite style or maker? Do you have a story or memory related to Julep cups? Do you have any questions or suggestions for us? Please comment below or contact us through our website or social media.
We look forward to hearing from you.

If you are interested in buying, selling, or appraising Julep cups, we are here to help. We are Sarasota Antique Buyers, and we purchase sterling silver julep cups of all styles and periods. We have the expertise and experience to evaluate your Julep cups and offer you the best price. We also have an extensive collection of Julep cups for sale if you want to add to your collection. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned collector, we can help you with all your julep cup needs. Please visit our website or call us today to find out more. Thank you for reading our blog.

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