A Guide to Vintage & Antique Cook Books
[Updated 9.22] Hi there! A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about antique recipe books, and today, I’m picking up where I left off: 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 1700’s, books became more accessible, but were still costly.
Not until the 1800’s, when books became generally more affordable, would cook books find a wide audience. Over the years, the most popular cook books have been edited and reissued over and over again, often with new covers. Let’s take a look at some vintage and antique cook books.
Cook Book Video
Fannie Farmer Cook Books
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.
The yellow copy on the above left dates to 1942, while the green one on the right, to 1951.
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.
Read a full copy of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book 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.
Good Housekeeping Cook Books
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.
[The plaid copy above dates to 1944, the black to 1957, and the blue to 1964. The latter two would have had dust jackets when new.]
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 all the way 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).
Better Homes and Gardens Cook Books
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 (above right), 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.
Enjoy a fun video about Betty Crocker here.
The Joy of Cooking
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 my copy. 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 (above left), 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.
The Joy of Cooking Facebook page is worth a glance.
The American Woman’s Cook Book
For those building a cookbook collection, The American Woman’s Cook Book (1947) 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.
You can read an online copy of The American Woman’s Cook Book here.
The Culinary Arts Institute Cookbook
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.
Pillsbury Balanced Recipes
I’ve been selling antiques a long time and this [Pillsbury] Balanced Recipes cook book (1933) was a new one for me: a binder-type cook book 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.
Country Cook Book
I fell in love with the cover of this beautiful plaid example, The Country Cook Book (1937), 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.
The Progressive Farmer’s Southern Cookbook
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.
Simple Italian Cookery
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.
The Graham Kerr Cookbook
Many collectors enjoy what I call “personality cook books,” 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.
Guide Antique Recipe Books
Vintage & Antique Cookbook Price Guide
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A Guide to Collecting Cookbooks
I have to chuckle about you saying happy hunting on the vintage cookbooks. I have my mothers and yet never think to use them. What do you do with yours?
I have a couple from a chef that use to be on TV I don’t know if you’ll remember him but you should. Yan Can. My mother use to like to watch him.
My Mother watched the Galloping Gourmet when I was growing up so I occasionally saw a bit of the show. He was hilarious. I don’t ever remember any gourmet meals being served at dinner time but she was an excellent cook.
Graham Kerr was flamboyant and known for using (and drinking) way too much alcohol in his cooking. He had another show years later, after rehab, where he made healthy food and compared the stats to the original recipes.
That explains a lot! 🙂
Fun post, Diana. I have way too many vintage cookbooks, including a few of the ones you showed. I need to thin out my collection; there are many of them that I’ve never used and probably never will.
I went to a book sale once where they advertised that there would be no “old cookbooks” because they are full of “unappetizing” pictures of “old-fashioned” food. Seriously. They actually had a dozen or so FREE boxes full of vintage cookbooks.
sounds like a dream come true!!!
When I was about 13 or so and babysitting in the summer, I watched the Galloping Gourmet, believe it or not! It was early in the morning before the kids woke up. I even wrote down a recipe, asked my mom if I could cook it, and it turned out pretty well. It involved chicken, green pepper slices and onions. I was never really super in love with cooking, but that one must have really looked good to me as a 13-year-old kid! Graham Kerr was kind of goofy in a slap-stick kind of way. He always seemed to be juggling many pots at once. It was entertaining enough.
For awhile there, I was on the look-out for the edition of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that held the recipe for Spanish Rice. It was something my mom made for us as kids. There are special memories with recipes that take us back to a time where it felt good to be a kid (or a mom).
I watched the Galloping Gourmet as a kid and always thought he was funny. Funny drunk. He drank away the entire show and could be quite snookered at the end.
What a great collection Diana. Love reading all the information too. I have a few vintage cookbooks, but mainly for show as I seldom cook from them.
I really enjoyed reading about the cook books. I have some old ones and use them. You can find great recipes in these books.
Interesting facts about cookbooks Diana! I’ve sold a lot of them in my Etsy shop, but I always love to learn what makes what a collectible! Shared to my Facebook page.
Awesome collection Diana! I love old cookbooks and have a small collection. However, my most treasured is my mothers old cookbook with some hand written recipes. It’s literally falling apart, but what a treasure! Thanks for sharing with SYC.
Love part 2 of your cook book series. The picture of the yellow cake with a dark yellow filling and white boiled icing (The American Woman’s Cook Book) reminded me of a girl scout cake baking contest of which I received first place. I practiced that cake so much that my parents and siblings got burned out on it. Thank you for jogging that sweet cake memory for this “seasoned” lady.
my mother swore by Meta Given’s two volume Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking and taught my oldest sister, denise, to cook/bake using these recipes in the 60s. denise, an antiques dealer, has managed to find enough copies of Meta’s double volumes to give to all seven grandchildren. personally, i love my tenth edition reprinted in 1964 of The Fannie Merritt Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook. this is my go-to book for basic cooking & baking. now my 33 y.o. daughter uses it too.
That’s the cookbook I think I love the most! Mine was published in 1913 so one of the oldest. I’m not sure if it was from my mom (she was born in 1914) or my Gram (her mother), but it is the one pictured in this article. It’s the brown-ish one on the left of the picture. Can’t tell yo how many times I look through it to get ideas for something different or to look up something that I need to know how to cook! <3
Sounds like you’re talking about the Boston Cooking School Cook Book? It’s so wonderful that you have such a precious family heirloom. I love that you’re still using it Jan 🙂
Finally found this again to reply….Yes, I am! I just saw this – it IS the cookbook you thought it was. I wouldn’t part with it for the world!! Love your site – devour every new post that I can when I can. Thanks for all your great info! Best always, Jan
SO glad you’re enjoying the site Jan–that puts a big smile on my face 🙂 🙂
Love cookbooks I have way to many. I am going through mine to weed put a few. Hard job, but we moved a couple of years ago, I have too many loved things. some of every thing has to go, It`s hard, but as I go through them, I get tp enjoy them again.
I hear you Lois! I downsized my cook books not too long ago and I haven’t missed a one of them, LOL. Good for you taking the time to enjoy them once again before you pass them on. I’m rooting for you!!
I purchased a Chicago Chefs collection of cookbooks over 800 books. It’s now time to sell them. I have been pricing them by searching Biblio, Bookfinder4you. Do you feel this is a good option or do you suggest something else. Very time consuming.
It depends entirely on (1) what cookbooks you have and (2) where you intend to sell them. For example, if you plan to sell on eBay, then I would value them based on Ebay’s sold listings. If however, you’ll be selling on Bibilio or Bookfinder4you, then those are good places to learn some values.