I once had a pretty great job. (A great job that morphed into an awesome job, in fact.) But, I digress. At the great job I scanned and photographed vintage ephemera. Old scrapbooks, books, cards, diaries. I worked for a research project where we digitized old texts for researchers to use. It was an infinitely interesting job. Sometimes a bit tedious (I come by the nickname Scan Monkey honestly), but still interesting.
Therefore it was with great interest that I checked out the New York Public Library’s digital archives today. They are so much cooler than what I did. What they’ve compiled is a stunning assortment of scans and images from their huge collection, ranging from zoology to science & medicine to “cigarette cards.”
My favourite today is the menus, however. Of course. They all come from one collector: Miss Frank E. Buttolph. Astonishing. From the collection description:
The menu collection originated through the energetic efforts of Miss Frank E. Buttolph (1850-1924), a somewhat mysterious and passionate figure, whose mission in life was to collect menus. In 1899, she offered to donate her existing collection to the Library — and to keep collecting on the Library’s behalf. Presciently, director Dr. John Shaw Billings accepted her offer and for the next quarter century Miss Buttolph continued to add to the collection. Her principal method of acquisition was to write to every restaurant she could think of, soliciting menus. When letters failed, she often marched into a restaurant and pleaded her case in person. She also placed advertisements in trade publications like The Caterer and The Hotel Gazette, but just as often, published news of her collection prompted outright contributions of specimens from around the world.
She collected some 25,000 menus before her death in 1924.
Menu from the Farewell dinner for the Japanese Minister at the Arlington in 1887. I love the champagne and cigarette break.
Menu from the Fourth of July dinner at the Bass Rock Hotel in 1888.
Luncheon en route the R.M.S Oceanic in 1900.
New Year’s Dinner at the Portland (hotel) in Portland, Oregon, 1895.
Daily cafeteria lunch menu at 57 Broad Street, New York City, 1900. Look at the prices and the the way the menu is divided.
Wine list from an Elks’ dinner, on a trip en route to Buffalo in 1905.
I could spend all day finding and posting interesting menus from this archive. My only gripe is that many of the menus are for society dinners and high class events. However, they do offer insight into what was fashionable in food at the time: turtle, sauces, cigarettes and cured meats, it would seem.
I also love the design, artwork and attention to detail paid to the menus. They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to. As I continue to search for inspiration for the design the of the menus for our wedding dinner, I will be investigating this archive closely, I expect.
Here are all the other archives to investigate. There is something for everyone.