A Guide to Collecting Cookbooks

By AbeBooks

Move over Hemingway, Steinbeck and Twain. Humble cookbooks have become highly desirable in the book collecting world.

The American cookbook genre truly began in the 1700s with two titles that can claim to be America’s first cookbook – The Compleat Housewife by William Parks (1742) and American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (1796). The Compleat Housewife was derived from an English book, while American Cookery - which is still in print today - features recipes using solely American produce.

Many collectors are drawn to these older books because they catered for kitchens before electricity, microwaves, and refrigerators. Their recipes reflect dishes, ingredients and styles of cooking that have been forgotten.

Many collectors are drawn to these older books because they catered for kitchens before electricity, microwaves, and refrigerators. Their recipes reflect dishes, ingredients and styles of cooking that have been forgotten.

Cookbooks from the 1700s to 1850s can command four-figure prices, but anyone interested in starting a collection can easily target the 1950s and 1960s - when America’s cooking culture exploded - without breaking the bank. By targeting these decades, collectible cookbooks can be snapped up for $50 or less.

The 1950s and 1960s saw countless cookbooks roll off the printing presses, most of which are now out-of-print, and that gives collectors huge scope. Aside from titles written by TV chefs like Julia Child, even food manufacturers, like Pillsbury, and appliance makers produced cookbooks to help market their products. These are highly sought after now.

 Celebrities also realized they could exploit their fame through cookbooks and this led to titles such as A Treasury of Great Recipes by Vincent and Mary Price published in 1965 (copies range from $10 to $250 on AbeBooks).

 Even the most widely used cookbooks from the 1950s and 1960s can command high prices. Good condition copies of Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book are highly prized (prices range from $10 to $450 on AbeBooks). First published in 1950 and reprinted many times, buyers recall their mother or grandmother using the book so there is a sentimental attraction. 

The key is finding copies in decent condition because they were essential items in many kitchens. The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer is another hot property - prices can exceed $4,000 for 1931 first editions.

 One of the most appealing genres is locally produced cookbooks that have small print runs and are often published by church groups or charitable organizations.  1961 editions of The Gasparilla Cookbook, which features recipes from Florida’s west coast, by the Junior League of Tampa can be found for a few dollars. Prized for highly original recipes, these books often support an ethnic style of cooking, perhaps Polish or Norwegian cuisine, even though the readers were far from their ancestral homeland.

 Collectible cookbooks can range from high camp, Liberace Cooks! Recipes from his Seven Dining Rooms by Carol Truax, to the downright bizarre,Lowbush Moose (and other Alaskan Recipes) by Gordon R Nelson.

 Despite the demand for rare cookbooks, it is suspected many collectors do not actually cook from their purchases. They could be fascinated with recipes of the past (The American Lady's System of Cooking Containing Every Variety of Information for Ordinary and Holiday Occasions by Mrs TJ Crowen from 1850), attracted to beautiful illustrations (The Chinese Festive Board by Corinne Lamb from 1935) or simply interested in bygone lifestyles (A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron from 1917).


Check out FairSearch, an exclusive service of AbeBooks and bookandpaperfairs.com for more then 300 cooking related books offered by many of the dealers who will be at the June 5th Granite State Book and Ephemera Fair. These books range from $3.50 for "American Cooking" offered by Carydale Books to $6.000 for "The Physiology of Taste or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomie" offered by Lizzyoungbookseller. FairSearch allows you to search a subject, author, or any keyword for a listing of the books offered by dealers who will be at the NH Fair who also list on AbeBooks. Contact the dealer directly if you would like them to bring the desired book to the fair on June 5th.