First Monday Library Chat: Newberry Library

The Newberry Library is an independent research library in Chicago. Open freely to the public, the library is dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge, especially in the humanities. Today I’m talking with Will Hansen, Director of Reader Services and Curator of Americana.


Can you give us an overview of the Newberry’s collection strengths?

The Newberry is a research library focused on the humanities disciplines; we acquire and preserve a broad array of books, manuscripts, maps, and other materials relating to the civilizations of Europe and the Americas. We focus our collecting on original or primary source materials in a number of core collecting areas, including American history and culture; American Indian and indigenous studies; Chicago and the Midwest; genealogy and local history; the history of the book; maps, travel, and exploration; medieval, Renaissance, and early modern studies; music; and religion. Our collections encompass, in very approximate numbers, 1.5 million books, 5 million items in manuscript and archival collections, and 500,000 maps. More information is available on the Core Collections page of our website.


What online catalogs and digital resources can the Newberry offer to off-site researchers?

The best places to start research in the Newberry’s collections are our online catalog and the Modern Manuscripts and Ephemera page for searching or browsing inventories and abstracts of over 800 collections from the mid-18th to 20th centuries. We also provide a variety of research guides to help readers find material in a wide variety of topics in our collections.

In addition, the Newberry provides many digital resources and publications featuring digitized materials from its collections. These range from large-scale digitization projects to digital versions of exhibitions to interpretive digital humanities projects. Finally, our Digital Collections for the Classroom provide digitized primary sources with contextual materials for use by teachers and students in primary and secondary educational settings.


Our blog readers are interested in historical recipes to learn more about the history of food, magic, art, science and medicine. As the Curator of Americana, can you tell me what relevant materials we could find in your collection?

Cookbooks and related materials have not been a major collecting focus in the Newberry’s history, but many great items have come to us thanks to connections with other collecting interests. The Edward E. Ayer collection, focused on the history and culture of Indians of North and South America, includes a manuscript “Schedule and catalogue of some Indian receipts & cures” compiled by Daniel D. Rogers, a resident of Stillwater, NY, in 1828-1838. It contains 269 American Indian and other recipes and cures.

Menu for Kinsley's (Chicago: 1867). Note the advertisements on the verso, including one for "Burnett's Cocoaine."
Menu for Kinsley’s (Chicago: 1867). Note the advertisements on the verso, including one for “Burnett’s Cocoaine.”

The Newberry also holds some rarities related to Chicago’s culinary history. Of particular note are the 88-page menu and description of Kinsley’s, thought to be the city’s finest restaurant, in 1867; and the only known copy of Isaac A. Pool’s The Cake Baker, published in Chicago in 1857–perhaps the first cookbook published west of Indiana. Both are the only copy located in a search of the WorldCat database. Another great rarity related to Chicago’s printing history is a series of promotional booklets showing the capabilities of R. R. Donnelley and Sons, a Chicago-based printer and publisher, to create high-quality cookbooks in the 1930s.

R. R. Donnelley and Sons, Lemon Pies or Wash Tubs (Chicago: 1934-1938).  Pictured here are promotional materials for Omar Blue Ribbon flour.
R. R. Donnelley and Sons, Lemon Pies or Wash Tubs (Chicago: 1934-1938). Pictured here are promotional materials for Omar Blue Ribbon flour.

Of some tangential interest might be the many items related to livestock, cattle brands, and the like in the Newberry’s Everett D. Graff collection, focused on the westward expansion of the United States.


Are there other collections across the Newberry where our readers might find relevant materials?

There certainly are. Jean S. Gottlieb’s published Checklist of the Newberry Library’s Printed Books in Science, Medicine, Technology, and the Pseudosciences ca. 1460-1750 is a good place to start for an overview of our early, chiefly European, holdings of rare books in these fields. They include some early cookery highlights, such as the 1480 (Cividale) and 1494 (Venice) editions of the first printed cookbook, Platina’s De Honesta Voluptate. The Newberry also holds a number of the major early English cookbooks of the eighteenth century, such as the 1771 second edition of Elizabeth Raffald’s Experienced English Housekeeper.

15th century recipe with handwritten marginalia by Platina
Platina, De Honesta Voluptate (Cividale, Italy: 1480), with marginalia by an early reader.

We also hold a number of early manuscripts that contain medicinal and workshop formulae or recipes, dating back as far as the fourteenth century.   A fifteenth-century Italian manuscript focuses on recipes and instructions for making inks, pigments, glue, and other materials related to book production—part of our great collections for the history of printing and the book. Another charming example is a 1591 English law text, Les Tenures de Monsieur Littleton, reused as a commonplace-book in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including manuscript recipes for glue, pickles, gooseberry vinegar, blacking polish, orange and cowslip wines, red currant jelly, cough syrup for whooping cough, and a tonic for consumption.


If our readers want to go to Chicago to use your materials, does the Newberry offer any fellowships or travel grants they should know about?

The Newberry has an active and robust fellowship program, supporting visits from one month to a full year. Information can be found on our Fellowships page on our website. We are also a new member of the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, which offers its own consortial fellowships.

Access to our collections is free and open to members of the public over 16 years of age with a research interest supported by the collections.


Thanks, Will, for chatting with me! If you have additional questions about the Newberry Library, you can email Will Hansen.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Michelle DiMeo (November 2, 2015). First Monday Library Chat: Newberry Library. The Recipes Project. Retrieved July 20, 2024 from

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