Kirsten Hively | Collections

Kirsten Hively’s Collection of Coffee Cup Lids and Registration Marks

There is so much beautiful design in throw-away packaging — a lot of crap too, but some inventive and appealing boxes, bottles and bags. Objects designed to be collectible have never really attracted me; I've always been drawn to prosaic things — artful uses of everyday materials, gems of design hidden in plain sight, elegantly useful things and places — partly out of a sense that these things need me to curate, frame, and organize them in order to make their allure more apparent, while a Hummel figurine, say, can just sit on a shelf by itself, not needing my help to reveal its collectibility. Ephemeral packaging, neither antique nor rare, is one of my favorite kinds of run-of-the-mill relic, so here are two small packaging collections I've gathered: 

To-Go Coffee Cup Lids
The coffee cup lids I started compulsively keeping when I worked long hours in a stressful office with no coffee pot. I'd buy a coffee to-go most every afternoon, one café in particular used elaborate lids I'd never seen before with bright red covers over the spout that slid open or closed, keeping the scalding coffee safely inside when necessary with a simple, satisfying glide and click — so much design in such a small, single-use device. I couldn't throw it away, so I kept it despite its coffee stains and soon started keeping all the others I used too, finding something compelling in their roundness, their functional similarities and their subtle differences. Though all the lids provide the same basic service — carefully mediating the interaction of coffee and coffee drinker — their phenotype varies widely within those constraints. Some are black, some white, various brand names, patents and stock numbers are embossed on their surfaces, each sports a slightly different locking lip to grasp the top of the cup, some feature squashable buttons to indicate decaf or tea, some have lids that lift and lock into place, some have permanent openings in various ovoid shapes (small enough to avoid much splashing). Other people have collected pristine examples of the varieties available around the world, but I like my slightly scruffy used set because it tells a small, intimate story about me and my interaction with design. I don't buy as much coffee these days (I tend to make my own), but when I do, you might spot me finish, toss the cup, carefully dry the lid and tuck it in my bag.

Printer Registrations

The other set are printer's marks I've kept from packages, mostly (though not entirely) for food. I love these for the obscure hieroglyphics, the bright colors, and the subtle misalignments. I love that they reveal something about the process of design and printing to anyone who cares to look closely at the corn bread mix, cereal, or six-pack they buy. I continue to be surprised every time I encounter one — every inch of packaging is so carefully designed, they seem like some kind of leaked internal memo, revealing secret goings-on not meant for outside eyes. They reveal the colors that comprise the design, whether CMYK or spot, often in beautiful shapes and patterns, including crosses, bursts and tracks meant to reveal misalignments as well as color shifts. Sometimes they give printing instructions (“Pre-Press targets with curve”) or mysterious numbers, letters and abbreviations. They often show up on bottom box flaps where, if the glue isn't too strong, it's easy to slice them off and carry them away to marvel at these strange, intricate artworks.

Comments [12]

Once upon a time the manufacturers of disposable coffee cup lids did not consider that people would want to keep the lids on their cups when they drank their hot beverage. But of course people did. For many reasons. Safety not the least of them, given that the stackable design of the cups results in narrow bottoms. It was a brand new and novel convenience to be able leave the store and walk or drive around with your coffee instead of having to sit at a table to drink it because it came in a porcelain cup which belonged to the folks who sold you the coffee.

Back then when my friends and I would buy ourselves a coffee (or tea) to take back to class, the first thing we did after paying for it was remove the lid and bite and tear an opening in the edge of the lid. Then we'd replace the lid and walk away sipping our coffees and musing about how if we were to invent a coffee cup lid with a perforated opening could make a fortune.
Russell McGorman

Phil Patton, of course, published what many considered to be the last word on coffee cup lids: a 1996 article in I.D. magazine called "Top This." (http://www.ludoztli.com/3382symbols/semiot/examples/top_this.html)

Julie Lasky

I am still amazed that it took so many years for manufacturers to realize that they could make cups of different sizes that would all have the same diameter at the top!
Bill Hubbard

Seriously? This is gross. Throw these out.

everybody's got some nonsensical collection on this website. please do not make this one into a book- although the people at princeton architectural press will probably print it as their standards keep going down season after season

I started to freak out by the pile of plastic cups in the bin under my desk at the end of the week! (My bin only gets emptied once a week)
So I decided to ditch the take-away cup for good. Our studio has a great coffee culture and we encourage everyone to get one of these... http://www.keepcup.com/

We each have our own colour and they all sit lined up in the work kitchen.

Not only does it save using a bunch of plastic take-away cups but our barrista knows our coffees off by heart just by looking at the colour combo of the cup!
Matthew Brown

a similar idea here: Every coffee I drank in January 2010

I too take pleasure in coffee lids and registration marks. I am a computer programmer and also enjoy reading the comments in computer code. These are each traces of casual creativity, shaped by practical needs but almost completely unconstrained by critical review, like the beauty of an athlete tossing gear into a duffel bag.
Doug Hill

Yikes! Also somewhat turned off by the filth on those lids. Could you at least put them in the dishwasher? Hope you don't/didn't get HepC collecting them.

Joe Moran

Seriously... This is really about your buying coffee with plastic lids, a case of gross overconsumption. Buy a coffee cup.
Sandy Olson

Nicola Twilley at Edible Geography posted on the same issue earlier this month. http://www.ediblegeography.com/the-evolution-of-lids/
Amy Lavine

On the topic of color registration, I was at a AIGA WI event a few months ago, and one of the sponsors had taken the cut color registrations from their print jobs and turned them into bracelets. I was impressed, and feeler out so much so that I wore it to work the next day and showed it off. I believe the sponsor was Neenah Paper.
A. C. Lauer

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