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Image of paper cup

A Railway Memory

John G. Sayers

We can talk about ephemera as being minor and transitory - but just how minor and transitory can an item be?

My nomination is this paper cup, which brings back childhood memories of railway passenger trains with water dispensers on board. In the vestibule at the end of the car was a tap and a dispenser of paper cups. A miracle. Not a fountain like one might get on the street, this one even had its own cups. Magical cups. They came from the dispenser flat, but then you opened one like an envelope, held it by a 'fin' which protruded from the side, and filled it with water.

Not surprisingly these were described as the Baldwin Finback Drinking Cup ('Patents applied in all countries'). Instructions printed on the back for the neophyte traveler not aware of the achievements of (then) breakout technology advised the user to 'Open Before Filling'. (Seems to me to be self-evident, but possibly not all rail passengers had that depth of understanding.) Further guidance included directions to (pointing) 'Hold by This Fin or Handle'.

The front of the cup was completely devoted to commercial information, and this example promotes LNR (or perhaps CNR) Sleeping Car Service. A history of CNR (Canadian National Railway) logos doesn't turn up a match to this one. A railway aficionado could give us the answer, whether it be the LNR or some other company. I hope an enthusiast reads this.

As a practical matter, this 'cup' would hold barely enough water to take a pill, but no doubt one could refill it - or take another one from the dispenser for the thrill of the technology. I note a dispenser of these cups offered for sale on the internet, and separately a magazine advertisement from 1914 offering new dispensers for sale.

No one seems to be offering individual cups! I guess they didn't survive. Well, that's what ephemera is all about.



This regular feature shows special items from members’ own collections. Submissions by email should include a scan of the item.