In order to collect anything including cookbooks a collector needs some understanding of the theme they desire. A potential collector needs to invest some time and maybe some money to learn what has value and what doesn’t.
Collecting cookbooks starts as an interest in food and evolves from there. A collector also needs an understanding of the jargon associated with the genre like “cookery,” “culinary expert,” “the Art of Cookery,” and “school of cookery.” Some information may surprise you; little facts like cooking schools have been in existence since the early 1800s.
It is important to understand name changes that may affect the value of your cookbooks. For instance, The Boston Cooking School became The American Cookery Magazine shortly after 1900.
You will discover that throughout the years different companies found it advisable to create cookbooks to go with their products often establishing a spokesperson to further both the cookbooks and the products/ Some spokespersons ultimately became icons like Ann Pillsbury for Pillsbury Flour and Martha Lee Anderson for Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. There were often fictional icons established as well like Betty Crocker for the Washburn-Crosby Company, the makers of Gold Medal Flour, which later became General Mills in 1928.
The country underwent huge changes between 1900 and roughly 1930. Rural home began to receive electricity; cooking stoves were changing from wood burning, coal burning, or kerosene burning appliances to carbide gas, natural gas, or electric appliances. Small kitchen gadgets like toasters and waffle irons were becoming more common. Carbide gas systems were being installed in homes everywhere to provide lighting, cooking, and clothes ironing. Ovens were coming equipped with heat regulators and chafing dishes were making their presence known. Early refrigerators began to show up in homes making food storage more viable.
As these changes infiltrated society cookery schools were fading into the background; not out of existence, just less spoken of. Young women were entering college and specializing in Home Economics; an education that allowed them to enter the professional workforce becoming teachers or employees of food companies while others were hired by magazines and newspapers.
All of these changes required a new set of skills for cooking. Recipes needed to be changes to accommodate new appliances and heat regulators. Explanations of heat temperatures and instruction manuals needed to be developed. Home economists became the scientists of kitchens; testing recipes, experimenting with new gadgets, defining what worked and what didn’t. Then, these same women were tasked with compiling the recipes into book formats.
Added to their jobs was the task of incorporating certain products into a food company’s cookbook that would encourage homemakers to purchase more of certain items. The mind set was that if the recipe called for Gold Medal flour than only Gold Medal flour will work. Some food companies did publish their cookbooks in hardcover formats but most were done in softcover format. Occasionally, there would be a printing done with a spiral binding or in two and three ring binders.
About the time major changes began hitting kitchens making them more “modern” manufacturer of cookware began making changes to accommodate the newer cooking devices. Manufacturers of cast iron cookware, aluminum cookware, cook stoves, refrigerators, electric mixers, and even vacuum cleaners began producing cookbooks to help their customers implement these things into their daily lives. The cookbook served multiple purposes; cooking instructions, instruction manuals, and advertising for related products. Since there was tremendous change in the industry these cookbook had to be constantly updated and revised to reflect new techniques as well as new advertising for the latest gadgets.
Good housekeeping published their first cookbook in 1903. The cookbook was edited by the Good Housekeeping magazine food editor. By the 1940s other magazine began following in Good Housekeeping’s footsteps producing their own lines of cookbooks. By the 1950s newspapers had stepped into the cookbook game being led by The New York Times and the New York Herald-Tribune.
Eventually the companies who had been publishing cookbook for everyone else got a clue. This happened in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Publishers began to see a industry loaded with profits. Publishing house established test kitchens and hired their own home economists and food editors to create their own cookbooks. Fortunately, the American population was growing fast enough to absorb all of these changes that there were plenty of profits to go around.
This is how a multi-billion dollar industry got its foothold into society. Today there are thousands of cookbooks available written by chefs, celebrities, and unknowns. Choosing a modern cookbook that may have future value is difficult at best, some even say impossible. My advice, collect what you’re passionate about and worry about the value later.