30 April 2010

Leslie Buck: He Was Happy to Serve Us

Leslie Buck, the man who designed the iconic Anthora coffee cup that had been held in the hand of every New Yorker of the past half century, died on Monday at 87. From the Times:

It is, of course, the Anthora, the cardboard cup of Grecian design that has held New Yorkers’ coffee securely for nearly half a century. Introduced in the 1960s, the Anthora was long made by the hundreds of millions annually, nearly every cup destined for the New York area.

A pop-cultural totem, the Anthora has been enshrined in museums; its likeness has adorned tourist memorabilia likeT-shirts and ceramic mugs. Like many once-celebrated artifacts, though, the cup may now be endangered, the victim of urban gentrification.
The Anthora seems to have been here forever, as if bestowed by the gods at the city’s creation. But in fact, it was created by man — one man in particular, a refugee from Nazi Europe named Leslie Buck...
The Anthora has spawned a flock of imitations by competitors over the years, but it was first designed by Mr. Buck for the Sherri Cup Company in Kensington, Conn.
Mr. Buck’s cup was blue, with a white meander ringing the top and bottom; down each side was a drawing of the Greek vase known as an amphora. (“Anthora” comes from “amphora,” as filtered through Mr. Buck’s Eastern European accent, his son said.) Some later imitators depict fluted white columns; others show a discus thrower.
On front and back, Mr. Buck emblazoned the Anthora with three steaming golden coffee cups. Above them, in lettering that suggests a Classical inscription, was the Anthora’s very soul — the motto. It has appeared in many variant texts since then; Mr. Buck’s original, with its welcome intimations of tenderness, succor and humility, was simply this:
We Are Happy
 To Serve You.
Though the Anthora no longer dominates the urban landscape as it once did, it can still be found at diners, delis and food carts citywide, a squat, stalwart island in a sea of tall, grande and venti. On the street, it warms the harried hands of pedestrians. Without the Anthora, “Law & Order” could scarcely exist.
Mr. Buck made no royalties from the cup, but he did so well in sales commissions that it hardly mattered, his son said. On his retirement from Sherri in 1992, the company presented Mr. Buck with 10,000 specially made Anthoras, printed with a testimonial inscription.
In recent years, with the gentrification of the city and its brew, demand for the humble Anthora has waned. In 1994, Sherri sold 500 million of the cups, as The New York Times reported afterward. In 2005, the Solo Cup Company, into which Sherri had been absorbed, was selling about 200 million cups a year, The Times reported.
Today, Solo no longer carries the Anthora as a stock item, making it only on request. Other companies still turn out versions of the cup, though not in the quantities of its 20th-century heyday.

1 comment:

upstate Johnny G said...

Sweet Jehosephat!! The anthora cup is now an endangered species? What is NYC coming to? Is there no end to the trampling underfoot of cherished traditions by Starbuckians and their ilk? Or could it be that in fact the sainted anthora is falling from grace because most of the people who sell take-out coffee are NOT "happy to serve you"? Perhaps the cup could be saved if the message was replaced with one more representative of the vendors true feelings: e.g. "Next!" or "Here's your coffee now get out", or "This is how we do it when you ask for "regular"". There's at least one website where anthora lovers can buy their own stock of the iconic coffee cups and I think that MoMA sells an exact duplicate in porcelain, and someone once produced a clever little zipper change purse that looked exactly like an anthora cub that had been crushed underfoot. I have visions of a trader in synthetic derivatives reaching into one of these to give a quarter to a homeless person who became that way thanks to the mortgage scams.