The Husband Killer or Island Chief, It's All Spurlin to Me
The Husband Killer Tiki mug aka “the Island Chief” is an early example of a quintessential Tiki-style mug used in cocktail bars/restaurants during the peak of the late 1950s-mid 1960s Tiki craze in the U.S. The Islander restaurant in Los Angeles served a drink called the "Husband Killer" in a Tiki mug of the same name.
1960 Life magazine photo featuring the Husband Killer mug
The Islander's menu listed drinks categorized by strength (mild, medium, and strong), and the Husband Killer was deadly enough to be in the strong category! If anyone knows what was in this drink, please let us know in the comment section; the intrepid research team at PinTiki would love to know the ingredients!
Cocktail Menu from The Islander Restaurant, Los Angeles
Through an extremely detailed discussion thread on Tiki Central, Tiki architectural and cultural historian, Sven Kirsten, noted that the design of the stone minimalist Husband Killer mug was most likely based on a Tiki carved by Demetrio Chavez.
Husband Killer (Island Chief) Tiki Mug, Collection of Atomic Chick, Ooga-Mooga.com
This has been confirmed by Oceanic Arts, a company that has imported and exported tropical and Polynesian items for individuals, restaurants/bars, and film/television sets since 1956. A curious Los Angeles Tiki mug collector (who had an open-mouth Tiki mug with the pointed head, but knew nothing of its vintage or designer) noticed an identical looking mug in what is known as the "Holy Grail" case at Oceanic Arts in Whittier. As Oceanic Arts owners Bob Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz are considered experts on Tiki mug design and origin, they provided the now-excited collector with information on his mug.
In the late 1950s, Stella Bodey designed the standing Tiki mug in question for Spurlin Ceramics, a supplier for the Islander restaurant in L.A.. Spurlin Ceramics, based in Lynwood, CA was a small operation, but a seminal part of the Tiki era of the late 1950s-mid 60s. They were one of the first ceramics companies to supply mugs and bowls to the Polynesian bar/restaurant industry at this time. Many of Spurlin’s mugs were made in conjunction with Oceanic Arts and offered to their commercial customers.
Spurlin Tiki Mug, Designed for Oceanic Arts, courtesy of Cpt. Midnite's Auctions, Worthpoint
In addition to the mug, Spurlin Ceramics also designed the Husband Killer (Island Chief) Scorpion Bowl for the Islander Restaurant. According to Ooga-mooga.com, "this bowl is held by three Tikis with pointed heads...The glaze is a muddy brown with yellow highlights that was used on several Spurlin pieces and is very unique.
Husband Killer (Island Chief) Scorpion Bowl, Collection of Tattoo, Ooga-Mooga.com
Husband Killer Salt and Pepper Shakers from the Islander Restaurant have also been spotted!
Salt and Pepper Shakers, The Islander Restaurant, Los Angeles, CA, collection of Erich Troudt
As the saying goes, both of these items are like finding a needle in a haystack; they're out there, but you have to look hard. Who knows how many years and how much loot you may have to invest in the chase to get one of these rare Spurlin mugs? Artist Lori Herbst who works in textiles, vinyl upholstery,and stencils used the finale of the 1941 film noir classic "The Maltese Falcon" as inspiration for her artwork of Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade finding the elusive Husband Killer mug!
Multi-Media Artist Lori Herbst's renders Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) savoring The Islander Restaurant's Husband Killer Tiki Mug
Less elusive, and infinitely more affordable is Pintiki's Husband Killer Mug pin. Show-off your love of this important part of Tiki mug history by sporting this nifty 1.5 inch pin. (38 mm) that's limited to an edition of 400. Let us know in the comment box below, if you are lucky enough to own a Husband Killer (Island Chief) Tiki mug or scorpion bowl from the Islander. We'd love to hear how you got it!