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Culinary Ephemera

Culinary Ephemera: An Illustrated History

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Culinary Ephemera
    Book Description:

    This extraordinary collection, a trove of enchanting designs, appealing colors, and forgotten motifs that stir the imagination, features an unprecedented assortment of ephemera, or paper collectibles, related to food. It includes images of postcards, match covers, menus, labels, posters, brochures, valentines, packaging, advertisements, and other materials from nineteenth- and twentieth-century America. Internationally acclaimed food historian William Woys Weaver takes us on a lively tour through this dazzling collection in which each piece tells a new story about food and the past. Packed with fascinating history, the volume is the first serious attempt to organize culinary ephemera into categories, making it useful for food lovers, collectors, designers, and curators alike. Much more than a catalog,Culinary Ephemerafollows this paper trail to broader themes in American social history such as diet and health, alcoholic beverages, and Americans abroad. It is a collection that, as Weaver notes, will "transport us into the vicarious worlds of dinners past, brushing elbows with the reality of another time, another place, another human condition."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94706-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-V)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VI-VII)
    (pp. IX-XIII)
    (pp. 1-11)

    People interested in collecting items related to food and cookery often think immediately of cookbooks. Indeed, collecting cook books, especially rare ones, has been a passion for many specialists at least since the nineteenth century. Yet anyone with the interest and determination to look beyond cookbooks can discover a vast sea of paper flotsam and jetsam from the past that gives a much more intimate and detailed picture of American culinary history. This paper evidence of historical food obsessions and cooking styles, of old social mores and cultural values, comes to us in the form of almanacs, menus, matchbook covers,...

    (pp. 13-21)

    I think of the almanacs of the past as early forms of the handheld information device: the “user’s” fingers did the walking, and although the data were confined to print, the publications connected their readers with the great world beyond. The wordalmanacderives from the Arabic wordal-manākh, although the Arabs did not invent the concept. The Coptic Egyptians had almanacs long before the Arab conquest, the Byzantine Greeks issued almanacs of various types, and the Chinese have a long history of similar literature. The primary subject of all these texts was weather; they collected astronomical data relating to...

    (pp. 23-39)

    Americans have always traveled abroad, even during the colonial period, although the motives for travel have changed or at least expanded dramatically in modern times. Business or diplomacy was formerly the main call to foreign lands, so only a small elite enjoyed the effects of travel—exposure to new scenes and different cultures. Not until the mid-nineteenth century did the allure of exotic and foreign places become a motive for travel—travel as entertainment rather than necessity. The launching pad for this new worldview for Americans was the pen of Bayard Taylor (1825–78), whose prolific writings about locales beyond...

    (pp. 41-51)

    The culinary ephemera associated with wine, beer, and drinking is so daunting, so compartmentalized by special interests, that the subject could easily fill several books. Indeed, many books on beer and wine collectibles already exist, although none of them approach the subject from the standpoint of culinary history or explore the complex social implications of drinking. Unlike collectors of European drinking ephemera, collectors of American pieces must deal with Prohibition and the peculiar scars it has left on American mores and eating habits. Thus, this chapter begins with the innocent images of wine production and then follows through on some...

    (pp. 53-61)

    The category of broadsides, handbills, and posters in culinary ephemera is fairly narrow, focusing mostly on posters with decorative graphics, like the handsome 1922 state fair example from the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society in figure 64. Poster art is by definition large and thus presents special storage and curatorial requirements for collectors. Moreover, it is generally scarce and thus commands extremely high prices at auctions. Because reproducing posters in book form requires a special format, I shall survey materials of more manageable size here. However, the state fair poster is a “must mention” because it captures in such...

    (pp. 63-75)

    Brochures, booklets, and pamphlets fill an important niche in the culinary world because they serve as tracts for the religion of food. Their purpose is missionary and informational: conversion of the uninformed. Because they are meant to change attitudes and break down misconceptions or market resistance, they are by definition free, reflecting companies’ belief that things given away are likely to receive at least passing attention and could even make new converts. The earliest forms of the culinary brochure were simple, wordy, and not too sophisticated handouts passed out on the street in an attempt to win buyers for gadgets,...

    (pp. 77-87)

    Today most dealers of ephemera include business cards in the category of trade cards, but there is a difference between business cards and trade cards, and the Victorians who printed these cards were well aware of it. Trade cards advertise a product, whereas business cards advertise a place of business or its owner (such as James Ashley’s punch house in figure 9, in the introduction) and an implied service (such as the provision of Asian goods in figure 92). Thus, a card advertising Wheaties or Snider’s chili sauce (see figure 132) is a trade card, whereas a card for a...

    (pp. 89-97)

    Whether from a perverse sense of editorial humor or by pure accident, the line on the 1941 cover of theSaturday Evening Post(figure 115) seems to sum up the dilemmas and contradictions of the American diet. The come-on for William Somerset Maugham’sDeath of a Nationsits directly beneath the snappy illustration of a couple snacking on hamburgers after an evening at a dance club. This image, by Italian-American illustrator John La Gatta (1894–1977), an artist known for his fascination with glamour, would stand on its own as an iconic image of American culinary history if not for...

    (pp. 99-117)

    Labels are a challenging area of collecting because they encompass a broad range of types, styles, and eye-catching designs. The category includes beverage labels; bottle, can, and jar labels; box and container labels; crate labels; and labels and stickers applied directly to food or to culinary utensils like the circa 1915 image in figure 125, which was for the outside wrapper of an Iowa ham. Food labels like this one are rare because most were thrown away when the food was consumed, or were damaged by contact with the food product—consider the labels applied to sausages or cheese. To...

    (pp. 119-133)

    Nothing is more mundane than a book of matches, yet this small and truly ephemeral adjunct to life’s daily routine contains all the necessary ingredients for fire, humanity’s most civilizing genie. More to the point, the matchbook is transformational, for it acts as an opener of conversations: one person lights another’s cigarette, and the gesture becomes a metaphor for sexual passion. The relationship between matches, smoking, and food has been long and symbiotic, aside from the obvious fact that we need fire to cook. In fact, we might view the diminutive world of the matchbook as a study in miniature...

    (pp. 135-155)

    For the noncollector, menus are probably the most obvious type of collectible culinary ephemera, because they commonly record special and highly charged emotional occasions and are often kept as mementos of these important personal events. For many people, the souvenir menu represents a once-in-a-lifetime meal, a memorable moment in their personal narratives. Because special-occasion menus are rare, a busy underground industry has arisen to turn out fakes of some of the most collectible items, including old railroad and airline menus. Many computer-generated copies are so convincing that only an expert can tell the difference between them and the real thing....

    (pp. 157-171)

    Sometime in the dusty past, a great philosopher must have commented offhandedly on the amazing complexity of simple things. Yet we must remain forever grateful that the likes of Plato never confronted the cosmic meaning of postcards, for the history of scientific thought would have spiraled off into faraway galaxies constructed entirely of these paper mementos. If the match cover can be called mundane, then the postcard is more so, and the joke on us is that it has become the object of a science called deltiology. Deltiology has assumed an honored place beside numismatics and philately as one of...

    (pp. 173-191)

    Little physical difference exists between a food brochure and a pamphlet containing recipes, yet the two formats serve quite different purposes. The brochure is purely promotional, a tract intended to win over and convert the reader to a specific food product. Though the recipe pamphlet is also ultimately a promotional tool, it has practical applications and is meant to be used in the kitchen; its goals are less abstract, more hands-on, and its effects are easier to measure. Just as we separate books on cookery from books on housekeeping, we should treat recipe collections differently from the prosaic brochure, which...

    (pp. 193-203)

    Having been raised quaker, my grandmother was somewhat reserved and at times even shy, so I was surprised by how well she could sing when she began to cook. She always sang the same tune: the “Toreador Song” fromCarmen. I know she heard that music on the old-fashioned tubelike spools that offered physical and somewhat scratchy proof of my great-grandfather’s passion for opera, but the connection betweenCarmenand cooking eluded me until one day I asked her about her singing. “I always cook with a song in my heart” was my grandmother’s response, which is probably the best...

    (pp. 205-221)

    Anne mendelson’sStand Facing the Stovecaptures in its title the central role of the cookstove in the development of American cuisine. The title evokes both a call to arms for taming the untamed and a trope for the creation of America’s most popular cookbook,The Joy of Cooking,a basic text by Irma Rombauer that has managed to survive, like the cat with nine lives, the vicissitudes of changing editors and changing food fashions since its first publication in 1931. The Rombauer classic, like most American cookery books since the 1840s, was created at the stove, and the technological...

    (pp. 223-243)

    By definition, a trade card advertises a product rather than a person or place of business. As we saw in chapter 6, the line of demarcation separating the business card from the trade card can be exasperatingly fuzzy because some printed cards can accomplish the purposes of both. Figure 273 depicts a classic trade card, one that manages to fulfill several other collecting criteria: engaging design, historical context, and the theme of food. It was published for the E. B. Mallory Oyster Company of Baltimore, and it celebrated Jumbo, the famous elephant purchased by P. T. Barnum from the London...

    (pp. 245-255)

    The valentine is an enormously popular theme in the collectibles market, and yet the subgroup of valentines with culinary associations offers a story of curious twists and odd surprises. Early valentines were largely devoid of food imagery, doubtless because St. Valentine’s Day was never an official feast day, so it had no traditional religious or secular foods associated with it that would give rise to easily recognizable metaphors. The Valentine’s Day customs in early America—the exchange of love verses and tokens of affection—took their cue from British folk culture that stemmed from the Middle Ages. American Quakers made...

    (pp. 257-265)

    The survival rate of historical packaging materials is spotty, which gives them great appeal to collectors and historians of advertising ephemera. In turn, the paper trail is sometimes misleading, for many of the most common forms of historical packaging are also now the rarest. For example, though the 1887 trade card in figure 322 is helpful in showing how stores displayed packaged food products, we would be hard-pressed to find the wrappers and packages for these products today, which include items manufactured by Chapman & Smit of Chicago as well as Jumbo brand flour and several less easily identified processed foods....

    (pp. 267-275)

    The paper trail of culinary ephemera ends here. No matter how determined we are to arrange all the odd pieces of paper into neat pigeonholes, we are sure to end up with a stack of wild cards that defy easy categorization. Such discoveries are part of the challenge, and part of the fun, of collecting ephemera. This chapter presents a few of these quirky and offbeat paper artifacts that fall outside normal bibliographical categories. Many such items were created for children: scrap pictures with food themes, booklets with food stories, paper dolls, paper animals given away as bonuses for purchasing...

    (pp. 277-278)

    As we close our meandering excursions through the byways and paper trails of American culinary ephemera, let us return to Yum-Yum and her seemingly infinite permutations in advertising graphics. My unwitting discovery of Yum-Yum’s popcorn bag mentioned at the beginning of this narrative released a freshet of paper Yum-Yums—at last count 140—that eventually led me to this project. Never did I dream that one theme would find its way into the creations of so many graphic artists: such is the richness of ephemera and the story they tell.

    Given the recurring patterns suggested by Yum-Yum’s ephemera, we can...

    (pp. 279-280)
  25. NOTES
    (pp. 281-284)
    (pp. 285-290)
  27. INDEX
    (pp. 291-300)
  28. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-302)