Whiskey Glass: The Arnolfo Di Cambio Cibi Old Fashioned Tumbler

Every once in a while a simple household object captures your imagination…

That has certainly been the case for me with this unique glass, produced by the Italian glassware company Arnolfo Di Cambio for its Cibi collection. Known more commonly as “the Blade Runner glass,” in its particular combination of clear crystal and multiple angles, the Cibi Old Fashioned Tumbler compels contemplation.

Certainly its association with the film Blade Runner put the glass on the map. Arnolfo Di Cambio isn’t shy about using the film to promote the glass, even giving it its own secondary website.

In the 1982 movie, Harrison Ford as the Replicant hunter, Deckard, drinks his nightly glass of Johnnie Walker Black from a 37cl-size Cibi. It’s a testament to the glass’s original designer, Cini Boeri, that Blade Runner fans picked the glass out from the onslaught of complex visuals for which the film is so famous. Every shot is riddled with design, from clothing to architecture to street signs to common household appliances. No detail was too small for director Ridley Scott, whose painstakingly imagined dystopian Los Angeles established a filmmaking standard that’s been imitated ever since.

But of the innumerable props in the film, it’s the Cibi tumbler fans were compelled to hunt down. The internet has since made that hunt easy. With a quick Google and a few URL clicks the glass is yours. No need to seek out your local Arnolfo Di Cambio flagship boutique.

Blade Runner director Ridley Scott’s fateful choice of this glass for his film may be what gets people to buy it. But once in hand, the glass itself takes over and Blade Runner fades away…

Since adding the 22cl version of the glass to my shelf, it has become one of my favorites. On first holding it I already found it unusually compelling. The clean lines typical of mid-century modern design can sometimes have a chilly effect. But this tumbler’s sleek angles transcend those aloof tendencies, especially when filled with a richly colored whiskey.

To begin with, it’s exceptionally functional—neatly measuring out a 2oz pour at its indentation, and very easy to hold and to sip from. The thoughtful functionality really isn’t fully apparent until one holds the glass. It feels as decisively angular as it looks. My fingers are very aware that they’re holding something. But those angles also make the glass feel secure and solid in the hand. It’s not going to slip out easily. This solidity is given a sense of movement by the multiple lines refracting light and compelling the eye to wander the tumbler’s contours. With that sense of motion and a vaguely hourglass silhouette, the glass seems to exist in time as well as space.

The Cibi Old Fashioned tumbler was designed in 1973 by Cini Boeri (1924-2020), who started her career in Milan, Italy, in the 1950s. In addition to glassware, Boeri designed houses, apartments, offices, retail stores, furniture and other tableware. Her full Cibi glassware collection also includes highball and shot glasses, a decanter, an ice bucket, a vase, and an ash tray—all riffing on the same hourglass design.

As the Arnolfo Di Cambio website says of Boeri’s work:

“Her style has always focused on the psychology of users and the functionality of objects and spaces conceived as a key to freedom, which Cini Boeri herself has always made sure to promote, especially from a woman’s perspective.”

Boeri herself puts it this way:

“I have always been fascinated with people and their behaviours […] I like to connect with customers to figure out their needs and desires, so as to try and provide them with the best possible solution.”

Practicality and aesthetics are balanced in Boeri’s designs. It is not enough for an object to look good. It must also function well. I believe this wholistic impulse explains the glass’s popularity. If it were merely a cool looking glass from a cool looking movie, it would eventually get lost in the crowd. There is a lot of forgotten “cool” stuff in the trash heaps. But because Boeri’s intentions can be seen and felt in the Cibi tumbler, it lingers.

The glass feels almost alive with a human personality, complete with mystery. It’s surprising to me how long I can contemplate the glass. It’s just a glass, for cryin’ out loud! More than any other glass on my shelf, however, I can truly meditate on the experience of sipping whiskey from the Cibi tumbler. It fires my imagination. It was made with care, and carries its maker’s impulses still after all these years.

This is the power of good art. It lasts. In Wright Thompson’s book, Pappyland, he writes about this with regard to bourbon. Thompson’s book is neither a straight-up historical account of the famous Pappy Van Winkle bourbon brand, nor a chronological biography of the brand’s current steward, Julian Van Winkle III. It’s a meditation on parents and children, family and friends, and the ongoing life-task of staying in touch with what matters. Or as the book’s subtitle puts it, “The things that last.” Wright’s book gets into the personal and social implications of a high quality bourbon crafted with true passion and care. Bourbon as art—not practical, arguably not even necessary, yet also arguably both necessary and practical for the reasons that memory, imagination, and creativity are necessary and practical. If, that is, one hopes to live in a society that values life beyond basic survival.

Boeri’s glass reminds me of this. By making it her priority to recognize the needs and desires that drive human behavior, Boeri crafted a glass that has the impact of art. It’s not only functional, not only practical. It also compels attention and imagination.

We don’t need many material objects in life, really. Given the distance we’ve put between ourselves and Nature, we’ve certainly cornered ourselves into needing more objects now than in the distant pass. We now need a glass to drink water because water is piped into our homes. Fresh water itself may be an actual necessity. But not a drinking glass. We are still capable of cupping our hands at a river’s edge.

If we live near a river, that is! Most of us don’t. Infrastructure technology has long since made it possible for us to live very far from fresh water. Much of southern and mid California—known for arid climates—has been made hospitable to dense urban populations by water piped down from the northern states and Canada. Rather than adapting our needs to the water supply Nature had already worked out, we adapted Nature to our economic desires for urban convenience.

Boeri’s Cibi tumbler hardly screams “back to nature.” It’s a distinctly modernist design, made for whiskey and cocktails, not river water. So my getting into matters of urban planning and human climate disruption may seem a stretch at first thought. But stay with me.

Boeri’s glass took me to that human impulse to reroute Nature because of this question of need. What in life do we actually need? And what do we merely desire? Similarly, what do we consider “practical” in life and what is extra? We need water. Without it we’ll die. We don’t need a particularly fancy glass to drink water. The glass is a convenience. Fancy is extra.

Craftsmanship is generally considered practical. Making things that we need. Functional, “practical” things. Like a glass for water.

I don’t need whiskey. Whiskey is not “practical.” It’s hard to make. It’s expensive. It can kill you.

But I enjoy it. Like art.

If all I had to drink my impractical, unnecessary whiskey with was a basic glass as suitable to tap water as anything else, I could still drink the whiskey. The practical action could be carried out. But it might have less meaning.

Art is generally considered extra. Making things we merely enjoy. Imaginative but ultimately “unnecessary” things. Like a glass for whiskey. Or even whiskey itself!

But if art is unnecessary like the materialists say, why then is it everywhere? In homes, on the street, in the form of buildings, bridges, cars, glassware… Even history is recorded not just in bland textbooks and journalistic reports, after all, but in art—drawings, murals, film documentaries, evocatively edited podcasts… Culture, ethics and values are all articulated through art—dance, music, theater, films, paintings, photography that aspires to more than mere documentation… Are our cultures, our ethics, and our values all extra? Not necessary?

If all I had to help me understand society was the nightly news, I wouldn’t understand much. The nightly news tells me what happened. Art helps me understand and appreciate the souls of the human beings to whom history happens, the hopes, dreams and desires that shape human actions.

We need to be informed. We also need to be inspired. We need memory, which is to say history, not for the sake of merely preserving the past, but to help us imagine the future we might create that’s better. In this sense, inspiration is very practical. We need it!

So if one must have a certain few objects—a shirt, a table, a glass—those few objects could be either merely practical or also expressive of culture, of values, of our imaginative capacity to remember and to hope.

This is where contemplating an exceptional whiskey glass can go…!

Cin cin, Cini Boeri!

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