The Quick and Dirty Guide to Selling Coffee Mugs for Profit

The Quick and Dirty Guide

This is the time of year that my coffee mug sales really start picking up. Cooler weather, I guess. More coffee and tea drinking. And hot chocolate. Gift giving is probably another reason. Also, maybe the more coffee drinking and mug-using is happening..the more opportunity for breakage. Oops! Better replace Dad’s favorite mug!! (This post contains affiliate links)

Although I have several main niches: flatware, sewing patterns, vintage jewelry…coffee mugs have always been kind of sub niche. I have always had a small inventory of them going. I sell them on both Ebay and Etsy. They are kind of a background niche, selling here and there and then more in the fall and winter.

I do love sourcing them. Always have…it’s one of the main sections I hit at thrift stores and it’s always fun to find them super cheap at yard sales. My chain thrift stores tend to price them all over the place. Sometimes they’re just 69 cents…other times they have them up to $5 and higher (mostly Starbucks).

Selling coffee mugs seems to be one of those things that either works for you or it doesn’t. I’ve heard from other resellers who consistently sell coffee mugs and have a huge stock of them. Others say they can’t sell a mug to save their life. I have gotten more choosy over the years (mostly due to lack of storage space) but still have several types of mugs that I like to pick up. I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks with you.

What Types of Mugs to Buy

I’m going to start with Starbucks because well…I live in Washington State. So guess what’s in every thrift store? I know other people living in other places have NEVER seen a SB mug in the thrifts but somehow that is unimaginable to me, lol.

DSC_0037Starbucks Roastery Tasting Room Mug

Unfortunately, even though Starbucks mugs are so common…the thrifts around here still occasionally treat them like the Holy Grail..even to the point of sometimes putting them in the cases up front. Seriously!! They usually price them at about $4-6 or higher even on the regular mug shelf. Sigh. But maybe this is a good thing..because honestly, not all Starbucks mugs are created equal. They are all NOT hot sellers like some may think. And in fact, value has gone down a bit. So, it keeps me from buying every one I see.
I tend to treat them a bit like bread and butter items and shoot for getting about $20-25 for an average discontinued Starbucks mug. Of course city and location mugs can go higher…can we ever forget the famous Minneapolis mug that sold for over $2000?

The city and location Starbucks mugs usually belong to different lines or series. There can be brisk selling and trading of the current series as people try to fill in collections. Usually the series that has just discontinued bumps in value the most. Right now, I think the highest priced Starbucks city mugs still belong to the Global Icon Series.

I just found this one.

If you want to know more about the different series of Starbucks mugs or need help with research, Fred Orange is a very comprehensive site.

I also like to pick up older Starbucks mugs. The ones with the late 80s split tail mermaid logo are fun. We just found this one and I popped it in the Etsy shop. DSC_0061-001
Vintage Late 80s Split Tail Logo Starbucks Mug, Made in Japan

Here is a list (in no particular order) of some of the other types of mugs that I will generally pick up if the price is right. I also link to the Ebay solds for those mugs sorted highest to lowest to give you an idea of selling prices. Again, for the most part, these are bread-n-butter resale items.

1. Far Side mugs. Have gone down slightly in value but usually still a crowd pleaser. I sell them on Etsy or Ebay for about $14 – $20 depending on “rarity”. Many sell internationally. Solds on Ebay.

2. Taylor & Ng mugs. Many are familiar with the naughty animal “orgy” mugs but my actual favorites are the animals with the name of the animal in French. Here’s the one I’ve sold for the highest amount. It sold for $81.

Fullscreen capture 10222018 25447 PM

Sold Taylor & Ng mugs on Ebay.

3. Disney mugs. I’ll pick ‘em up here and there but I try to determine how overloaded the listings are or how common. I came across these Belle mugs from Beauty and the Beast…there were several at the thrift store so I bought 4 and I have one left.
Here are solds on Ebay for Disney coffee mugs.

4. Otagiri mugs. I’ll admit. There is NO shortage of Otagiri mugs out there. Some are marked clearly. Some used to just have stickers (gold foil that read OMC for Otagiri Manufacturing Company) but they are missing. In that case, I’ve learned certain shapes and sizes that are generally identified with Otagiri and then try to back up my guess by finding another of the same mug online..that still has the sticker.

For example, this tankard type shape.

So…for me, with Otagiri…subject matter is important. The nautical/ocean themed ones are good. Owls. Other birds and animals. I tend to skip the black floral octagonal type ones and stick with stoneware, but that goes back to me and my storage issues. Otagiri also had a few popular dinnerware patterns such as Horizon. I’ll pick up those mugs too. Speaking of which…

(I sell most of my Otagiri mugs on Etsy but here are the solds on Ebay)

  1. Dinnerware mugs. So many dinnerware patterns have, not only cups and saucers (I don’t buy those!), but mugs that coordinate with the pattern. I usually check on my phone at the store first to see if it’s a desirable pattern overall…but many times the mugs are pretty sought after.
    I picked up 4 of these by Denby that I need to get listed soon.Denbymug

     6. Waechtersbach mugs. I prefer the older, made in West Germany mugs. They can be harder to find in un-chipped condition. The newer ones just have too much competition.
    Here are solds on Ebay.

    DSC_0053Hartstone Mug for Starbucks 

    7. Hartstone Pottery mugs. I recently sold this Hartstone / STARBUCKS mug!! I love finding these. But I’ve found that many of the regular Hartstone mugs do pretty well on their own. They are a nice, solid cup.
    Here are solds on Ebay.

    8. Ugly Face mugs. There is a type of studio pottery coffee mug that are known as Ugly Face mugs. Mahon is a well known artist that makes them…Click here to see examples of his work. Many others by other artists are unsigned. I’ve sold every one I’ve found and listed.

    9. Specialty and novelty type mugs. These can be a fun sell. Sometimes you’ll come across very specific niche type mugs related to all sorts of subject matters. Aerospace, colleges, military, old advertising, science and technical, out of business restaurants or attractions, some souvenir (but it has be fairly random or cool looking). Here are a couple of examples that I sold recently.

Fullscreen capture 10222018 41413 PM
Fullscreen capture 10222018 41443 PM

Think of what your area is known for and you’ll probably find those mugs in thrift shops. (I live in WA…so I see tons of Boeing and Microsoft).

Other names that are or can be worth a pick up are Figgjo Flint and Arabia of Finland (of course), Pier 1, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Anthropologie (usually the initial mugs)…. and who can ignore the current Rae Dunn Large Letter (LL) craze?  

NOTE: While you’re still at the thrift store, check for damage! Look for small chips in the rim or base. Wiggle the handle!! It shouldn’t move! Sometimes you can hear the damage in the handle more than you can feel it or see it. It’s a terrible, soul-destroying sound. A crack where the handle meets the mug has gotten me more than once! So disappointing.

Tips for Listing Coffee Mugs

Recheck for damage. Sometimes things happen on the way home from the thrift.

Wash the mug. Sometimes there are grey utensil or stirring marks in the inside bottom. This is not always a deal breaker I’ve found, but I do try to do what I can about it. My go-to is Bar Keeper’s Friend. I let it soak for a bit. Many times it takes out, or at least lightens, those utensil marks.

Take clear photos. I usually take about 7-8 per mug at the minimum. Side with logo, side with handle, other side of mug (with other logo or blank), side opposite handle, the bottom, the rim, up-close of logo, up-close of writing on the bottom.

2018-09-15Take size measurements…including capacity. For some reason I hate measuring capacity but guess what is the top question I get about my coffee mugs? LOL. I should have learned my lesson by now! I think it’s my process that’s my downfall. I wash the mugs. Eventually take a bunch of pictures at once. Bring them up to list on my computer. Realize I haven’t measured capacity…skip that. List them and put them away. I don’t want to get them wet again! So I have to figure something out. I need to measure capacity while washing them and somewhere make a note of it. Hmm. (LOVE LOVE LOVE the fact that Starbucks usually prints the capacity on the bottom of the mug!!)

A note about shipping.

Whether you charge for the mug and shipping separately or if you jack the price of the mug and list as Free Shipping…that’s up to you. I do both. And sometimes switch back and forth if something isn’t selling.
My hubby IS the shipping department here and he has a fast process for using the 7 X 7 X 6 Priority Mail boxes from the USPS. Most mugs will be over 1 pound packaged so we use Priority Mail. He prefers his method and we’ve had virtually NO breakage ever…so I let him do his thang and work my listings around it.

Many sellers have had success with the FOMO method (Freely Overcoming Mug Obstacles) shown here by Jason T Smith – originator of the huge reselling Facebook group – The Thrifting Board. This method involves using a Priority Mail Padded Flat Rate Envelope. We’ve used this method on occasion, and it does work if you do it correctly.
Here’s the link to the YouTube video.
The benefit to this method is you know shipping will always be right around $7 and you can build the shipping price into your asking price easily.

I think those are the basics! Let me know if you have any questions, have another type of mug you always pick up or would like to share one of your successful mug sales!

23 thoughts on “The Quick and Dirty Guide to Selling Coffee Mugs for Profit”

    1. Awesome tips! Since living in Germany I have had a ‘thing’ about all things Waecthersbach, but the mugs are a favorite! Just picked up 4 Christmas and 4 other designs this weekend. Woot!

      1. I seem to be able to spot the Waechtersbach mugs on a thrift store shelf from across the store! I love some of the cat ones.

  1. Here is me at 2 am, poking around the deco silverplate Interwebs and Motherofgod! This!
    The first time I’ve disabled my adblocker.
    SO much work & expertise,,…the Guru of Stuff…I’m in awe…
    And you can write…
    There must be a medal for this somewhere..
    Thank you.
    Thank you

  2. Little tiny cracks that sometimes are hard to see until I’ve washed the mug and am photographing it. Has happened to me too many times to count. I now check the mugs over and over and make sure I’m in good light. LOL

  3. Mugs are my biggest moneymaker! Funny thing is…I have sold HUNDREDS worldwide and I have NEVER put the oz. capacity in my listings and I have NEVER been asked that question from a buyer. I do put the measurements of each of my mugs (in both inches and centimeters).

    1. Isn’t that funny? I haven’t had a question in awhile…but I should look and see if it was mostly Etsy or Ebay buyers who asked.

  4. Adding mugs to my shopping list. Just picked up one for myself with the phrase, “I used to care, but I take a pill for that now.” *grins*

  5. Great article! Interesting to me because I’ve just created a new type of interactive mug which I have named the QR LuvMug which would fall under your specialty/novelty category. It’s my first foray into the world of mugs. I would like to send you a photo and get your feedback. Is that OK?

    1. Hi there! My expertise is more in selling pre-owned and vintage mugs, but thanks for your offer. I’m not sure I’d be much help.

    1. Just on shelves. In my old apartment, I had special cabinets that were only 6 inches or so apart and I could fit lots of mugs in there. right now I’m using garage type utility shelves in my office and I have those shelf risers so I can get more levels of mugs on one shelf.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *