April 30, 2010

Leslie Buck's Legacy

Leslie Buck (NYT) & his Masterpiece (Core77)

Leslie Buck (NYT) & his Masterpiece (Core77)

Leslie Buck passed away this week at the age of 87. Born in 1922 in what was then Czechloslovakia, he survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, where his parents were killed, and came to New York after the war. He started a paper goods company with his brother Eugene and in the 1960’s set out to corner the city’s hot cup market. Since so many of the city’s diners were owned by Greeks, he decided to design a cup using the colors of the Greek flag. He executed the design himself, and despite his lack of formal art training, it was an instant, and enduring, success.

Leslie Buck, Dossier

While the Greek elements unironically evoke mythology and classicism, Buck’s “Anthora” has achieved NYC icon status through sheer ubiquity.

I Lego NY by Christoph Niemann for the New York Times

I Lego NY by Christoph Niemann for the New York Times

If Starbucks represents America’s corporate muscle and the likes of Stumptown, Blue Bottle et al find an audience among foodi-elitist connoisseurs, the Anthora is the mark of true blue everyman: Anthora’s richness lies in its cultural heritage, which at once captures the spirit of the country and its greatest city (that’s right, I said it).

As a recent transplant, I find that Buck’s design is iconic in a fundamentally different way: it is a relic of Old(e) Noo Yawk, a winsome vessel of unassuming kitsch. Major cities the world over have signature buildings, bridges, parks, landmarks, taxi cabs, subway iconography, but where else can you stake a claim to a local coffee cup?

Also on Core77 & DQM, among other blogs.

Of course, the Times goes on to suggest:

…the cup may now be endangered, the victim of urban gentrification.

Local coffeeshops [previously] are one thing, but I don’t quite regard Starbucks as a symptom of the dreaded G-word—at least not in Brooklyn, the fabled frontier of the creative class, where chain creep is one step removed from the first wave of young (white) folks. Not that I’m in any position to speak (much less offer insight)… after all, this was supposed to be about the blue cup a white collar.

Once more with feeling:


UPDATE: Even older things on Core77 & Cretique.

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