Charles Hubbell, 81, of Culleoka, Tenn. (pop. 3,349), limits himself to one cup of coffee each morning. But when it comes to choosing a cup to drink from, the barn ceiling is the limit.
“I’m gonna keep collecting until the barn is full,” says Hubbell, who has amassed what may be the world’s largest collection of coffee cups and mugs.
More than 19,000 cups—ranging from dainty porcelain teacups to jumbo-size ceramic mugs—hang on the walls and from the ceilings of Hubbell’s two-car garage and wooden barn.
Hubbell’s colossal collection began spontaneously in 2007 after his wife, Dorothy, 75, walked into the garage laden with 16 mugs that had been crowding her kitchen cabinets.
“Do something with these,” she urged her husband.
Charles drove 16 nails into an overhead joist and hung the surplus mugs by their handles. After accomplishing his honey-do, he stood back and admired his work.
“They looked good hanging up,” he recalls. “I said: “Let’s go to yard sales and see if we can find some coffee cups.”
Yards sales and flea markets provided a plethora of cups, which the Hubbells bought by the boxfuls for a nickel or a dime apiece. “We never pay more than a dollar,” says Charles, a retired Monsanto maintenance worker.
After family and friends heard about the Hubbells’ collection, hundreds of discarded gifts and souvenirs began arriving at their doorstep until the garage was filled with 6,000 mugs of various colors, shapes and sizes.
“We’ve had a lot of cups dropped off and we don’t even know who left them,” says Charles, now nicknamed the Cup Man.
“We can’t even send them a thank you note,” Dorothy adds.
After the Hubbells accumulate several hundred cups, Dorothy washes them and their son, Jerry, 49, and grandson, Jason, 25, hang them on nails or steel rods in the barn that once was used to dry tobacco.
“Since we don’t raise tobacco anymore, that’s about the best use for the old barn,” says Jerry, who likes helping his father collect and display the cups. “I enjoy watching daddy have fun at it.”
Charles maintains count of the cups on a cardboard ledger, recording each addition with a pen, though he never intended to set a world record.
In 2006, “Guinness World Records” listed Bob Thomson, of Caldwell, Idaho, as owner of the largest mug collection with 6,352 different cups. Thomson died in 2010.
While Charles has duplicates of many cups, he’s certain he has more kinds of mugs than the existing world record.
The Hubbells’ collection includes fine crystal cups with floral designs and stoneware mugs made in Germany. Most of the mugs are emblazoned with advertisements, colorful images or endearing phrases, from Eight O’Clock Coffee to Hawaiian palm trees to “I Love Mom.”
While the Hubbells own a few antique cups, Charles isn’t interested in acquiring rare collectibles. He’s focused on quantity.
“To me, a cup’s a cup,” says Charles, who sips his morning coffee from a nondescript piece of Corning ware. “I don’t think any more of one than another; I’m collecting for the number.”