Founded in 1895, the New York Public Library (NYPL) is the largest public library system in the US, serving more than 17 million patrons per year. NYPL holds nearly 10,000 archival and manuscript collections, comprising over 50,000 linear feet of material in nearly every format imaginable. Today I am talking with Thomas Lannon, Acting Charles J. Liebman Curator of Manuscripts in the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the NYPL.
Can you give us a broad overview of the scope of recipe books in the NYPL?
This is a difficult question to answer, but I could say the NYPL holds over 80,000 items, which includes over 15,000 cookbooks, over 25,000 menus, plus periodicals, prints, rare books and manuscripts related to culinary studies.
Any broad overview of NYPL’s culinary collections is difficult to prepare and quickly turns into a crowded list. Such a list might include references to standard American cookbooks such as American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796), with its recipes for Indian Pudding and Apple Pie, and the 1824 edition of The Virginia House-wife by Mary Randolph, among the holdings. European cookbooks begin with the 14th century manuscript of the Forme of Curry and also include early printed books such as Platina’s De Honest Volupata et Valetudine (1498), Girolamo Ruscelli’s The Secrets of Reverende Maister Alexis of Piemont (1558), and Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747.) My language skills would be tested to list the continental works of French gastronomists such as Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and Auguste Escoffier. And I have a hunch the German baroque cake designs in Neues saltzburgisches Koch-Buch (1719) are worth looking into. As the 19th century hit and its insatiable spirit for invention carried the day, The Library collected pioneering works on food technology and professional newsletters on food products, preservation and the manufacturing industry.
Also worth mentioning in an overview is the Whitney Cookery collection, primarily English works, including some of the rarest recipe books held at The Library. A gift from the estate of Helen Hay Whitney, a copy of The Good Hous-wives Treasurie (London, 1588) is among its highlights. I mentioned the Forme of Curry, the earliest English manuscript at The Library, is also from the Whitney Collection. The manuscript, Dissertations on Cookery, by Mary Ellen Meredith, daughter of the Romantic poet Thomas Love Peacock and first wife of the Victorian poet George Meredith is another resource to consider. In sum, there are 17 manuscript recipe books in the Whitney Collection composed between the 14th and 19th centuries and include manuscript receipt collections associated with Joane Yate, Lady Anne Morton, and Hester Denbigh.
Additionally, The Library has great resources on alcoholic beverages. The Liebmann collection of American historical documents relating to spirituous liquors boasts 226 manuscript items relative to the production and use of whiskey, rum, and brandy in the United States between 1665 and 1910. We’ve also recently added important new acquisitions documenting the long history of libations in New York City. The Henry Günther material on brewers’ guilds includes the Protokollbuch of the Vereins der Vereinigten Braumeister der Stadt New-York, or minute book of the Master Brewers Association of New York. Through this unique volume we can trace the founding of the German-American beer guild, its constitution, by-laws, meeting minutes, and discover a member list. This should be viewed by anyone interested in the story of lager beer in America.
We’ve also recently added the records of DuVivier and Co., a New York City-based importer and distributor of wine and spirits founded in 1856. DuVivier & Co. were the first to import brands such as Perrier-Jouet, Hennessy, John Walker & Sons, Jameson, Plymouth Gin, Guinness Stout, and Bass Ale into the United States. The DuVivier and Co. records are a large archive, over 75 volumes, and include accounts, operations journals, and salesman books. The operations journals are particularly interesting as they show how DuVivier not only imported alcohol, but created apéritifs in various combinations. Through these journals, researchers will be able discover recipes and formulas for many popular spirits found in fin de siècle New York City barrooms.
How are these materials dispersed between different collections across The Library? I know you’re in Manuscripts and Archives, but are there other divisions we should consult within the NYPL?
Indeed, materials related to cookery are spread out over several collections, or locations within The Library. I think this fact is often overlooked and people assume there is some room dedicated to culinary material. Naturally, any library presents a challenge to the curious.
With tools like OCLC WorldCat and ArchiveGrid available freely over the internet, researchers should be able to locate anything held in most libraries. Locally, at NYPL there is a catalog for printed material as well as for unpublished, archival collections. If someone is looking for a specific periodical, it will likely be cataloged and anyone should be capable of locating it. The key to real achievement is to learn how to determine in a catalog record where some item is held, i.e. the item location.
Could you highlight a few recipe-related materials found in the NYPL’s Manuscripts and Archives Division?
I’d like to highlight here a few items which have only recently been made available to research in hopes that new researchers will emerge as a result of this blog post:
The Tolley baking records document the career of the Tolley family in American commercial baking industry. John W. Tolley and his son Albert E. Tolley were prominent bakers during the early part of the 20th century and affiliated with the Continental Baking Company and most importantly with the Ward Baking Company. The Ward Bakery Company had bakeries in several northeastern cities. For example, one of Brooklyn’s largest commercial bakeries was located on Pacific Street and Vanderbilt Avenue. The building was knocked down for the creation for the Barclays Center, but in the 1920s it produced millions of loaves of bread that would roll down their assembly line to feed the roaring suburb.
The Tolley baking records include the recipe books of Albert E. Tolley. The recipe for Ward’s Fine Bread is held in his Complete Set of Formulas Used in Eastern Bakeries 1924-1925. This recipe book includes an index of every major product created by the Ward Baking Company and tells the story of the rise of industrial baking in the United States.
With projects like What’s on the Menu?, the NYPL is also at the forefront of digital library initiatives. Do you have any new digital projects that may interest our audience?
With support from the The Polonsky Foundation, The New York Public Library is currently digitizing upwards of 50,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material. The Early American Manuscripts Project will allow students, researchers, and the general public to revisit major political events of the era from new perspectives and to explore currents of everyday social, cultural, and economic life in the colonial, revolutionary, and early national periods. The project will present on-line for the first time high-quality facsimiles of key documents from America’s Founding, including the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
Drawing on the full breadth of The Library’s manuscript collections, we also hope to make widely available less well-known manuscript sources, including business papers of Atlantic merchants, diaries of people ranging from elite New York women to Christian Indian preachers, and organizational records of voluntary associations and philanthropic organizations. Over the next two years, this trove of manuscript sources, previously available only at The Library, will be made freely available through nypl.org.
We’ll be featuring the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey this month. Can you tell me more about the NYPL’s involvement with this project?
The Manuscript Cookbooks Survey is a database of pre-1865 English-language manuscript cookbooks. In compiling this database, the Survey team aims to give culinary historians, food writers, and others enhanced access to these important, fascinating materials, which too often lie neglected in our libraries, historical sites, and other public institutions. I encourage people to use the survey to find cookbooks in libraries and likewise I hope more libraries can include their records in the Survey. The project includes a database that can be browsed by institution and most of NYPL’s manuscript cookbooks can be found there. All credit goes to the team who created the database, including Principal Researcher Stephen Schmidt.
I’m sure our readers would love to use your materials! Are there links to digitized resources? What fellowships are available?
The NYPL’s Digital Collections platform features hundreds of the thousands of digital items, including 18,000+ menus that were digitized as part of the What’s on the Menu? project. Researchers can also stay up to date on archival collections which have been digitized.
The Library offers short-term fellowships for scholars interested in accessing material which has not been digitized. The purpose of the fellowships has been to alleviate travel cost and offer support for individuals needing to conduct on-site research in the Library’s special collections. In the last two years we offered additional fellowships for food studies with support from the Pine Tree Foundation.
If you have any questions about the NYPL’s recipe collections, you can email Thomas Lannon at email@example.com.