History in Menus


The newly launched New York Public Library Digital Gallery contains over 275,000 images that have been digitized from the the library's collections. The wide spectrum of images range from New York cityscapes to 19th century portraits of inmates at Dublin's Mountjoy prison.

You could spend hours poring over this rich database of photographs, prints, and ephemera, but in the interest of gastronomy, I direct your attention the Miss Frank E. Buttolph American Menu Collection, which contains more than 5,000 menus dating from 1851 through 1908.

According to the New York Public Library Web site, Miss Frank E. Buttolph was "a somewhat mysterious and passionate figure" whose mission in life was collecting menus. She donated her massive personal collection to the library in 1899 and continued acquiring menus on behalf of the library until her death in 1924:

Her principal method of acquisition was to write to every restaurant she could think of, soliciting menus. When letters failed, she often marched into a restaurant and pleaded her case in person. She also placed advertisements in trade publications like The Caterer and The Hotel Gazette, but just as often, published news of her collection prompted outright contributions of specimens from around the world. Three times between 1904 and 1909, The New York Times wrote about her and the collection, noting once that "she frankly avers that she does not care two pins for the food lists on her menus, but their historic interest means everything."

» "Chop Suey Sundae, Anyone?" [The Food Section]

Image: Detail from "Dinner in Honor of Cornelius Fergueson [held by] Lobster Club [at] Fort Lowry Hotel, Bath Beach, NY" (1905), Miss Frank E. Buttolph American Menu Collection, New York Public Library.



This is the best thing I've seen on the web in a loooong time. I love old menus, I don't collect them so it's terrific to be able to see them online. A few years ago the NYPL had a similar thing on their site but there were only a handful of menus. Thanks for the link.


thank you much for this post (and to the library for digitizing the whole schebang). more things to obsess over in my spare time.


I wonder if this is the same menu collection that they used in an exhibit at the main library on 42nd St. a couple of years ago? It was fascinating! Thanks for posting the link.


Thanks haddock and raspberry sour (boy does that sound strange). Debbie, I missed that show, but I remember when it was on. William Grimes was the curator, and it looks like these menus were displayed (according to this page I found on the NYPL web site):



Great collection. Also the Los Angeles Public Libary has also digitized their Southern California menu collection.


Hello i am doing my senior project on meus but i am having some trouble finding information on anything. When i di search i get things in frech and other launguges. If any one can help me out and know where i can get the deffinitions of all menus and the history of menus please reply back to me.

My email is Maddhadder39@hotmail.com


hi i am inder and doing my management.i also did'nt find any information on Menus,can you help me out to find the history of the menus and influences.



hi i am inder and doing my management.i also did'nt find any information on Menus,can you help me out to find the history of the menus and influences.
please send me the information on



very nice article thanks for the share


thank you so much for this post kept me busy for a while


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