Bishop mug

Footed mug

about 1821–25
Thomas Cains (1779–1865), For Phoenix Glass Works, Or South Boston Flint Glass Works (active about 1812–about 1836)

Object Place: South Boston, Massachusetts, United States


23.81 x 21.27 cm (9 3/8 x 8 3/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Colorless free-blown flint glass, applied decoration; one coin

On View

Kristin and Roger Servison Gallery (Gallery 133)





Large free-blown footed mug, with circular foot and flat, bulbous stem supporting a wide vase-shaped body; body decorated with five bands of chain decoration on lower portion and applied threading near top; free-blown ear-shaped handle is applied; contains 1821 quarter in the hollow knop of the stem

Thomas Cains, the son of a Gloucestershire glassblower, was apprenticed at the Phoenix Glassworks of Wadham, Ricketts, and Company in Bristol, England. As part of an initiative to attract skilled glassmakers to the United States, he was secretly recruited by Charles F. Kupfer, an agent of the Boston Glass Manufactory. Cains arrived in Boston in April 1812, just before the beginning of the War of 1812. After the war’s end in 1815, Cains utilized his expertise to produce a full line of table glassware at the South Boston Flint Glass Works. Later, he established a new enterprise, eventually called the Phoenix Glass Works, perhaps after his old company in England, and this mug may have been made there in the early 1820s.

This large footed mug is embellished with applied bands of chain decoration-generally regarded as a characteristic of Cains’s glass-around the widest section of the lower body. An 1821 American silver quarter dollar is housed within its hollow stem, an unusual feature strongly associated with Cains’s work. The mug and another piece of glass descended directly in the family of Thomas Cains to his great-great-grandson, whose children gave them to the MFA in honor of their father. This important history elevates the mug into a virtual Rosetta stone for identifying other pieces of Cains’s chain-decorated glass. Always known in the family as the “Bishop’s Mug,” the vessel-possibly a presentation piece-was probably used to serve a beverage known as bishop, a mulled port wine flavored with roasted oranges and cloves.

This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at


Descended through the artist's family. Placed on loan to the Museum on August 9, 1972, by William L. Johnston, Winchester, Mass.; descended to his wife Catherine M. Johnston in 1991-92; given to the Museum by their children in 1995.

Credit Line

Gift of William, Nancy and Malcolm in Loving memory of their father William L. Johnston, Great-Great-Grandson of Thomas Cains