Book Biz: Collecting Cookbooks, Banned Book Week, Literary Taverns

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I’ve heard book collecting is a neurosis, but all collectors, of everything from little silver souvenir spoons to juke boxes of the Benny Goodman era, function outside the bounds of logic as they assemble the bits and pieces of whatever arcana fuels their addiction.

Neuroses are odd because many would succumb to mild psychiatric treatment, yet most of us choose to endure that part of our psyche that has elected to play the game of life slightly out of bounds.

Last month I described a great old cookbook I purchased because it had three banks of indexed, tabbed thumb notches. There were murmurs from a reader or two that boiled down to, “Seriously”?

Well, it gets better. Book collecting can include any number of permutations. There are collections of poets and authors, first editions and signed copies, finely bound volumes of the 16th century and lurid paperback covers from the 1940s. Actually most collectors I’ve met have multiple categories they gladly accumulate for reasons only they could reveal.

So yes I do have a cookbook collection. My oldest date from the late 19th centDr. Chase sizedury, many titled as receipt books, the evolution of which came to be known as recipe books. Copies of the Dr. Chase’s Receipt Book: Or Information for Everybody were printed and bound on the corner of Main Street and Miller in Ann Arbor and contained everything from baby foods to prevent colic to common kitchen cures for farm animals. Dr. Chase and his steam powered presses began the book printing industry in Ann Arbor, no matter what a certain Ann Arbor book printer claims.

But age doesn’t drive my love of cookbooks. Having produced hundreds of cookbooks I know that the publishers are concerned and involved with the design and production of the book itself, more so than the editors of novels or technical books. There’s cover art to catch the eye, binding to lay flat on the counter or elegant on the shelf, sized large enough to allow lavish graphics or small enough for a crowded drawer.

Famous Cape Cod Recipes - sizedAnd maybe sometimes the recipes themselves shine. Why else have a copy of Famous Cape Cod Recipes (1944) if not for the instructions to make Ginger Ale Souffle?

I have an undated copy of Our Daily Bread from the Eastern Maine General Hospital Women’s Auxiliary which proudly features a silk screened cover by Frank Hamabe of Bluehill, Maine with ink so thick and shiny on the front cover you’d think it had been enameled. As silk screen adds a bit of cost to a book’s production, the good women of the Our Daily Bread -sizedAuxiliary must have believed their shiny red and blue cover would surely catch the browser’s eye, and it did mine.

Leave it to the photographers at Life magazine to produce this over-sized edition of Picture Cook Book - sizedPicture Cook Book at a full 10 ¼ x 13 3/4”. The interior photographs are what you would expect from a team of Life photographers and printed on a heavy Mead dull enamel arranged in sections throughout the book, printed by Livermore & Knight Co. of Providence Rhode Island while the text was letter-pressed on uncoated stock by Rogers Kellogg Corporation, Long Island City, New York. The plastic comb binding, which survives intact after over 60 years of use, was by Spiral Binding, Inc. of Paterson, New Jersey.

Who could resist the snazzy little Hotpoint people dressed smartly in red Hotpoint - sized 2unitards scampering over a roasting turkey on the cover of Electric Cookery by Hotpoint and proudly announces on the back cover “By Appointment to Her Royal Majesty The American Homemaker”? It has twelve full color chapter opening changes and perhaps 75 crisp black and white halftones. It’s printed entirely on dull enamel stock and bound with 8 metal rings that originate between the last text page and inside back cover.

In 1941, The Three Mountaineers, Inc. of Asheville, N.C. decided their book of Here's How - sized 2cocktail recipes would be titled Here’s How and be bound between two wooden boards tied with leather lacing. The front cover/board is decorated as if wood-burned and then painted (more likely silk-screened) in four gloss colors. The text contains numerous pen and ink caricatures throughout and signals the tenor of the day with a drawing of an African American working a punching bag beside the recipe for Chocolate Punch.

There’s also the 1916 edition of Manual for Army Bakers, a 1905 edition of A Little Cook-Book for a Little-Girl, and a 1967 edition of KOA (Denver) radio’s Hello Neighbor, a collection of phoned in recipes from the morning show, Hello Neighbor, each title an example of the divergent roles and audiences cookbooks address.

Like most neurosis, once revealed and explained, they are excruciatingly banal and benign.

Because I still work extensively with smaller, newer publishers I expect a lot of “How do I…” questions. Can I use Garamond on the title page? Do I need an LCC number? Should the dedication go on the left or the right? Can I start the book with a blank page?

Beginning publishers seem to believe that there’s a secret publishing manual somewhere and if they perhaps use a display type face for the title page, they may be breaking some hard and fast rule in the secret book and they will be forever marked as amateurs. They don’t believe me when I tell them it’s their book and they can produce it however they like.

Cookbook people are different. They have a strong sense of how to format their book right from the start, which is probably why I like accumulating their books. They are not bound by any traditional sense of book design so they approach the design and production as a blank slate and they have a boxful of chalk.

It’s a refreshing and extremely welcome approach to making books and I enjoy collecting them as much as making them.

Just in Time for Banned Book Week book-cover_0

A Tennessee mother has called for a 59,000 student school district to ban the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The novel recounts how human cells from a hospital patient were able to survive in a lab in 1951. The social and moral complications that arose are presented in the novel.

Amazon Monopolizes German Audio Books

While Americans are asked to believe there is such a thing as an unregulated, benevolent monopoly, German booksellers know better and have asked the European Commission to investigate Amazon’s (and its wholly owned subsidiary, Audible) control over 90% of the German audio book market.

McGraw Hill Education Going Public

After years of extreme profitability selling required textbooks to impoverished students, McGraw Hill Education hopes to raise $100 million to figure out how to do the same digitally by issuing and selling stock to the public.

Tattered Cover Sold


Denver’s iconic Tattered Cover bookstore is being sold. The forty some year old store flourished under the founder’s focus on providing a bookstore that uniquely understood its customers’ needs.

If It Worked Then, Try It Now

Many years ago a publisher told me that most bookstores depend on non-book sales for about 60% of their revenue. In that spirit, publisher EverAfter Romance is adding a line of “romantic” products to sell on its web-site.

Oyster Closes

In the February 2014 newsletter we reported that the Oyster ebook subscription service had already reached 100,000 titles available for rent at $9.95 monthly. Oyster is going out of business with pundits proclaiming it was a great business model that Oyster simply mishandled, ignoring the elephant in the room, Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

eBook Sales Falling, Paperback Sales Grow

While ebook sales have turned from stagnant in 2014 to dropping 10% through first five months of 2015, paperbacks sales grew 8.6% through the first quarter of the year.

B&N’s Long Path to Recovery

Another glimmer of hope as Barnes&Noble cut losses year over year, even as revenue shrank 1.5% due to flagging digital sales.

Papal Rush Job

In order to present Pope Francis with a bound remembrance of his trip to New York, the Archdiocese of New York selected Luke’s Copy Shop on Staten Island to produce the full color 190 page wire bound volume in 24 hours.

4-white-horse-tavern_650Literary Taverns

From Tolkein to Dostoevsky, Pound to Joyce, literary giants had their favorite watering holes. Here are seven still operating taverns that enjoyed the company of numerous scribes.

Video Book Trailers

I had no idea that in order to get even a smidgen of cyber recognition, videos teasing the story of your story on YouTube are requisite, just as a few years ago setting up a MySpace page for your title was the only way your book would be noticed.

Final Thought

Banned Book Week Edition

All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values. Well, as an old poop I can remember back to when we had those old-fashioned values, and I say let’s get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States — and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!” Kurt Vonnegut



About Wayne Johnson 69 Articles
I've worked in book manufacturing for over 30 years, closing my company Baker Johnson, Inc. in 2005. Currently I work freelance with a large group of publishers, advising them on the printing options available to them as the book industry endures major restructuring. My wife Cathy is a retired psychologist and spent most of her career working with the youth at Maxey Boys Training School. She is a small mammal rehabilitator with Friends of Wildlife. Our daughter Whitney is a PharmD working in the Denver area evaluating the pharmaceutical requirements of nursing homes. Our son Eliot lives in Waterloo and is an editor at Mathematical Reviews in Ann Arbor.


  1. Exactly. Especially now that you can Google a recipe, it would seem they are relics. On the contrary, their design features make them unique. Even better, their recipes don’t require today’s quinoa, Greek yogurt, turmeric, and boneless, skinless, bland chicken breasts to be tasty.

  2. Cookbooks are one of my many goofy collections as well. Funny thing is, as much of a foodie as I am, it has been several years since I’ve followed a recipe. I just read them for pleasure. The fact that it is somehow retained, along with and folded together with all the other recipes makes for some very interesting fusions.

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