I've sipped from many of them, but until today hadn't known the cups have a name: Anthora.
A fittingly elegiac obituary in the New York Times reveals that Leslie Buck was born in 1922 to a Jewish family in Khust, Czechoslovakia (now Ukraine); he survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald and emigrated after the war to New York, where he Americanized his name. He ran an import-export business with one of his brothers, then started a paper-cup company, Premier Cup. In the mid-1960s, he joined a start-up, Sherri Cup Company in Kensington, Connecticut, eventually becoming its director of marketing.
Obituary writer Margalit Fox writes:
Sherri was keen to crack New York’s hot-cup market. Since many of the city’s diners were owned by Greeks, Mr. Buck hit on the idea of a Classical cup in the colors of the Greek flag. Though he had no formal training in art, he executed the design himself.
The cup was blue, Ms. Fox writes, "with a white meander ringing the top and bottom; down each side was a drawing of the Greek vase known as an amphora."
How did it come to be called Anthora? According to Mr. Buck's son, Robert, “Anthora” comes from “amphora,” as filtered through Mr. Buck’s Eastern European accent.
Ms. Fox waxes lyrical in her description of the Anthora:
On front and back, Mr. Buck emblazoned the Anthora with three steaming golden coffee cups. Above them, in lettering that suggests a Classical inscription, was the Anthora’s very soul — the motto. It has appeared in many variant texts since then; Mr. Buck’s original, with its welcome intimations of tenderness, succor and humility, was simply this:
To Serve You.
The Sherri Cup Company was later bought by the Solo Cup Company. "Mr. Buck made no royalties from the cup," Ms. Fox writes, "but he did so well in sales commissions that it hardly mattered . . . On his retirement from Sherri in 1992, the company presented Mr. Buck with 10,000 specially made Anthoras, printed with a testimonial inscription."
UPDATE: Barry Popik, who maintains the all-things-New York website The Big Apple, recounts a slightly different story about the origin of "Anthora." In his April 10, 2005, entry, Popik says the name came from a misprint in a newspaper article about a sunken Greek ship:
In the story, the urns were called "anthora," rather than "amphora." "I took the name," says Mr. Buck, the cup's creator, who retired from Sherri in 1992. The original engraving of the cup design, unchanged for more than 30 years, hangs in his home office.
Ten-ounce ceramic Greek cup, $9.48 at Amazon.