Miss Frank E. Buttolph, the pioneering menu collector, donated more than 25,000 menus to the New York Public Library. What is less well known is that she often sent menus and other ephemera to the British Museum in London around the turn-of-the-century. Frank, as Miss Buttolph was known, was trying to elicit the help of British Museum staff in obtaining menus from the UK for her growing collection in the NYPL. She sent more than 300 items over several years and they are kept together in four large leather bound volumes. They can be viewed in the Reading Room of the Library but cannot be photographed by visitors.
The selected menus that form Cool Culinaria’s Buttolph British Library Collection have been kept (see below) in the Rare Books and Music section of the British Library in London for more than 40 years after being transferred from the British Museum to a permanent collection within the British Library.
One of the challenges of dealing with items this old is that the curators of the collections did not allow any dust to be removed from the covers or the pages of the menus. Apparently it is not permitted even to blow on the pages to try and remove any particles. They were photographed by Library technicians ‘as they are’ and we were sent enormous files to work from. This is when we hand over to our Photoshop wizards who get to work and digitally “clean up” the imperfections. For the Buttolph menus, dust was the main problem because many of them were covered in a thin film that had built up over the years.
The Last Guest original
The Buttolph volumes are rarely viewed in the British Library so we were interested to read this extract from Steve Orner’s blog
He asked friends Tom and Pixi Moritz who were visiting London to go and look at the collection and they describe the experience in “Menu Lady Mystery Solved” The London Collection.
“We went to “Reader Registration” where we filled out my application. Then we met with a screener who verified my ID and information and what we wanted to research, and she issued me a picture Library ID. We then were directed to another floor where the “Rare Books and Music” Reading room was. The stacks are visible in the center of the building as you go floor to floor, but are within glass rooms that only authorized personnel have access to. I was checked into the reading room... and went to a terminal to request the material. The system indicated that it would take 70 minutes to have the material brought up...
When I went back up and checked in, the books were ready to be collected. The room is very large with hundreds of desks but it was pretty crowded. I had to find a work station and give the staff the desk number before they would let me take the books. Turned out that there were 4 books in the set. 2 are in pristine shape, and the other 2 were intact with front and back covers, but were bound together by pieces of gauze because the front covers were no longer attached to the spine. None of the books have any designations or writing on the covers, other than a short notation in pencil on the inside of the front covers that I believe would be the library designation and was identical to all. I didn't see any notations anywhere as I looked through the catalogs. They were bound albums, and the pages appeared to be trimmed to fit whatever was attached so that the outer edge was even. The invitation, menu, or calendar would be attached to the edges of the trimmed page and were quite ornate. Most had ribbon or cloth adornment, and there were events from the Midwest, Washington DC, New York, and PA to name a few. There were also a couple of rail schedules and menus for specific rail trips in Montana and the Midwest. Some items were 1 page, but most were about 4-8 pages outlining the event, key speakers, menu and itinerary. There was one that was about 25 pages that outlined meeting minutes, members, as well as the menu and event itinerary. That organization was all about the abolition of “superstitions” and irrational fears, and they were commemorating the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. There was a tribute to Jefferson as a scholar who strove to rid the world of ignorant practices.”
The Buttolph menus that you see on Cool Culinaria’s website, from the delightful “last guest” cover from New York in 1903 to the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus of President Roosevelt as he toured the Northwest by train in 1902 are a fascinating snapshot of a bygone dining era. We're really happy to be able to offer top quality prints of these menus that few people have ever seen.