Hi everyone! A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about collecting cookbooks: A Cool Collectible: Cookbooks Part I. Today, I’m picking up where I left off. Last time, I talked about medieval housekeeping books that contained not just recipes, but all sorts of other instructions and tips for keeping a home. Those who couldn’t afford such books, might have owned a similar, handwritten version, passed down from mother to daughter. By the 1700s, books became more accessible, but were still costly. Not until the 1800s, when books became generally more affordable, would cook books find a wide audience. Over the years, the most popular cookbooks have been edited and reissued over and over again, often with new covers.
Many give Fannie Farmer credit for setting cookbook standards that are still in use today. She essentially self-published The Boston Cooking School Cook Book in 1896 with Little, Brown & Company. It is known and loved today as The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Most of the principles she established still apply–easy to use recipes with standardized measurements. No more pinch of this or teacup full of that. Collectors enjoy scouting out a copy of each of the thirteen editions of this cookbook. [The Boston Cooking School Cook Book is available here.]
Like many early cookbooks, it also contained cooking techniques and recommendations for running one’s household. Proving to be very popular, by late the following year, Little, Brown & Company had reprinted twice. She left the school, where she had become principal, in 1902 to start her own school and to fulfill speaking engagements around the country, particularly related to the dietary needs of the sick.
Here are a few examples of the recipes found in the 1942 edition.
Turning to the back of the book, one finds several wonderful pages filled with ads like this one for Fluff.
Like The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, some cookbooks, including The Good Housekeeping Cook Book and many others, have become American institutions. It’s likely your mother had one on hand that she pulled down from the shelf time and again to bake a dessert or cook a meal. Sometimes that’s how a collection starts–buying a copy of your mother’s old cookbook for nostalgic reasons piques your interest in the hobby. The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, dating back to 1933, falls into this category of “institution.” It is, of course, directly connected to the magazine (also an institution) of the same name, in business since 1885. It’s unclear just how many editions have been produced, somewhere around ten, I’d guess. The 1944 plaid and 1957 black versions are among the most popular, valued at about $20-25.00. [The 1963 edition is available here.]
On page 534 of the 1963 edition of the GH Cookbook, you will find some recipes for yummy-sounding dessert sauces along with a photo of apple dumplings. One of only about five photos in the entire book, it makes quite a contrast to today’s cookbooks that tend to be photograph-heavy (which I like).
First published in 1930, the Better Homes & Gardens Cook Book is a perennial favorite, considered by many cooks to be their cooking “bible.” Its revolutionary ring-binder format and handy category tabs made it extremely popular with home cooks. The 1953 edition, with its striking black silhouettes against red checks, tends to run about $25-35.00, depending upon condition–making it the most valuable edition.
An example of one of several color photographs in the 1951 edition, which also contains numerous black and whites.
On the right is a recent edition of the BHG New Cook Book, and on the left, a reprint of a very popular version of the Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book.
Irma Rombauer wrote The Joy of Cooking, one of my personal favorites, in 1931. Seven editions have been printed through the years. In her prologue to the 1931 edition, Irma explains her goal, “to make palatable dishes with simple means and to lift everyday cooking out of the common place.” I think she achieved her goal. The dog-eared 1964 soft-covered version on the right is mine. I picked it up at a garage sale years ago and frequently refer to my favorites, including strawberry rhubarb pie, pancakes, and cheese sauce (for homemade mac n’ cheese). The 1946 edition, coming in at just under 900 pages, has a value of about $15-25.00. Fun fact: The Joy of Cooking was Julia Child’s first cookbook.
For those building a cookbook collection, The American Woman’s Cook Book is a must-have. Edited by former Culinary Arts Institute director, Ruth Berolzheimer and published by Cornell University in 1938, it contains over 10,000 recipes, including one for peanut butter and onion sandwiches. Hmmm…not so sure about that one. Ruth, like Fannie before her, had strong social concerns; hers were for the welfare of children. This 1947edition is valued at approximately $20.00.
Many consider The Culinary Arts Institute Cookbook a must-have in one’s collection. Not just a cookbook, but rather an encyclopedia, it contains almost 800 pages and weighs more than six pounds(!). I recently sold this 1985 edition from my blog shop for $9.99.
I’ve been selling antiques a long time and this Balanced Recipes cook book was a new one for me: a binder-type Pillsbury cookbook in a 6″ x 9″ x 2″ metal case. Each recipe is on it’s own separate “card” (though made of paper not card stock) and they are staggered down the page. Very unique and interesting. All major food categories are covered: baked goods, meats, salads, desserts, breads, etc. I sold it on Etsy a couple of years ago for $14.99, but I may have underestimated its value.
I fell in love with the cover of this beautiful plaid cookbook as soon as I laid eyes on it. And some of the titles just made me laugh out loud, like, “Cooking the Kill” and “Preserving Victuals for Country Home.” This is a down home book for sure with chapters on Canning, the Farm, and the Camp & Trailer. I sold it to a blog reader for $10.00 on the day I wrote about in on my blog in one of my “Vintage Finds” posts.
In addition to the big, institutional cookbooks, you will find scads of others, some by region or by state. The Progressive Farmer’s Southern Cookbook is a good example, published in 1961, with chapters like, “In Defense of Casseroles,” “Cake…the Prima Donna of Foods,” and “Foods Named for Southern Heroes.” Clocking in at 479 pages, it is filled with recipes for comfort foods but no photographs or illustrations.
And of course, you can find cookbooks touting the culinary delights of just about every country in the world, including Italy. Some contain “authentic” recipes, others like Simple Italian Cookery, contain “Americanized” versions with ingredients and cooking methods made easy.
This little 1959 gem comes with several 60’s vibe prints that I’m in love with.
Many collectors enjoy what I call “personality cookbooks,” like this one written by Graham Kerr, aka the Galloping Gourmet. The flyleaf of this 1967 book describes him as “vibrant, flamboyant, and beaming, [doling] out huge globs of wit along with expert gourmet instructions.” I’ve never seen the old show, but I guess he was quite a character and wine was incorporated in some way or other into every show. Another 1960’s cooking icon to watch out for is Julia Childs (look for Mastering the Art of French Cooking which can go for up to $200). Collectors enjoy the challenge of collecting copies of each book published by the personality they follow.
Restaurant specific cookbooks form another popular category, and I’m ending today’s post with one of my personal favorites–the Moosewood Cookbook, originally published in 1977. It has a bit of a hippie vibe, with hand-written text and illustrations by the author, Mollie Katzen. This vegetarian cookbook, based on Ithaca (NY) Moosewood Restaurant recipes, contains the best-ever instructions for hummus and tabbouleh. It makes top 25 lists regularly and is destined to become a classic.
Of course, I’ve just skimmed the surface of cookbooks available for collecting. In addition to the types of cookbooks I’ve already mentioned, each individual food or food group and every style of cooking is represented by cookbooks in the thousands. Each collector must determine where his or her interests lay and what types of books will bring them satisfaction and delight. Whichever course you decide to follow, I wish you happy hunting.
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