Promoting passion in book collecting

Advertising Cookbooks: Historic Gems of the Kitchen

Advertising cookbooks, produced by food or appliance manufacturers to advertise their products, came into vogue in the late nineteenth century. Though inexpensive, these little cookbooks offer an often unappreciated glimpse into the dietary trends and socioeconomic milieu of the eras in which they were published.

Rapid Changes in the Way We Ate

In the middle of the nineteenth century, most women still prepared vegetables cultivated in their home gardens and meats raised on the farm. They would supplement their domestic food sources with bulk purchases from local grocers or butchers. It was common, for instance, to buy flour and other dry goods, along with salted meats, in large quantities.

Dennisons_Bogie_BookBut these practices began to change with the Industrial Revolution. For the first time, it was possible to mass produce a wide variety of food products, and to manufacture pre-packaged foods in individual, labeled packages. And thanks to the post-Civil War spread of the railroad and other advances in transportation, foods could be transported to national markets. Factories allowed consolidation of production, lowering costs.

Meanwhile, printing technology was also evolving. Women’s magazines like The Homemaker and Ladies Home Journal gained wider circulation, and they got more support from advertisers hoping to reach women. Food and kitchen appliance manufacturers were naturally among these. The preferred audience was usually white, married women who stayed home with their children. By the 1910’s advertisers had begun marketing products with full-page color magazine advertisements.

The Introduction of Advertising Cookbooks

Electric_Refrigerator_Recipes_Menus_Alice_BradleyBut it was in the 1880’s that advertisers really revolutionized marketing with advertising cookbooks. Print advertisements in periodicals had existed for generations, but advertising cookbooks were a novel approach. Thanks to low postage rates, companies could send out small booklets either free or for a small fee, at a very low cost. The earliest advertising cookbooks were relatively simple, printed in black and white, with perhaps a single illustration on the cover. These books served multiple purposes:

  • They expanded upon the message of traditional magazine advertisements, providing more in-depth information about the company and its products.
  • They offered instruction on how to use unfamiliar or new products, from foods to appliances and kitchen implements.
  • They provided detailed, standardized recipes that incorporated the company’s product in preparation.

The recipes in advertising cookbooks are interesting unto themselves because they show us what people were eating at the time. But over time, they often incorporated tips on meal planning, etiquette, nutrition, table decor, and other household hints. That supplemental information gives us a window into the values, preferences, and conventions of the era. Some companies even used spokeswomen, either accredited experts or fictional characters like Betty Crocker.  Whether real or imagined, these women help to illustrate the “ideal woman” of the time.

The Evolution of Advertising Cookbooks

121_Ways_Cake_Fame_FiskarsPerhaps the most interesting aspect of advertising cookbooks is that they illuminate underlying relationships with and attitudes toward food. They also poignantly illustrate the impact of world affairs on the way Americans ate. The first major event was the passage of the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. This law required food manufacturers to accurately label products. Thus food manufacturers began to emphasize the purity and nutritive value of their products. This put smaller companies at a disadvantage since they often used cheaper ingredients, adulterants, and extenders–which eventually contributed to the consolidation of food brands to a smaller number of larger companies.

Wrigley_SpearmenThe trend in emphasizing nutrition and purity continued for another decade. But with the outbreak of World War I, focus shifted to issues of economy and conservation. Women were interested in ways to do more with less. The pendulum swung back the other way during the more prosperous 1920’s, when advertising cookbooks began to include fancier foods and ideas for entertaining. That changed again during the Great Depression, when attention again went back to frugality and circumventing food shortages.

Today’s advertising cookbooks often promise convenience or weight loss. They’re also more lavishly published than those of past generations, with glossy covers and copious illustrations. And we’re more likely to glance at their covers in the check-out line, than to ponder what they tell us about American foodways today.

A Selection of Advertising Cookbooks

Advertising cookbooks are often an interesting and affordable focus for an antiquarian cookbook collection. You may choose to concentrate on a specific food, such as milk or even gelatin, or on a certain brand or time period. Some collectors also build personal libraries around cookbooks for a kitchen appliance, such as blenders or even refrigerators.

Amaizo Oil

Amaizo-OilThis cookbook offers a fascinating look at advertising practices in the early 1900′s. “The American Indian did not realize, as he cultivated his maize, that one day corn would become the food of every nation…It is so pure and wholesome that physicians are recommending it to those who are under-nourished. A tablespoonful taken three times a day for a month will improve your health.” It’s chock full of recipes with a stunning color illustrated cover. Details>>

The Monitor Cook Book

Monitor_Cook_BookPublished in 1884, The Monitor Cook Book is a pamphlet explaining how to use stove. It highlights the improved single oven, broiler cover and patent bottom drip pan. The book also includes recipes and full illustration of all parts. This copy is beautifully preserved in its original blue wraps,with title and decorations in gilt. Details>>

A Souvenir from the Kraft New York World’s Fair 1940

Kraft_New_York_Worlds_FairThis set includes three brochures plus envelope. “The American Way of Progress” presents the company’s history from its start in 1904 through the year of publication and is subtitled “This will interest your husband, too.” The second pamphlet includes recipes for the new Philadelphia brand cream cheese, from the Kraft kitchen. And the third offers “Bright Ideas with Versatile Velveeta.” The set is in pristine condition. Details>>

Kellogg’s Funny Jungleland Moving-Pictures

Kelloggs_Funny-Jungleland_Moving_PicturesA lovely full color promotional children’s’ booklet advertising Toasted Corn Flakes., the Funny Jungleland booklet unfolds into three sections with six slips that change the dancing animals into new pictures with stories to accompany pictures.  It was published in 1909. Details>>

Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book

Good_Housekeeping_Everyday_Cook_BookFounded in 1885, Good Housekeeping helped to lead the 1906 “Pure Food and Drug Act,” advocating pure food as early as 1905. This book, published in 1903, was referred to as both a cook book and a “memorandum” which “will also be particularly popular with subscribers to Good Housekeeping who will now be able to put into this book in proper place all their favorite recipes from Good Housekeeping month to month.” Details>>

Dr. Price’s Delicious Desserts

Dr_Price_Delicious_DessertsDr. Price was Vincent Clarence Price, Vincent Price’s grandfather, who invented the first cream of tartar baking powder which secured the family fortune. This volume, published around the turn of the twentieth century, contains over 100 recipes for cakes, cookies, and confections. Details>>

Vitality Demands Energy

Vitality_Demands_Energy_General_MillsSubtitled “109 Smart New Ways to Serve Bread,Our Outstanding Energy Food” Vitality Demands Energy was published by General Mills in 1934. It begins with an endorsement from Raymond Hertwig, Secretary of the Committee on Food of the American Medical Association, stating: “Bleached White Flour Wholesome,” letters of recommendations by two doctors, and a forward by “Betty Crocker.” This recipe book is filled with fascinating ways in which one can use white bread. Other endorsements include: Emily Post, Margaret Sullavan, Claudette Colbert, Oscar of the Waldorf, Sylvia Sidney, Mary Astor, and Bette Davis. Black and white, as well as color photos throughout. Details>>

Good Things to Eat

Good_Things_Eat_Alice_BradleyAlice Bradley presents recipes made with Arm & Hammer brand bicarbonate of soda, commonly called baking soda. This is the 77th edition, published in 1924. It has a complete explanation of baking soda, how it works, and how to use it, along with a variety of recipes. A errata slip is laid in: “Correction to recipe for delicious Corn Gems and Muffins on page 18.” Details>>

2 comments on “Advertising Cookbooks: Historic Gems of the Kitchen

  1. Louise
    January 31, 2015

    Hi Lizzie,
    It’s me again:) Just wanted to let you know that I have quite a collection of advertising cookbooks. I especially enjoy die-cut advertising cookbooks. If you should happen across any, just leave me a note on my blog. BTW, love that Kellogg’s Jungleand book. I have one too but it looks a bit different:) I don’t know the date off hand. Thanks again, Louise

  2. ptavv
    March 30, 2014

    I found this entry in searching out an advertising cookbook that I got from my father when he was cleaning out his house and moving to a retirement home. It is in pretty rough shape, the cover and binding are in tatters though all pages seem to be intact if a bit brittle. In a brief bit of research on the ads it seems that the book might be from between 1867 and 1907 (the viable life of a bank that advertised in the book) and is from Scranton PA. I was wondering if you might know of some resources that might help me nail down the date a bit more?

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This entry was posted on January 15, 2014 by in Culinary Manuscripts, Food and Literature, History and tagged , , , .
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