The Solution to the Bob Benson Mystery Is Definitely on Those Coffee Cups

Slate's Culture Blog
June 17 2013 2:33 PM

The Solution to the Bob Benson Mystery Is on Those Coffee Cups

130531_BROW_MADMENCOFFEE

Courtesy of AMC

Last night on Mad Men we learned that Bob Benson is not what he seemed. We already knew that, of course—there has always been something so oddly chipper and mysteriously straightforward about the man. It was obvious that something was up.

David Haglund David Haglund

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

Specifically, though, we learned that he lied on the resumé that got him his job with Sterling Cooper et al, and that he used to be a “manservant.” As Paul Ford explains in today’s Slate TV Club, “Bob, like Don, is a completely invented person, and is in fact a nobody from West Virginia. No blue-blood, he worked in private banking as a personal servant, which is where he picked up his impeccable manners.”

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Of course! Here at Brow Beat, we have been nursing a half-baked notion that the solution to the Bob Benson mystery, whatever it is, would somehow be embodied by the Anthora coffee cup, a beloved New York City icon created by Leslie Buck which Bob Benson is shown holding in scene after scene. The cup was introduced in the 1960s, and was instantly popular; Margalit Fox described the design in a memorable obit for Buck, who died in 2010:

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:
We Are Happy
To Serve You.

WE ARE HAPPY TO SERVE YOU. Oddly ominous, in that all-caps, faux-ancient-Greek font, is it not? And, of course, serve may have many meanings. It may refer to an employee’s heretofore hidden past as a manservant, or it may refer to his desire to cook you and serve you as a meal. And what about that “we”? Is it the we of an obseqious servant? Does it allude to Benson’s plural identities?

What other Bob Benson mysteries are hidden in plain sight on that ever-present-in-his-hands Anthora coffee cup (or cups)? I hope we will find out this Sunday, on the season finale.

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