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A Drink On Your Way Out: The History of Stirrup Cups

Stirrup Cup, sterling silver, hand made gilded interior, Italy possiibly Gucci.  5-1/4" high x 3-1/2" Diameter

Stirrup Cup, sterling silver, hand made gilded interior, Italy possibly Gucci. 5-1/4″ high x 3-1/2″ Diameter. Gallery #49A: Alter Silver Gallery/212.750.1928

Next time you see a foxhunt scene on film, keep an eye out for a cup with an animal’s head and no base. You’ll be looking at a stirrup cup, a glass of liquid courage (traditionally port or sherry) served to a person mounted on horseback just before they are about to leave for the hunt. The cup is usually handed to the huntsperson when their feet are already in the stirrups, and is drained quickly and handed back to the server.

Heywood Hardy - The Stirrup Cup

"The Stirrup Cup" by Heywood Hardy. Source: Source credit:

While mostly associated with 18th-19th century English fox hunts, the origins of the stirrup cup are not definite. Scottish hosts also offered “a parting cup” to guests on horseback as a farewell drink, calling it “dochan doruis,” which literally means “drink of the door.” Early stirrup cups were essentially footless wine glasses, but were replaced in popularity by beautiful, ornate silver versions in the shape of fox heads, such as the particularly detailed one featured here.


The silver stirrup cups were often engraved with mottoes from the hunt, and were made in two pieces that were soldiered together. While silver fox or hound versions are the most valued kinds of stirrup cups, less expensive and more fanciful versions were made of ceramic (usually of “Staffordshire” make) in the shape of the heads of dogs, fish, boars and beyond. To learn more about the stirrup cup above, contact Alter Silver Gallery.

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