Gypsy Tea Kettle, New York 1949
The Gypsy Tea Kettle opened in New York City in 1930 as a place for housewives, shop girls and ladies of leisure to pause from work or shopping, buy a sandwich and a cup of tea and find out what the future held by having their tea leaves read.
“Famous astrological palmists” were in attendance daily to amaze customers with scientific reading on success, health and happiness,” according to the blurb inside this menu.
Tea-cup readings were gratis since fortune-telling was illegal at the time. However, food prices were bumped up to include the 25c cost of a reading and tips were also encouraged.
The clampdown by police on “establishments of occult nomenclature,” had been going on for some time and female police officers regularly went undercover to catch people who read tea-cups and palms or who gazed into crystal balls for money.
The New York Times alleged the crackdown was because the trend was prompting a “wave of melancholia” among women who were frightened by the prophecies. Another theory is that the purge on fortune tellers, who were mostly of Romany heritage, was racially motivated.
Despite the crackdown, tea reading parlours remained popular. Female customers said it brought excitement into their lives to hear that unexpected money was on its way or that a tall, dark handsome man would cross their path.
In 1935 a romantic song called In a Little Gypsy Tea Room by bandleader Bob Crosby and his orchestra fueled the craze even more and tea-reading parlours flourished across the US, including multiple locations in Los Angeles.(You can still hear the hit ballad if you put the song title into a Google search.)
By 1949, the date on this menu, police raids had been abandoned in favor of other crime-fighting missions and the Gypsy Tea Kettle had expanded to two other branches in New York. The last one closed in the 1990s.
Courtesy Private Collection.
Each print is accompanied by a copy of the interior menu or cover.