Collector's shell-out performance: Ann Hills visits Kevin Murphy's cup-winning eggshibition

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The Independent Culture
'He's got 10,000 egg cups. You'll love them,' said Maria Glot, tourism officer for Bradford. Kevin Murphy and his wife Elizabeth have gone to work on egg cups. They have so many they can't count their collection, but it's not 10,000. 'Some vanished in transit. Visitors get hooked and stay for hours. Friends can't resist them.'

Their home on the outskirts of Bradford is a shrine to egg cups . . . in china and pewter, silver and glass, plastic and wood, in all sorts of shapes. Some are daft. 'This is one of my favourites,' Kevin describes - 'hand-made, with lips and eyes stuck on, and a cap. A typical Yorkshireman.' He stuck another on to a table with moisture. 'It's rubberised, which moves about. You could use it on a boat.'

He believes he is the only person in the country who is serious about collecting egg cups. 'I've met another couple of people who say they collect them. But they've only got twenty or thirty.' People collect a lot of curious things, he says. 'I know people who collect the sickbags you get on aeroplanes.'

His oldest egg cups are mid-Victorian. 'I've paid 30p for egg cups worth pounds,' says Kevin, a 62- year-old former retailer. The proof is in collectors' books. 'It's still possible to pick up bargains for pence. At the Wool Exchange they say 'here comes the egg cup man', and a whisper goes around and lots of egg cups pop up.'

Kevin's pleasurable compulsion began seven years ago. 'I lent an elephant egg cup to a granddaughter and she said it was so pretty she could not bring it back. We went to a jumble and saw an owl, and a swan, and I've a second swan boxed up,' he said. Only part of the collection is in their living room on rows of shelves together with egg- timers. 'We've also got egg whisks and egg boxes.' He plans to write a complete catalogue. He thinks it a pity that although 38 million eggs are used every day in Britain, most of the accessories are discarded.

Distinctive among the multitude is a section of kitsch egg cups. Here is the Yoke newspaper from an 'egg-head' series. 'My Financial Times disappeared last week, but a friend, who is getting hooked, has given us a replacement,' said the couple. They used to fill their cups with eggs. But then came the salmonella scare and they stopped blowing eggs. 'The germ is in the shell,' they warn.

The Royals are here in their Spitting Image form. 'They come from Luck and Flaw of Cambridge and will be collectors' items. Today I received Lord Linley's wooden egg and egg cup by return in the post. He has promised to write a letter.' Animals abound: a dog in a kennel and a piglet from the Tony Wood Studio Pottery. 'That's closed now,' said Kevin, pointing to another defunct line from The Elizabethan Pottery at Stafford. 'This one here, with a boot and a cat on it, is also a whistle.'

They have the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Mr Micawber, and cups given as fairground prizes, such as a bird with a crash helmet, sitting on a motorcycle. The sidecar is the egg cup. 'Visitors remember getting ones like this for Easter.'

One green shiny eggcup, next to a frog poised to leap, is a hippo, a cow, or a deer, or perhaps another animal; it all depends on which way you look at it. 'We've an original Noddy complete with his hat and bell. That's rare. The chap from the Cartwright Hall Museum has never come across one with his hat.'

Mr Murphy has been preparing an 'Egghibition' of part of his collection at the museum to start today, but it has run into some last minute snags. 'They cut down the number from 600 to 120. And the display case would leave everyone looking down on the egg cups. Can you imagine looking into the holes of 120 egg cups? I'm very disappointed,' he said yesterday. But he hopes the full glory of his collection will be on view to the public soon.

'There are nearly as many egg cups as foreign stamps,' said Kevin, wondering why there are so few collectors. The Germans at least take their egg cup designs seriously: one example shows several monks gathered together to hold a number of eggs, while another of them has his tonsure serving as a salt cellar. A wooden, black-faced female is of unknown origin, but the bowler-hatted men are clearly from Home Pride. The bowlers come off and the eggs go in.

Finally, here are Tom and Jerry, and a running pair of legs. And a Cadbury's cream egg. But anyone who puts a chocolate cream egg in will find it drops to the bottom, said this addict. 'It needs a real egg.' Hotels, restaurants - they all go for souvenir egg cups. And you can even go to sea on an egg, with egg cups from HMS Renown Battleship. Are there any other egg heads out there?

Kevin Murphy would be happy to hear from you: telephone 0274 642373.

(Photograph omitted)