The old Fire King from Ellwell’s Point. Glenn Billington

According to Wikipedia, Fire-King is an anchor hocking brand of glassware, similar to Pyrex.

“Fire-King was originally produced in the 1940s for everyday use, rather than display. It was often sold in bags of flour as a promotional item or was given away at gas stations.”

Five days a week, I drink my coffee from an orange Fire-King barrel mug. I’ve been using that very same mug since 1977. My Fire-King did not come from a gas station; it did not come in a bag of flower. My Fire-King coffee mug was found by yours truly, on a beach at Ellwell Point in Spruce Head, America.

Fresh out of the University of Maine at Machias, I began working for a lobster dealer, shipping lobsters to Boston and worldwide, including Japan and France.

I cannot say I was much of a coffee drinker; I would get a cup in Rockland at Pik-Quik for the ride down to Spruce Head. Lots of cream and sugar, Jeanie McLure knew what everyone had in their coffee, she was uncanny. Once, at work at 7 a.m., we began bailing lobsters out of the tanks into totes and insulated shipping boxes, then loaded our Boston truck, which had to leave by 9 a.m. Then, it was coffee time.

Coffee was Maxwell House, brewed in a swarthy Mr. Coffee machine. Powdered creamer, loads of sugar and maybe a doughnut.

Everyone had their own mug except me. Then, one day, when I was gathering up seaweed to pack lobsters in, I spied an orange object with a handle. I did not know it was an Anchor Hocking Fire-King barrel mug. I toted it back inside to the break room. On the way, I swished it out in the tank that held a pound-and-three-quarters to two-pound lobsters in it.

There was no fresh water at Maine Coast Seafoods in Spruce Head, America.

And so it went for 10 years or more. Me and my orange Anchor Hocking Fire-King barrel mug. The coffee did not get any better, but my prospects did.

I decided to apply for one of two openings in the advertising department of The Courier-Gazette. I brought along my mug and set up enterprise on Park Drive in Rockland. The Courier-Gazette, unlike Maine Coast Seafood, had running water and indoor flush toilets. This was great. If I chose to wash my Fire-King in the sink, I could.

I did a couple of times.

Not only did my prospects improve, so did the coffee. A nice couple from California moved to town and opened a storefront on Main Street that sold used books and coffee, Susanne Ward and Patrick Reilley.

After I got to know them, I asked, “why coffee?” They told me they could not find good coffee in this town. I said, “we have Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.” They smiled that kind, but knowing, smile. I revealed my coffee naiveté.

So I started drinking Second Read coffee and began to notice the difference. I still added cream (real cream or half-and-half) and sugar.

At Patrick’s suggestion, I started my move to black coffee. First, I got off the sugar. Then one morning, I drank half of my coffee before I discovered I forgot to add cream. Black all the way from there on.

One day, that cagey Patrick Reilley asked me if I ever had espresso, and would I like a shot in my large black coffee?


Wow, now I was a coffee citizen of the world! From then on for 16 years at The Courier-Gazette, Black Rock City in my Fire-King. In 2005, I took my Fire-King to 8 North Main St. and joined the Free Press. It would begin a string of 16 years without washing the Fire-King. It got really brown inside. I estimated that I could get a decent cup of coffee by just adding hot water.

I am guessing around 2015, a pickup turning right off Gay Street onto North Main lost most of its load. Among the debris left behind was a large stainless steel press pot/travel mug from Rock City, with only a minor dent.

I rinsed it out — The Free Press also has running water and flush toilets — and I was making some really decent coffee!

One sunny day, I came to work, and the entire Free Press staff formed into a clump. They all had worried looks on their face as I strolled in. The bravest one in the bunch said, “Glenn, it’s about your mug…”

I was worried, thinking if someone broke it.

…someone washed it.

I burst out laughing in relief. That is okay, I said. I left it in the kitchen over the weekend, and the cleaning people had the satisfaction of washing the dirtiest mug they ever saw.

Now, I am in a new office that houses both The Courier Gazette and The Free Press. I now work for them both at the same time. I host the Dancing Joe Coffee Clatch weekday mornings. In keeping with the duality of my new affiliations, I added a second Anchor Hocking Fire-King barrel mug.

It is a green one for use on Fridays.

It does not get washed either…