Collecting Vintage Cookbooks: A Taste of the Past

Lady reading in culinary book

Vintage cookbooks come in the wildest array of colors, styles, and culinary themes, and they line bookshelves in hardback, paperback, cardstock, and spiral bound editions. The most iconic image of vintage cookbooks comes from the 1960s and 1970s, and a recent surge of nostalgia for the odd recipes enclosed within them has made them a desired collectible. Before you start pulling every old cookbook off of the consignment store shelves, you should know a few details to look out for in order to make the best choice.

Types of Vintage Cookbooks

Vintage cookbooks come in all shapes and sizes, but not every edition is as easily discernable as others, and some of the least 'cookbook' looking books might be worth the most at auction.

  • Pamphlets - Vintage recipes were sometimes bound in small collections of pamphlets
  • Spiral Bound Books - Many community organizations self-published their own cookbooks, and these are often made out of cardstock and are spiral bound.
  • Hardcover - First editions of vintage cookbooks were mostly published in hardcover and are the most valuable.
  • Paperback - Although not as desirable as hardcover editions, paperback cookbooks have their own charm.
Vintage cookbooks

Assessing Vintage Cookbooks

There are a few characteristics concerning vintage cookbooks that can affect their resell values; among these include their physical condition, age, historic popularity, and niche.

Physical Condition

Since cookbooks are meant to be referenced throughout the cooking process, many of them receive unfortunate stains and smudges from errant gravies, sauces, and spices. Thus, vintage cookbooks with some degree of noticeable use are valued at higher rates than other vintage items with similar wear and tear. However, vintage cookbooks in pristine condition will still fetch significantly higher amounts than those with noticeable wear.

Age

As with most vintage items, the older the cookbook, the more valuable it can be to collectors. Given the cookbook boon in the 1960s and 1970s, it is less likely to find quality editions of cookbooks from the early 20th century. These cookbooks are less likely to be as colorful as more contemporary cookbooks and often don't include the instructive images modern cookbooks are well-known for.

Historic Popularity

Vintage cookbooks that come from iconic chefs and/or recognizable institutions are much more likely to be valued by amateur collectors than obscure books will be. Cookbooks from domestic-oriented institutions like Better Homes and Gardens and food manufacturers like Betty Crocker ignite the nostalgic desire within vintage collectors. Similarly, even those who aren't chefs are intrigued by the instructions of culinary giants like Julia Child and Martha Stewart.

Niche

Interestingly, vintage cookbooks that focus on either 'exotic' cuisine or specific culinary acts (like grilling) have their own select group of devoted collectors. The prominent appraiser, Dr. Lori Verderame, attests that these "oddities bring value."

Notable Vintage Cookbooks to Look For

The cookbook has a long history, and archaeologists have even found clay tablets bearing recorded recipes in the area that once was Ancient Mesopotamia. However, cookbooks as you know them today were first developed by Fannie Farmer for her 1896 cookbook, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book(now known as The Fannie Farmer Cookbook). In it, Farmer helped formalize the recipe format that most cookbooks follow to this day. Following Farmer's initiative, many notable cookbooks have taken the world by storm, and these are just a few to look for.

  • The 1931 Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer
  • The 1950 Charleston Recipes from the Junior League of Charleston
  • The 1961 New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne
  • The 1969 Betty Crocker's Cookbook
  • The 1976 Mastering the Art of French Cooking vol. 1&2 by Julia Childs

Vintage and Antique Cookbook Values

As previously mentioned, condition and popularity are two of the most significant factors that influence how much vintage cookbooks bring at auction. For example, a 1951 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book recently sold for $25, while "Martha Stewart's debut book…Entertaining is worth $100 today" according to Dr. Verderame.

One way for you to be able to estimate the value of your own vintage cookbooks without having to have them appraised is to visit Book Finder. This digital catalog allows you to look up a specific text and compare what its currently being listed for at a variety of retailers. Since Book Finder actually tells you the condition and year of the editions being sold, this is a really invaluable resource for valuing your vintage cookbooks.

Put Your Vintage Cookbooks to Use

While these colorful collectibles can be quite valuable, half of the fun of having these cookbooks around is experimenting with vintage recipes. Perhaps try making your own Drum Cake to round out your holiday menu from the Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boys and Girls of 1957. Or you can put your own spin on these classic recipes to give you and your family a true taste of the past.

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Collecting Vintage Cookbooks: A Taste of the Past