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Moomin mug mania: Kajaani man owns full "secret" set

The Moomins are one of Finland's most lovable and wildly popular exports, and some of the Arabia series of ceramic mugs adorned with Tove Jansson's paintings go for thousands of euros online. One man has collected them all and knows their value: he wants his identity kept a secret to avoid nosey fellow collectors.

A glimpse of the full collection. Image: Mari Jäntti / Yle

"Kalevi" is the proud owner of the full series of Moomin-themed ceramic cups from classic tableware company Arabia. He chooses to keep his valuable collection a secret and stay anonymous, to avoid rival collectors.

"I usually don't let strangers into my home. Only my family and some of my closest friends know about my collection," Kalevi says. "I heard about a collector who gave out his information and people started harassing him. I don't want that!"

Beloved characters from artist Tove Jansson's imagination – Sniff, Moomintroll, Snufkin and the rest – have been immortalised on 81 mugs in the coveted series across the decades. Kalevi owns every one of them, and a spare of most.

This means he has had to keep up with frequent reissued models and new designs. Not only are the cups are expensive to acquire, but some years Arabia has been known to release up to four new models.

"Lack of space is a problem for collectors," Kalevi says. "I could stack them, but that would not be good for the enamel."

Almost by accident

Kalevi's full set is the result of years of painstaking, and also accidental collecting.

"We started buying the Moomin mugs when the children were little, they adored them. We got more as they were released. If one broke, we didn't purchase any new ones to replace it," Kalevi recounts.

In the early 2000s Kalevi suddenly noticed that he had accumulated almost every type of Moomin/Arabia cup there was. One of his prize possessions at this point was a special issue mug, a limited release of just 400.

"It hit me: I had almost the the entire series, even if the mugs were in daily use. I then bought the ones I didn't have online and I've been doing that ever since."

These days Kalevi and his family have a daily set of Moomin cups that they can drink their morning coffee out of – but the ones in the glass case are off limits.

History, crime and money

Ceramic company Arabia's first Moomin-themed children's tableware came on sale in the late 1950s, four decades before the height of the Moomin boom when the mugs assumed their current form.

Police received 373 reports of theft in 2015 having to do with the popular ceramic products. A Central Finland Police Department spokesperson says that a majority of the crimes are clear cases of people snatching them off retail shelves.

Kalevi himself has not resorted to such measures – his collection has come mostly through purchases straight from the retailer.

"The most I ever paid for one of these is 70 euros," he says. "The cups weren't in their heyday yet back then. These days that same piece would go for at least 3,500 euros. I would never pay that much for a mug!"

Prices have now come down from their top spot in the 1990s. Kalevi says he believes the prices will continue to fall, giving more people access to the elusive components of the collector's series.

Kalevi himself is nonchalant about his hobby.

"I suppose I'm something of a Moomin fan," he says. "I noticed there's a new seasonally-themed mug coming on sale on March 27th. I'd better get a couple when they're issued."