Home on the Range
June 6, 2010
The Greek urn may rank as civilization's highest achievement: a curvilinear fusion of form and function. The art historian ponders the ancient Greek urn while sipping coffee from the modern Greek urn: the paper cup.
Not any paper cup. The iconic blue-and-white version stamped with heroically steaming coffee and the immortal slogan: "We are happy to serve you." The paper goods professional knows this product by its reorder code name: the Anthora. The New Yorker knows it by its order code name: coffee. It's a highly regional cup. One filled millions of times a year.
Why the city that never sleeps needs an urn that never naps is for the sociologist to puzzle. Mortals know simply that about 50 years ago Leslie Buck — neither classicist, nor artist, nor Greek, but a sales manager at Sherri Cup Co. — sketched the blueprint. His cup became an instant classic.
The Anthora mixes high and low. Sugar and cream. Hot and cool.
The Anthora has been imitated. Recast in porcelain and vinyl. Reworked as T-shirt. Repurposed into coin purse. But its pleasing design remains unchanged. It captures the ancient Greek virtues of beauty, truth, symmetry and — at 8 ounces — moderation. It endures, as Keats would have it in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd."
We raise a cup to coffee's finest vessel. And the late, of late, Leslie Buck, for making the New York morning 8 ounces happier.