I imagine we all have our favorite takeout coffee cup lids. Once, one size fit all and looked a lot like the cardboard variety used on soup containers today. But they were likely to get wet and fall apart (much like soup containers today). “There was a long time—billions of years—when the concept of Spilling did not even exist,” writes Alex Kalman in the preface to Louise Harpman and Scott Specht’s distinctive new book Coffee Lids: Peel, Pinch, Pucker, Puncture (Princeton Architectural Press)—which incidentally is not a coffee table book. Harpman claims to be “one of the owners of the world’s larges collection of coffee lids, or, more precisely, the world’s largest collection of unique, patented, drink-through disposable hot-beverage lids. Along with co-owner Specht, they’ve developed a taxonomy of covers that fit the following categories: peel, pinch, pucker, puncture. And whether you are aware of it or not, these varieties have their own distinct look and feel, especially on the mouth.
For example, although I don’t drink coffee, I envy those who have their cups in hand. I do have the occasional Chai Tea and in this case I much prefer the pucker to the peel because the latter demands too much effort and looks like your average cup o’ joe. The pucker, which comes with a suckable mouthpiece and slosh drainage system, is much more recherché while being extremely common. I actually cannot drink out of the peel (refusing to patronize anyplace that uses them) and the pinch simply goes against my grain.
There has been a study or two about lids. But this is the most incisive lido-pedia I’ve seen, with facts galore to talk about with your favorite barista. Like this on the peel back: Delbert E. Phinney was the first to receive a patent for his drink-through lid in 1953. But not to be lid astray, Patrick T. Boyle’s design for a Splash Proof Drink Through beverage container was patented in 1977. Peel lids were the progenitor of “what we call peel-and-lock lids, where the peel-back section is not removed” and provides a closure.
There is something very 2001-looking about these lids with all the molded nooks and crannies. Little would you suspect that so much high technology goes into making the perfect lid or how many patents exist for so many them. Doubtless ever pucker and puncture has a purpose, and if you’ve ever wondered what the function is, you will have a good time flipping through the facts and photos of some exquisite lids that these lid-ficianos have assembled.
About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.