Art and Literature News

The Four Farthings: Tolkien Inspired Mugs and Pottery

Have you ever sat down to your afternoon tea or an evening meal and felt as though something was missing? You look around: you have turned off the oven, you have a

Barefoot Hobbit Mug

Barefoot Hobbit Mug

meal laid out that any hobbit would love, your favorite book is nearby… You have all the comforts of Bag End so what could possibly be missing? You take a sip of your tea or dig into dinner and try to push that feeling that something is off out of your mind. You manage to forget- until the next time you sit down to tea that is!

I recently stumbled upon an Etsy store called The Four Farthings. This creative and innovative shop offers Tolkien-inspired mugs and tumblers – whilst browsing through the items available for sale, it was then I realized what my tea-time had been missing! I am now the proud owner of two “Barefoot Hobbit” mugs, which I use on a daily basis. They’re so perfect and they make me feel like a hobbit when I use them, or when I admire them on my kitchen counter next to my bowl of apples.

Boromir's White Tree Mug

Boromir’s White Tree Mug

Of course, The Four Farthings offers more than just mugs for the hobbit-at-heart; you can also find other unique mugs such as “Thorin’s Oaken-mug” or “Boromir’s White Tree Mug“. All are unique in their own way and have clearly been thought out and crafted with much love and care to embody the characters they represent.

Not only are the products offered for sale some of the coolest Tolkien-themed items I have ever seen, but the shop owner is one of the nicest people I have ever met. She is speedy with not only shipping, but also answering any and all customers her customers may have.

I had the privilege to talk with the creative mind behind the mugs, Karen Mannino. Read on to hear what she has to say about Tolkien, Etsy, and of course, pottery!


RT:  How long have you been making mugs or other pottery?

FF: I took my first ceramics class in the summer of 2008 at the community college I was attending. That fall I admitted to myself that I was going to have to study art after all, and not something more financially secure, like Music or English (wink). I was hooked. There have been some months since then when I have not been able to get into a ceramics studio. During those periods, the margins of all my notebooks are filled with drawings of pots.

RT: What inspired you to begin creating Tolkien-centric mugs?


Merry’s Barefoot Rohan Mug

FF: It was a passing comment by a friend. I told her I had made nine mugs over spring break, and she said, half jokingly “nine mugs for mortal men.” We laughed about it, and then I sat down and started sketching ideas. What a great project! I set out to make a mug for each member of the fellowship (I’m actually still working on that). It’s the kind of inspiration that will keep me challenged as an artist, and entertained as a Tolkien fan, for a long time.

RT: Have you had much success with Etsy as your selling platform? Do you, or have you ever considered selling your mugs at local craft fairs or bazaars?

FF: When I was first seriously considering selling, I envisioned myself at some kind of fair, or fantasy conventions. I am still very new to making mugs for sale. I hope that I will be able to grow into other venues. I’m not really sure where this is all going, but I’m enjoying the journey. For now, Etsy is perfect for me because it grows with me. I can list a few things at a time, and keep most of my focus on developing my craft, and coming up with new designs. My sales have been sort of sporadic. But when they do come they are very encouraging.

RT: Tell us about your creative process- how do you go from initial idea to the finished product?

FF: I have a notebook full of rough pencil sketches of mugs. I focus on just shape for a long time. I generally have a character in mind and I think about their personality, as well as their physical attributes, and their history. I’m trying to find a shape that speaks to me of the dominant trait, or feeling that I get from a character. This is all very subjective, not to mention abstract. Sometimes it’s easy to justify a shape choice. Hobbits have a very rounded aesthetic to their whole culture, so their mugs are dominantly round. Others are not so obvious. For a long time all I knew about Legolas’ mug was that it was going to be tall and narrow. I was not satisfied with any of the proportions I was coming up with in my notebook. I finally copied the particular angle of the foot on a piece of furniture in my house. I get really obsessive about it, but if it’s not just right, it doesn’t seem to fit Legolas. That one will go through a few drafts yet, I’m sure.

As I’m sketching I’m thinking about the glazes I have available, my clay options, and the ceramic techniques I’m good at. Then I hit the clay. I probably crash three or four mugs for every good one I take off the wheel. A few more will be not quite the right shape, but I keep them for glaze testing. It’s all trial and error from there on. For example, I have made six Strider mugs. No two have been alike. The very first was given away to a mysterious man smoking a pipe in the corner of the room, two more have been sold, and the other three are much closer to what I originally envisioned, but technical glitches, like chips, or unexpected glaze problems, have kept me from posting them for sale. I think I know how to make them now. I just have to do the best I can to make sure they survive the whole process.

Legolas' Mirkwood Tumbler

Legolas’ Mirkwood Tumbler

RT: Do you have a favorite mug? Do you ever make items that you intend to sell but can’t part with?

 FF: My favorite mug is whichever one I have got in my hands. Right now I love my Boromir Mug, which is funny because I was rather dreading making a mug for Boromir.

Some mugs, I think, “This one is for me.” and I spend a few weeks looking at it on my desk, holding it in my hand, or even drinking the odd cup of tea out of it. But at some point, it just becomes okay to let it go. I sort of feel that someone else should get to enjoy it now. Others, I take out of the kiln and think, “Well, that’s a mug only its mother could love, I guess I’ll have to keep it,” and it promptly becomes my favorite mug and I use it all the time.

 RT: I noticed that you have greeting cards available in your store – do you plan to branch out to different sorts of pottery like plates or bowls? What about other Tolkien related items aside from pottery?

FF: I have started with mugs, because I am most comfortable with it. But I do intend to add pitchers, bowls and other dishes. So many ideas! Treebeard is going to get a giant coiled pitcher of some kind, like Tolkien described him pouring from.

Pottery is my newer obsession. I have spent far more time drawing than playing with clay. I like the idea of very everyday sorts of art. That’s where the greeting cards idea came from. I’d like to use my 2D skills more. My copy of the Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion have all these little blue flags sticking out of the pages; they mark all the scenes I would love to draw. I hope to make more greeting cards with scenes from the stories or just little images that suggest Middle Earth in some way, and find other ways to work in drawings, paintings and illustrations. Long ago I set myself a goal of drawing a portrait (portraits are my favorite) of each of the Valar. I now have five drawings of Varda, and I’ve allowed myself to work on Yavanna for a while. Do you see the pattern here? I never get anything right the first time. But at least I keep trying. I don’t know how portraits might show up in my shop, but I hope they do, because I like them.

Actually, my big dream is to add beaded jewelry. I have another notebook (far, far too many notebooks) with necklace designs in it, complete with notes about findings, bead shapes, and color schemes. But I know next to nothing about beading, and jewelry, so I will continue to dream about that one until I have time and money to spend on learning.

RT: Making pottery seems to be a very “hobbity” hobby – do you have any other hobbit-like hobbies, or do you perhaps identify with another race in Middle-earth?

FF: The joke in my family is that I am an elf raised by hobbits. I enjoy good food, but I would live on music and art if I could get away with it physically. Music is really important to me. I play the violin, and sing. I also write a bit of fiction here and there. I’d be quite at home in the Hall of Fire in the house of Elrond where you can hear a tale, or a song, or just sit quietly and think. Perhaps I’m a little like Bilbo that way.

Gandalf Carved Mug

Gandalf Carved Mug

RT: What is your most favorite thing about Tolkien’s works? Why do you think Middle-earth inspires so many people from around the world to create such beautiful art, like your mugs, for example?

FF: My favorite thing about Tolkien’s work? That’s a terrible question. How am I supposed to answer that? All of it!
I love the story and the characters and the rich world. I’m fascinated by Tolkien himself. He said that Lord of the Rings was a Catholic story, for example. I’m Catholic and I have a hard time picking out exactly where the story is particularly Catholic. I like trying to figure out what he meant by that. He certainly has a sort of theology of art and creativity that is really cool. He was an artist in the highest sense of the word. He is my role model in that.

I do have a favorite line that he wrote. I am a bit proud of having a favorite line. Usually I am very unfaithful and love best whatever I am reading at the moment. But the line I come back to over and over is from the Silmarillion: “Yet the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee(.)” Those are the words of Aule to Eru when he has been caught attempting to create dwarves before the elves have awoken. I feel like that is Tolkien’s heart speaking, and I empathize with him.

There is another passage from his preface to the second edition of The Sillmarilion, the letter to Milton Waldman, that I love. It perhaps sheds a little light on how easy it is to jump in and be creative within the world he made. He is talking about how he imagined the stories he was writing as a large body of legends, some of which he would render in detail, leaving the rest merely sketched for other artists to add to. He ends the paragraph by commenting that such an idea was really absurd. I would like to tell him that it wasn’t, and isn’t at all absurd. Just look at the artists who have really come with music, theater, paint, clay (in my case) and of course movies, to fill in and retell these stories. I am really honored to be able to participate.

Be sure to check out  The Four Farthings, and find your own special Tolkien mug today!

Want a chance to win one of these awesome mugs? Karen has graciously donated two hand-crafted mugs especially for Middle-earth News’ “My Own Shire” photo contest. Check out our contest page for rules and submission guidelines.

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  1. Thanks for this. Very enjoyable. I am a potter that spent a good adult chunk earning money other ways but am returning to making pots and plan to get some good work done in my ‘retirement’ years. Keep up the good work. This emerged to me through my Google News alert on ‘pottery’.

  2. Fantastic post, Merry’s Barefoot Rohan Mug is my fav.

  3. Love all of these! Definitely going to have to add one of those Barefoot Hobbit Mugs to my wishlist.

  4. I Really appreciate your efforts about handmade pottery or Pottery mugs. I have read your blog post and got a good stuff of handmade pottery items. I enjoyed your post and pottery items. Thanks for sharing a good post.