Photo via banjo d’s Flickr
In a city full of symbolism, from bright yellow taxis to black-and-white cookies, New Yorkers also find comfort and nostalgia in a certain cardboard coffee cup. Known as the Anthora, the blue-and-white drinking vessel first became an icon of New York City in 1963 when Leslie Buck, a Czech-American immigrant, designed the first-ever to-go coffee cup to appeal to Greek-owned coffee shops and diners. With its customer-friendly “We Are Happy to Serve You” inscription and Greek-style letters, the Anthora has now become an important part of the city’s identity.
Leslie Buck’s parents were killed by the Nazis, and he survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald. After coming to New York, he Americanized his name from Laszlo Büch, according to the New York Times, and started an import-export business with his brother. In the late ’50s, they started a paper manufacturing company called Premier Cup in Mount Vernon.
Then, in the mid-1960s, Leslie started working for a new company called Sherri Cup as their sales manager and later their director of marketing. This is where he first designed the Anthora, but he never received royalties from it (though he made out pretty well on sales commissions). The word “Anthora” was actually Buck’s mispronunciation of “amphora,” which is the two-handled Greek pitcher seen on the cup. The blue and white colors pay homage to the Greek flag, with the font from Ancient Athenian lettering.
The height of sales was in 1994 when Sherri sold over 500 million cups. After the Solo Cup Company bought Sherri in 2005, about 200 million cups per year were sold. A year later, with sales at a standstill, Solo Cup decided to halt its large-scale distribution. The company kept the design alive by selling its licenses to souvenir shops and restaurants.
For example, the MoMA Design Store sells a ceramic version designed by Graham Hill in 2003, and many online stores like Amazon and UncommonGoods sell similar products. And it’s been seen in multiple movies and television shows set in New York; actors held the famous Anthora in hit shows like The Sopranos, NYPD Blue, Mad Men, and Law & Order.
The cup made an official comeback to the city in 2015, after the Dart Container company received many requests to bring it back to New York.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on May 16, 2017.
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