Leslie Buck passed away, at the ripe old age of 87, during 2010, and inexplicably enough, not that many paid much attention to his passing.
Born Lazlo Buch in Khust, Czechoslovakia (now part of the Ukraine), he was a Holocaust survivor who made good in the US, first starting up a paper-cup manufacturing company in Mt Vernon, New York called Premier Cup. It was during the 1960’s that Buck joined the Sherri Cup Co. of Kensington, Conn, and he created one of the most iconic delineation’s of everyday American life, particularly the East Coast version, the exquisitely appealing Anthora paper coffee cup (Buck couldn’t quite pronounce “amphora” correctly), the design adorning coffees served at diners, deli’s, construction sights, factory yards and food carts, sales which peaked at 30 million pieces a year in the 1990’s.
Buck’s coffee cup became an instantly recognizable American artifact, a fairly improbable accomplishment considering its creator was both an immigrant, and artistically untrained. The cup, with its above-and-below border of Greek urns framing a bill boarded white background with a slightly ornate outline, three images of piping coffee cups and the phrase “WE Are Happy To Serve You” etched in a font meant to resemble ancient Greek, remains a totemistic likeness of the highest order.
Buck’s cup immediately conveyed what it set out to: coffee making and drinking as a daily (or hourly) pleasure of the simplest, yet most satisfying order. The years have made it’s lasting image, particularly when gripped in hand (shaky or firm), sends an immediate vibe of well-being, of order, of universal familiarity, of celebratory and tragic times, when a hot cup of Joe served to cure a multiplicity of ills, a direct on-the-spot cure, as countless eyes drank in its serene depiction of everyday classicism.
Fashioned to be tossed away, these cups always held firm and prodded the user back to solid ground (with grounds) and an inherent sense of lean functionality, freezing the moment, typically punctuated by the cups drainage and disposal. (There ain’t nothing more Zen than the exquisitely dream-like state one enters upon completing the purchase, lifting the thin yet perfectly fitted plastic cover, and peering into the perfectly quantified portion of liquid gold before focusing on the task at hand—the first sip translating into direct, immediate sustenance.)
In John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (a pro-forma college text in my higher education days), he discusses some of the effects of what he calls the “publicity image”:
“We are no so accustomed to being addressed by these images that we scarcely notice their total impact. A person may notice a particular image or piece of information because it corresponds to some particular interest he has. But we accept the whole the total system of publicity images as we accept an element of climate…Yet despite this, one has the impression that publicity images are continually passing us, like express trains on their way to some distant terminus. We are static; they are dynamic…”
The Anthora cup is a bonafide artifact, a pop cult object d art, an image and form fused to analogous contents. It was, and remains a simple, pure design worthy of its own Warholization, and if it was framed square in front of a glossy black background in a Soho gallery it would be dissected and discussed with heady terms and suggestions that it directly symbolized both desire and consumption.
Perhaps the vagaries of time will eventually erode the power of this seemingly pedestrian image--Solo Cup, Co out of Illinois, who took over Sherri, only makes the originals upon receiving a special order--but you can be sure the Leslie Buck’s terrific creation will never truly be replaced.
The mental stirrings evoked by it’s pure, straightforward imagery, as one’s hands are warmed by the brimming hot coffee temporarily housed within the container, conjure the type of internal shivers caused by yet another viewing of Citizen Kane’s cinematic perfection, yet another listening of Sinatra’s sonorous emotionalism, yet another glance at one of Edward Hopper’s twilight tableau’s, all of them simple and transcendent, eternally evocative, with Buck’s Anthora cup potentially remembered as among the most unique blendings of form and function, of artful commerce, to ever literally hit the mean streets of America.