The Comeback Cup: An iconic product returns to the New York City market

12/17/2015 12:22:23 PM

The original is back!

The Anthora cup – once dubbed perhaps the most successful cup in history by The New York Times – returned in July as a regular stock item in the New York City market.

The paper cup with Greek-inspired colors, lettering, accents and traditional amphora urn was once the definitive coffee cup of New York City. Its popularity caused it to be frequently copied by competitors, licensed for souvenirs and hunted by collectors during its nine-year hiatus from regular circulation.

“It became an iconic symbol in New York City,” said Linda Greenman, Market Research Analyst with Dart Container Sales Company (DCSC). “We had some competitors in the market who were selling knock-offs of the print and our sales people asked us to bring this cup back.”

The Anthora cup’s growth into the Big Apple coffee cup of choice is well documented. The cup was created in 1963 by Leslie Buck, Marketing Director of the then-Sherri Cup Co. He was looking for a design that would appeal to the Greek immigrants who owned many New York diners – and he struck steaming black gold with the Anthora coffee cup.

The cup was a hit with owners and their busy customers – and it came to symbolize New York’s active lifestyle. If ever a cup became a movie or television star, it was the Anthora. Coffee from any movie or TV show set in New York had to be sipped from an Anthora cup.

The cup has been filmed in the hands of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Hamm and Tommy Lee Jones. Its sales topped 500 million cups in 1994.

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Above: The Anthora cup, an iconic New York symbol, has appeared in countless movies and TV shows. Here actor Tommy Lee Jones holds the classic cup in a scene in "Men in Black."

Twelve years later, it would be discontinued as a regular-stock item. It never totally left, remaining available as a special-order print. But the reason for its fade from the New York landscape is not as well known.

A 2005 New York Times article on the cup’s waning popularity cited the 1994 arrival of Starbucks in New York as the main culprit. Starbucks began to replace the diners as the morning stop for on-the-go coffee lovers, and the diners tried to compete by offering trendier packaging. The 2001 terrorist attacks in the city also led to a wave of patriotic- and flag-themed cups.

In 2005, a Solo spokeswoman told The New York Times that Anthora sales had dipped to 200 million cups a year. By 2007, the Times was calling the cup an endangered artifact.

Last year John Tramaglia, a District Sales Representative for DCSC, had to track down the owner of an online store called New York First Co. to find an Anthora cup for the New York Historical Society. The society had asked him for a cup to feature in an exhibit titled “A Brief History of New York: Selections from A History of New York in 101 Objects” and then preserve in its permanent collection.

“I found New York First was selling it to places like the Standard Hollywood Hotel in West Hollywood, California, so East Coast visitors and transplants could ‘feel at home’ in L.A.,” John said. “They also sell the Anthora cups as props to a few film companies, including Martin Scorsese’s production company.”

The Anthora cup lived on in other products as well. The Museum of Modern Art started selling ceramic mug versions of the cup. The cup’s likeness was licensed for coin purses, cufflinks and watches. And – although its trademark has been transferred to Solo and now Dart – knock-offs of its design (with wording slightly different from its familiar “We Are Happy to Serve You” messaging) continued to sell.

“It seemed clear that with so many knock-off Greek prints based on the Anthora design from our competitors in the New York market, there was an opportunity for us to get back in the game with the original design,” John said.

The Anthora cup is available in 8 oz. and 10 oz. sizes only in the Region One market (which includes New York City and states to the northeast). The cups are made in our Federalsburg, Maryland, plant, and direct customers in the region can buy as few as one case with an order. The cup and its retro look is expected to appeal to coffee-shop veterans who are familiar with its history as well as young customers who may be seeing it for the first time.

Coffee sellers and drinkers don’t have to settle for pretenders anymore. The true Anthora – called iconic, ubiquitous and symbolic in its heyday – is ready to take its place as the comeback cup.

Anthora Facts
• The cup’s creator, Leslie Buck, had no formal design training but did a tremendous amount of research on Greek culture prior to settling on the look.
• Leslie’s son told The New York Times that the name “Anthora” was a variation of the term “Amphora” as filtered through his immigrant father’s Eastern European accent.
• The cup has been seen such films as Wolf of Wall Street and Men in Black and television shows including NYPD BlueNurse JackieCastleLipstick Jungle,DamagesMad Men, and Law & Order.
• Upon his retirement in 1992, Leslie was presented with 10,000 Anthora cups with a testimonial inscription: "It was our pleasure to serve you.”

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