Monday, July 22, 2013

"Food, glorious food": culinary ephemera to feast your eyes on from 19th- & 20th-century America

One of the key motives for this column is to share Daedalus items I'm taken with and to amplify on  our website's (necessarily) teensy cover shots and descriptions. My choice today is Culinary Ephemera: An Illustrated History, and it's a doozy.
A mere eight bucks will take you on an picturesque odyssey of rarities, led by an expert with an accessible prose style who has amassed and annotated some of the most variegated food-related imagery you'll ever lay eyes on. It's history, it's art, it's sociology, it's American advertising pizzazz. What's not to like?
As author William Woys Weaver wrote about his project in Fine Books Magazine:
The word ephemera is not new to collectors of printed materials, but its association with the term culinary is definitely a new twist. Perhaps it was inevitable that culinaria would gradually evolve into a distinct category, not only because it holds so much appeal for collectors, but because the study of food and the history of eating habits are quickly coming together as a specialized science in academe. Just as archeology needs artifacts for its interpretations of culture, so do food studies require more than cookbooks to understand the ever-changing role of food in human society…. Some people collect menus. Others collect trade cards, pamphlet cookbooks, match covers, post cards, railroad ephemera, valentines, labels and stickers, wrappers and packaging, and even sheet music with food themes.
1939 pig menu. "This popular eatery in Austin, Texas, helped introduce the idea of drive-in dining and take-out curb service—another cultural revolution, nice menu graphics aside."
“Trade cards were collected in the Victorian period, especially by children who assembled them into scrap books, so the market today is flooded with items removed from these books. Subject matter ranges from the promotion of products like iron cook stoves, baking powder, health panaceas, and dried fish, to fresh fruits, confectionery, ice cream, and oysters. Oddly, old time ice-cream parlors also sold oysters in season, and the Baltimore trade card featuring Jumbo the Elephant dining on oysters with his elephantine buddies is much sought after for its wonderful graphics. In fact, anything connected with the 'Jumbo Craze' in the early 1880s is fair game for collectors.”
"William Woys Weaver's personal collection of food-and-drink ephemera is a marvel of culinary Americana, and we have the chance here to visit it with Weaver himself as our guide. It's impossible to stop turning the pages of this dazzling book. Few works in any genre have captured so precisely and memorably the interplay of food, design, technology, business and popular culture. Food-lovers, professional and otherwise, will find that every one of these provocative images inspires new questions, fresh ideas and enormous delight."—Laura Shapiro, author of Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century
Feminine pulchritude was a sure-fire advertising ploy for bar and restaurant matches. As the Cole Porter song goes, "Give Him the Ooh La La"!


  1. What is the marketing magic in the name Mikado?
    There's a chocolate covered biscuit stick in Europe; a biscuit with jam, marshmallows and coconut in Ireland; a shrimp; a genus of beetle; a species of pheasant; and, most unlikely, an Operation during the Falklands War...which the British decided not to launch. (Would you like to be the officer to tell the Iron Lady that Operation Mikado was a flop?)

  2. I guess it was a craze beginning with Gilbert & Sullivan that just became exponential ... The Iron Lady jape was a good one!

  3. Advertising from the 20's and 30's I find to be the most creative and eye catching.

  4. Was this load of SPAM intentional because of the blog topic?!!
    Dear - we don't want any:)

    1. thanks for sticking up for the Glean (and alerting me to Sir Spamalot of Colorado. I thought I had set it up so that we would be free of this stuff, but he seems to have been intent on worming his way in. I will go delete him from the menu.