An Ordinary Cup o’ Joe cover

An Ordinary Cup o’ Joe

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Coffee has been a part of our culture for a long time. Take a look back at some fantastic images through the ages!

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Battersea incident, England, January 1945–A.W.V.S. canteen serves hot coffee. Photo by Toni Frissell, January 1945. //

Whether you like your brew light, dark, milky or sweet, this chilly weather leaves many reaching for a hot cup of coffee to warm up and wake up. As I sipped my own morning cup, I wondered what images our collections would hold of my coffee drinking comrades. I searched our holdings for relatable and intriguing images of history’s coffee drinkers.


New York, New York. Italian-American cafe espresso shop on MacDougal Street where coffee and soft drinks are sold. The coffee machine cost one thousand dollars. Photo by Marjory Collins, August 1942.

I often associate the scrumptious liquid with the notion of sensual and enigmatic poets and thinkers, the inspired coffee shops of New York, and Seattle’s salty piers. The images brings to life the international nature of New York’s lower Manhattan gathering spots.

Browsing our online catalog, I fell deeper and deeper into a cultural investigation of the company I keep, in this society of coffee drinkers. I find it fascinating that this drink of choice has served such a wide range of consumers all over the world.

The following photos show cool girl folk singer Mary Travers, patrons of Hotel de Gink in New York, and even soldiers during wartime all savoring a sip of this delicious brew.


Mary Travers, half-length portrait, seated in kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee. Photo by John Bottega, World Telegram & Sun, November 17, 1965.

// de Gink — morning coffee. Photo by Bain News Service, between 1910 and 1915.


Free coffee wagon, Lotzen. Bain News Service, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915.


Delicious Coffee! Lithograph by Currier and Ives. 1881.

Learn More:

Prefer tea to coffee? Check out a selection of “tea drinking” pictures and drawings in our Online Catalog.

Interested in the culture of the coffee house? Watch a lecture on “Coffeehouses: Folk Music, Culture & Counterculture” in the United States, or cross the ocean and learn about “Creating the Parisian Café, 1660-1800”.

Read the fascinating WPA Federal Writer’s Project story of the “Coffee Grounds Woman,” a South Carolinian who reads your fortune in the grounds!