Category Archives: Libraries, Archives & Museums

‘From Past to Present – Natural Cosmetics Unwrapped’: Conference, Workshop, and Museum Exhibition

By Jane Draycott

For the past two years, the Arts and Humanities Research Council has been funding the ‘From natural resources to packaging, an interdisciplinary study of skincare products over time’ research project through an Early Career Development Award as part of its Science in Culture Theme. Early career researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Glasgow, and Keele University have been working in conjunction with staff at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum, and at the Boots Archive (on which see this Recipes Project post) to undertake a scoping project and investigate the evolution of skincare products over time. The aims of the project were to identify the natural substances used in skincare products in the past and identify what – if any – pharmaceutical properties they possessed; to study the packaging and advertising of skincare products and the ways in which ancient images were utilised in them; to recreate ancient skincare products using contemporary natural substances; and to undertake public engagement activities and so disseminate the information generated by the project.

Cosmetics containers from the Kerameikos Museum, Athens, circa fifth century BCE, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The culmination of the project was a two-day event at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum, the first day consisting of a conference, the second a workshop, accompanied by ‘Cosmetics Unwrapped’, a special exhibition at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum, which draws on the museum’s collections as well as those of the Boots Archive and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

On Thursday 15th February, eleven experts in different areas of the history of cosmetics from around the world presented their research. Thibaut Devièse, the Principal Investigator of the ‘From natural resources to packaging, an interdisciplinary study of skincare products over time’ research project, opened the conference with an overview of the project’s activities and findings.The first panel focused on literary, documentary and archaeological evidence for cosmetics in ancient and historical periods. Francisco Gomes from the University of Lisbon discussed evidence for perfumes and unguents in the Western Iberian Iron Age, noting that the containers are an under-studied item and minimal analysis has been done on either them or their contents. Mira Cohen Starkman from the Wingate Institute discussed a range of cosmetic recipes from Jewish literature in use in Ladino and observed that comparative research using contemporary tribal practices can be useful when attempting to understand how natural resources were utilised as cosmetics in the past. Finally, Kathleen Walker-Meikle surveyed Hieronymus Mercurialis’ skincare recipes and highlighted the amount of ancient Greek and Latin medical recipes that he had utilised as sources.

The second panel explored the scientific analysis and experimental reconstruction of ancient and historical cosmetics. Josefina Perez-Arantegui from the University of Zaragoza detailed the different types of chemical analysis that can be brought to bear on surviving samples of cosmetics, while Maria Cristina Gamberini from the University of Modena provided an overview of not only the chemical analysis of Phoenician pigments but also the recreation of the recipes that would have contained them. Finally, Effie Photos-Jones of the University of Glasgow surveyed the different types of white pigment recovered from burials in Attic Greece and presented evidence that some of these pigments had been synthetically created in accordance with instructions found in ancient Greek literature.

The third panel provided an opportunity to explore the reception of ancient cosmetics in later historical periods and in the contemporary world. Judith Wright from Boots presented a lively potted history of the company’s popular No7 brand, noting how the brand responded to social change over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first century. Peter Homan, President of the British Society for the History of Pharmacy discussed remedies for baldness. Anisha Gupta from Kings College London scrutinised the numerous approaches to oral hygiene undertaken throughout history. Finally, independent scholar Julie Wakefield investigated the used of the ancient Greek pharmaceutical writer Dioscorides’ work by herbalists in the Early Modern period. The conference was brought to a close with a guest lecture on the appeal of natural products from the botanist, science writer, and broadcaster James Wong, author of the internationally best-selling books Grow Your Own Drugs and Homegrown Revolution.

On Friday 16th February, a free to attend workshop open to members of the public, generously funded by the Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Keele University and sponsored by G. Baldwin and Co. allowed experts in the recreation of historical cosmetics Szu Wong, Anisha Gupta, and Julie Wakefield to share their knowledge, expertise, and techniques. Parents and children from across London were invited to test a range of products recreated from ancient recipes such as Ovid’s face packs and face masks, Cleopatra’s solution for hair loss, and Egyptian kohl, and to create their own toothpastes and oatmeal moisturisers. Children were also encouraged to come up with ideas for cosmetics and design and make packaging and advertising for them.

Star Soap advert and soap, image courtesy of Jane Draycott

The ‘Cosmetics Unwrapped’ exhibition will be on display at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society until August and is free to view.

The team would like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Keele University, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and G. Baldwin & Co for supporting the research project and these events.

A Taste for the Rare and the Well-Done: Recipe Texts and the Book Trade

By Anke Timmermann

Part II: The thrill of the hunt

Rare book dealers working on recipe collections are in the enviable position to be able to do original work on unique and little-researched materials, and to learn from the collections they handle, as well as from collectors, whether private or institutional. Collectors’ ambitions to acquire interesting and rare material in as comprehensive a manner as possible (including later editions, which were, for a long time, considered inferior to the first edition) have made it possible to piece together at least part of the history of the cook book. It is important to understand that, as a genre, cook books really are rather complex: they were popular publications, and somewhat ephemeral in that they were constantly replaced with more fashionable versions, revised editions or new titles. The example of one female cook book writer of the eighteenth century, Elizabeth Raffald, née Whitaker (bap. 1733, d. 1781), illustrates this point well.

Image 2: Elizabeth Raffald’s woodcut facsimile signature, intended to prevent the publication of pirated editions. Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper, for the Use and Ease of Ladies, Housekeepers, Cooks, &c. Written Purely from Practice, and Dedicated to the Hon. Lady Elizabeth Warburton, whom the Author Lately Served as Housekeeper: Consisting of Near Nine Hundred Original Receipts, Most of which Never Appeared in Print… The Tenth Edition. With… Two Plans of a Grand Table of Two Covers; and A Curious New Invented Fire Stove, wherein any Common Fuel may be Burnt instead of Charcoal. London: R. Baldwin, 1786, p. 1. From archive.org: https://archive.org/details/experiencedengl00raffgoog.

Raffald was a food writer whose books, among her other enterprises, afforded her much success. Raffald had her own shop for ‘cold Entertainments, Hot French Dishes, Confectionaries, &c.’ (ODNB), expanded it into a cookery school, ran two inns, and, with the publication The Experienced English Housekeeper, became ‘after Hannah Glasse, the most celebrated English cookery writer of the 18th century’ (Virginia Maclean, A Short-Title Catalogue of Household and Cookery Books Published in the English Tongue 1701-1800 (1981), p. 123 n1). The Experienced English Housekeeper is remarkable in many ways and, among other things, a landmark in the development of the English wedding cake, recording the use of marzipan and royal icing for the first time. It was issued in fifteen authorised editions between 1769 and 1810, but also inspired some twenty-five unauthorised editions. In order to prevent such piracies, Raffald issued her authorised versions with a woodcut facsimile of her signature on the first text page. Enthusiasm for Raffald’s work outlived the author herself, and a ‘new edition’ appeared posthumously in 1807, promising more additional recipes on the title than the text actually provides. Only a comparison between different exemplars, and detailed bibliographical information on other editions, can fully chart the authors’ attempts to protect their work and thwart others’ efforts to benefit from their popularity; the cunning imitations that yet bypassed these measures; and, amidst these struggles, the constant evolution of recipes, their ingredients and methods. And since many of these editions only survive in a handful of copies (due to their replacement, historical neglect or destruction by use in the kitchen), the collections that do preserve little known or rare editions are the best, and often only, means for the diligent bibliographer or bookseller to make such comparisons.

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Manuscript recipe collections, by contrast, are unique by definition, and have long been very highly sought after, although not for all historical periods alike. In the late twentieth century, manuscripts produced before 1800 were the main focus for collectors, but more recently manuscripts from the early nineteenth century have also attracted much interest. No matter when acquired or how old, manuscript recipe books are often the defining features of the collections of which they form part. The Folger Library in Washington DC is, famously, home to the largest collection of early modern western European recipe books in the United States (see https://recipes.hypotheses.org/tag/folger-shakespeare-library for an example from the collections), and other collections prize their manuscripts on a smaller and perhaps more modern but, overall, no less significant level – see, for example, the New York Historical Society’s holdings of recipe compendia, extending to the 1950s to 1970s, all instructive in their own right.

So how much is a recipe book worth? And is it worthwhile starting a collection today, now that collecting cook books, recipe collections and manuscripts is no longer a niche interest? For recipes as for any other collecting activity, it is the individual that makes the mark on a collection, beyond any perceived restrictions of a canon of literature or any financial constraints. One recent example for how collecting interests can flourish and develop is a young collector who won an honourable mention in booksellers Honey & Wax’s Book Collecting Prize: Ashley Rose Young, a doctoral candidate in history at Duke University, ‘began by collecting historic Creole cookbooks, then expanded her focus to the food markets of the port of New Orleans, a local economy historically dominated by African-Americans and immigrants’ . Further, it could be argued that some of Christopher Hogwood’s cook books were not collectibles when they first caught his eye, but have now, through their distinguished provenance, earned a place in other collections. Recipe books are, then, certainly a subject in which each collector can develop their own taste, and which will be valuable to their owners on many different levels. It also seems certain that they will continue to be valued in the book market, and that our knowledge of them will continue to grow over time, thanks to the endeavours of all those who handle them – be they private collectors, institutions, book dealers, or scholars.

Dr Anke Timmermann FLS is a historian of science-turned-antiquarian bookseller, and the author of Verse and Transmutation: A Corpus of Middle English Alchemical Poetry (Brill, 2013). Anke joined Bernard Quaritch Ltd, one of the oldest antiquarian booksellers in London, after finishing her Munby Fellowship in Bibliography at Cambridge University Library in 2014. She recently set up as an independent bookseller (A T Scriptorium), and specialises, among other things, in the history of science, and recipe books including culinary, medical and alchemical recipes. She tweets as @ElixirLibri.

A Taste for the Rare and the Well-Done: Recipe Texts and the Book Trade

By Anke Timmermann

Part I: If music be the love of food

My most enjoyable and extensive experience with recipe literature as a book dealer to date was handling the conductor Christopher Hogwood’s collection of books on food and drink in 2016. At the time, many who saw the catalogue expressed surprise that a man best known as a specialist in Neo-Baroque and Neo-Classical music would collect recipe books including a seventeenth-century manuscript explaining the preparation of pickled pigeons, hogs’ feet, early modern macarons, and ‘new College Pudding’; an eighteenth-century manuscript recipe collection that had once been part of the libraries of both the eccentric doctor-turned-food writer William Kitchiner (1778-1827) and, two centuries later, the food historian and bibliophile Eric Quayle; Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery, which appeared in a rapid succession of editions; a rare edition of John Davies’ Innkeeper’s and Butler’s Guide on the making and flavouring of British wines; and books and an autograph manuscript by Édouard de Pomiane, the 20th-century French physician, scientist, and writer and broadcaster on gastronomy, who was greatly admired by Elizabeth David. Hogwood’s library also included sets of Aga ‘Menus’ (periodical private press-styled leaflets with recipes and news for owners of Aga cookers) and orchestra cook books, i.e. recipes collected from and published by musicians to raise funds.

But it was not only the detailed information on food preparation, the international trade in food stuffs, national dishes and foreign influences, on social structures and etiquette, nor the detailed depiction of work in historical kitchens in word and image, nor even the classic design of modern cook books that would have given Christopher Hogwood the impulse to add culinary works to the historical objects that surrounded him in his Cambridge home. Rather, the parallels he drew between food and music also marked his books on food and drink as working material for experiencing history through the senses. In an interview for the New York Times on 12 December 1990, Hogwood explained:

There’s a lot of mystique about the original scores sort of thing, … even a certain amount of rubbish about playing music with authentic instruments. And I found that if you translate the business into a question of recipes and ingredients, people feel a bit more entitled to make comments. … Talking about music in terms of recipes gives rise to more speculation … people begin to talk about what it was then, what it is now, and what the reasons are for changing. And they start to see how, if you change one ingredient, it really affects the final shape. The dish will come out different: it may be perfectly edible, but it won’t be the dish that was described originally. And the same applies to music: substitute an instrument and a wrong sonority or style will result.

Image 1: Sale catalogue for André Simon’s collection, Sotheby’s, 18 May 1981.

Hogwood (1941-2014) was one in a long line of collectors of works on food and drink (and related recipes – household, medical, veterinary – as well as other ‘how-to’ books on bee keeping, fishing or gardening) whose growing interest in the subject has not merely preserved, but rather recovered and broadened knowledge of recipe history. Many of the standard bibliographies on food and drink are, in fact, catalogues of private book collections, and therefore not intended to be complete, but rather to provide detailed descriptions of the exemplars in hand. They range from Katherine Golden Bitting’s early American Gastronomic Bibliography (1939; her collection is now in the Library of Congress), Eric Quayle’s entertaining Old Cook Books: An Illustrated History (1978; books from Quayle’s collection appeared at auction at Sotheby’s in 1997, and his collection was sold in two dedicated sales at Bonham’s in 2006) and the gastronomic polymath André L. Simon’s seminal Bibliotheca Gastronomica (1953), and Bibliotheca Vinaria (1913; selections from Simon’s extensive library were sold at Sotheby’s in 1972 and 1981), to William R. Cagle’s A Matter of Taste (1999), this last based on the institutional collection of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, which was a pioneer in its recognition of recipe literature as an important genre . Interestingly, in recent years, other libraries have caught up with private collectors, and developed their recipe collections significantly; however, this development was generally preceded and driven by the bibliophile tastes of private collectors.

The evolution of cook book collections has significantly influenced the way in which rare book dealers have been able to identify valuable items (both printed and manuscript), to rescue them from potential obscurity or destruction, and to find new homes for them. And the consequent development of the book market has made it possible for anyone with an interest in recipes and books to become a collector. How so? Read more in tomorrow’s second part of this blog.

Dr Anke Timmermann FLS is a historian of science-turned-antiquarian bookseller, and the author of Verse and Transmutation: A Corpus of Middle English Alchemical Poetry (Brill, 2013). Anke joined Bernard Quaritch Ltd, one of the oldest antiquarian booksellers in London, after finishing her Munby Fellowship in Bibliography at Cambridge University Library in 2014. She recently set up as an independent bookseller (A T Scriptorium, ), and specialises, among other things, in the history of science, and recipe books including culinary, medical and alchemical recipes. She tweets as @ElixirLibri.

The Wellcome Library’s Manuscript Recipe Books: Reflections on a Quarter-century of Collecting

By Richard Aspin

Page from Lady Ayscough’s book of ‘Receits of phisick and chirurgery’, dated 1692, the first recorded acquisition for Henry Welcome’s library in 1897 (Wellcome Western MS.1026)

Manuscript recipe books were at the forefront of Henry Wellcome’s collecting activities. Perhaps no other genre of European written artefact spoke more directly to his conception of healthcare as the fundamental preoccupation of human beings. Indeed his first recorded Library acquisition in 1897 was a late 17th-century English manuscript recipe book. At the time of Wellcome’s death in 1936 there were probably between 150 and 200 such books in the collection, depending on how they are defined. Thirty of so of these came from the cookery book collection of John Hodgkin of Reading (1857-1930), purchased at Hodgson’s auctioneers in London in April 1931.

Acquisition of recipe books fell away after 1936, in line with overall retrenchment in the development of the collections; but it is probable that this genre of manuscript suffered disproportionately as the focus of the postwar Wellcome Library and later Institute was firmly directed towards the history of scientific medicine and professional practice. Not more than a dozen manuscript recipe books were acquired between 1936 and 1986. There was no obvious scholarly interest in the history of domestic medicine, and it was not even clear that cookery was a relevant subject for a medical library.

This was the position of the field when I came into post as curator of western manuscripts in 1991. I occasionally purchased manuscript recipe books for the Wellcome collection over the coming years – we had a generous acquisitions allowance and manuscripts of this type were fairly inexpensive – but I had little sense of developing an important research resource. The standout acquisition of the nineties, Lady Ann Fanshawe’s book (MS.7113), which has recently been the subject of a popular monograph[1], was purchased as much for its associational and provenance interest as its content, and the hammer price at auction of £2800 in 1995 (equivalent to just over £5000 today), which now seems nugatory, was deemed somewhat extravagant at the time. When cataloguing recipe books we more or less followed the pattern set by S.A.J. Moorat, who after the war had catalogued the items acquired in Henry Wellcome’s time: scant attention was paid to the nature and content of the recipes beyond a broad indication of whether they were medicinal or culinary.

Little did I know that the growth of research interest in this genre of manuscript was already well under way, and not just in the productions of one or two ladies-bountiful, but in the wider practice of recipe-making and taking among the middling sort in early modern England. How I slowly became aware of this is now difficult to reconstruct: certainly it had nothing to do with proximity to the Wellcome Institute academic history of medicine department, where there seemed to be very little interest in recipes. It was probably largely owing to the growing number of researchers consulting our recipe books in the Wellcome Library, often Americans, and often coming from a literary studies rather than a medical history background.

The phenomenon was sufficiently salient to lead me to propose a seminar series on recipes to the academic department’s programme committee, which duly took place in autumn 2002, and led in due course to the formation of the Medicinal Receipts Research Group the following year. In the meantime the evident research interest in recipes stimulated increased collecting activity, such that well over a hundred additional English manuscript recipe books have entered the collection over the past twenty-five years. Many more could have been added: indeed, along with the growing realisation of the research value of these books has been a recognition of just how ubiquitous this genre of manuscript must have been among the literate population of early modern England.

The growing research interest in recipe books was marked by the microfilming of a substantial proportion of our collection by Thomson Gale in 2003[2], albeit framed within a now rather anachronistic-looking women’s history paradigm. Later, the seventeenth-century books – some seventy or so volumes – were digitised and their contents selectively indexed, so that individual recipe headings could be searched on-line. It was becoming clear that in addition to the evident interest of one or two standout recipe books such as the Fanshawe volume, the generality of books

Remedy for the plague from Lady Ann Fanshawe’s recipe book, mid 17th cent (Wellcome Western MS.7113)

formed in aggregate a substantial research resource that could be used by scholars to illuminate questions such as the circulation of recipes, the relationship between domestic and elite medicine, and the use of exotic drugs.

Paradoxically the prices realised on the open market have not reflected the increased availability of manuscripts for purchase; if in the 1990s we could buy a solid if unremarkable late-seventeenth or eighteenth century recipe book for £350 or £400, this had increased at least tenfold by 2017. Such an exponential price rise almost certainly implies vigorous activity by a new generation of collectors building twenty-first century equivalents of the John Hodgkin cookery book collection. I am not aware of any other public collection in the UK that targets recipe books as a genre of manuscript. The price rise almost certainly means that the period of ‘heroic’ collecting of recipe manuscripts by Wellcome has come to an end. Henceforth acquisitions – of which there seems to be no sign of a diminishing supply – will no doubt be highly selective. In short, the Wellcome’s collection is to all intents and purposes complete.

Richard Aspin was curator of western manuscripts and later head of special collections in the Wellcome Library from 1991 to 2016. He took a leading part in developing the Library’s research collections during that time, including the Wellcome’s unrivalled range of early modern domestic recipe manuscripts, which are today the most-frequently consulted pre-twentieth century manuscript materials in the library. His investigation of the links between two seventeenth-century recipe manuscripts in the collection was published as ‘Who was Elizabeth Okeover?’, in Medical History, 2000, 44: 531-540

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[1] Lucy Moore, Lady Fanshawe’s Receipt Book: The Life and Times of a Civil War Heroine (2017)

[2] Women and medicine : remedy books, 1533-1865 : from the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, London, ed. Sara Pennell (2004)