New York Coffee Cup
Posted by Remo Giuffré on
The world’s most famous coffee cup
Fuhgeddaboud any of your other New York City icons; nothing captures the essence of Gotham more succinctly and with more ubiquity than the “Anthora Coffee Cup”, more commonly referred to as the New York Coffee Cup.
So, what’s the story?
Following World War II, a fresh wave of coffee-loving Greek immigrants landed upon the shores of America, for them a land of freedom and opportunity.
With the resulting proliferation of Greek owned coffee shops and pop-up coffee carts scattered across the city, coffee culture had arrived; and with Greeks in control of the city’s coffee shop and diner industry, one savvy paper cup salesman had a big idea.
Leslie Buck, a Czech-American immigrant and Holocaust survivor, fled his home country, just barely surviving captivity in Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II. His parents had been killed by the Nazis. Displaced and orphaned, and just like the Greeks, Leslie sought to create a new life in America.
Employed as the Marketing Director for the Sherri Cup Co., a leading manufacturer; Leslie, known to be a scrappy and sharp go getter, designed a cup that he felt would appeal to both the Greek coffee shop owners, and the masses.
The blue and white palette was inspired by the colours of the Greek flag, and the Greek Key border pattern is an iconic design seen throughout ancient Greek architecture. On each side of the cup appears an urn, the “Anthora” symbol. Then in bold, angular lettering, the heart-warming words, “We are Happy to Serve You”.
What’s not to like?
The design has spawned imitators. There are actually seven different variations in the market, but the most famous cup design is the original Anthora.
Sales of the New York Coffee Cup peaked in 1995, with over 500 million cups sold. Not only was the cup dubbed “perhaps the most successful cup in history” and one of only 50 objects representing the history of New York by the New York Times, it later became a reusable icon when a whimsical ceramic version of the cup was produced under licence by sustainability pioneer Treehugger and offered for sale at the MoMA Store and other design shops throughout the world … including REMO ;) Watch Graham Hill, founder of Treehugger, describe the genesis of that idea here.
After Solo Cup Company (incidentally the creators of the famous Red Party Cup) bought Sherri in 2005, sales of the Anthora were still thriving with over 200 million cups sold. However, with the arrival of the giant coffee chains, such as Starbucks, there was a risk that the New York Coffee Cup was to become an endangered icon.
However, with formidable determination, nostalgic influencers have worked hard to cast the cup in many movies and television shows set in New York e.g. Suits, The Sopranos, NYPD Blue, Mad Men and (most famously) Law & Order.
Nothing works faster than the cup to locate a scene in New York City.
Interestingly, it’s worth noting that the name “Anthora” was actually due to Leslie’s Eastern European mispronunciation of the Greco-Roman word “Amphora”, an ancient two-handled container used for carrying liquids.
Leslie had inadvertently created a unique and protectable brand name.
Finally, on a RR personal note: While living and studying in New York in 1985 Remo Giuffré, the founder of this blog, became so enamoured with the cup’s design that he created a hand drawn homage (with wording altered to “It is Our Pleasure to Serve You”) that was celebrated in a REMO T Shirt design for many years.
Wikipedia Reference: Leslie Buck
Other References: nycoffeecup.com & wearehappytoserveyou.com
1. New York Coffee Cup
2. Leslie Buck. 1922 to 2010, Pictured in 1991.
3. Mad Men
4. Tony Soprano
5. Law & Order
6. We Are Happy To Serve You. Ceramic Tribute by Treehugger.
7. Graham Hill, Treehugger Founder. Video Explains Genesis of Ceramic Tribute.
8. Takeout Cup. Original Artwork for T Shirt Design by Remo Giuffré, 1985.
9. REMO General Store Staff in 1988. Janet Pankoff, Cheryle Lanthois & Heidi.
10. Takeout Coffee Merchandise at REMO
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I have never actually been to New York, but I LOVE my ceramic New York Coffee Cup! So nice to read the story.