Articles From Whole Latte Love

Buy, Sell, Trade: Illy is for Collectors

Posted: 08/20/08

Illy Kounellis CupsIf you're a collector, then you know it's all about the hunt. Whether it's state quarters, baseball cards or PEZ dispensers, half the fun of collecting something is tracking it down and taking it home. The quintessential collector might search for months, or even years, in the most obscure places for the piece de resistance.

That being said, Illy collector cups have gained quite the following since their introduction in 1992, when Illy Caffe commissioned their first collectors cup set. The idea came about when Francesco Illy thought the combination of art and espresso would satisfy even the most discriminating collector. Since then, cups designed by Matteo Thun, Federico Fellini and Luca Trazzi have become true collectors pieces, fetching thousands of dollars on the open market.

Since each cup is part of a limited series, the emerging artists use their own design and numbering system to differentiate between pieces. This numbering system, similar to what most artists use, was implemented early on to identify the production period, as well as quantity produced.

All Illy collector cups and saucers are signed and numbered on the bottom of the cup and saucer with the "Illy Collection" mark. That mark is the tell-tale sign that it's not a bar cup, commonly used in cafes and restaurants across Europe which are marked "Illy Espresso." This marking system has made it extremely easy for collectors to identify rare pieces.

But that's not where this story ends.

Illy Koons Beach MugsWhen Francesco Illy moved to Switzerland, he couldn't use the name Illy on any collectors cups, so he began a new line of collector cups called "Amici." Just like the Illy cups, the Amici cups have the marking "Amici Collection," and "Amici Espresso," differentiating between collector cups and bar cups. And just like the Illy sets, the Amici sets are sold in limited quantities.

The only notable difference, besides the name, is the Amici packaging. You see, Illy provides collectors with a brochure and catalog that has come to be just as collectable as the cups – similar to the original packaging on a vintage Barbie doll. The Amici cups do not come in specialty packages, but instead come packaged in rather utilitarian boxes, which to some collectors can either increase or decrease the overall value.

What makes some of these cups, Amici or Illy, even rarer is when they've technically never been available. In 1998 Illy created a silver cup set with the marking "Illy Collection 1998 for David Byrne." It's been said that these silver cups were never available to the public and that they Illy No Water No Coffee Cupswere produced especially for David Byrne as a prototype. Not less than three years later, the Talking Head himself was commissioned to create a set and the Alien! line, complete with out-of-this-world packaging, was available to the masses.

One thing that Illy has never wavered on over the last 15 years is that these cups were intended to be a canvas for artists to express their own styles. These cups serve as a place for the artists to create original masterpieces, telling a story for the rest of the world to enjoy – giving all of us some Wild, Wild Life.