A couple of months ago I was contacted by a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald to be interviewed for an article on collectible cookbooks. Over time the article became instead about cooking from old cookbooks, a subject on which I could also offer some views. It was published last Tuesday in the Sydney Morning Herald as part of History Week, which had the theme Eat History. (some great events on in NSW if you're up there BTW). I thought the topic of which cookbooks are collectible was actually worth writing about, so here are some of my recommendations:
Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management: First published in 1861, its author (or compiler, she cherry-picked the material for her tome from everywhere)Isabella Beeton died just four years later, but she remains an English icon, and her name is still attached to books on cookery today. Her books were available in Australia and later editions even contained sections on Australian Cookery. Nineteenth century editions(which gave readers hints on everything from cooking sole and setting a table to dealing with servants and the care of sick children) are now expensive and quite hard to come by, but early 20th century editions (particularly pre World War II) are still a nice addition to a cookbook collection and can be had for a couple of hundred dollars. They will only appreciate in value.
Elizabeth David. Although Elizabeth David’s books are still in print, the early hardcover editions of The Book of Mediterranean Food; Italian Food; French Country Cooking & French Provincial Cooking are always sought after and are priced anywhere from $50 to several thousand dollars depending on edition, condition etc.
Julia Child: The movie Julie and Julia has made any of the early editions of Mastering the Art of French Cooking much sought after (even the 1970s Penguin paperback editions). She wasn’t the household name in Australia as she was in America, so these weren’t a huge seller in Australia when first published, thus are not widely available here. Driven purely by the movie, first editions in America sell online for thousands, later hardcover editions for under $100. They have been reprinted since the movie – these are unlikely to ever fall in the collectable or valuable category.
Early Australian Cookery books: Anything from the nineteenth and very early twentieth century in good condition is going to be both collectable and valuable, with prices ranging from under $100 for early editions of community cookery books like the Presbyterian Cookery Book of Good and Tried Receipts or the Golden Wattle Cookery Book to several thousands for Edward Abbott’s English and Australian Cookery Book, For The Many As Well As For The “Upper Ten Thousand” This is accepted as the first Australian cookery book and I've written about it in another blog. An important work and extremely scarce. A couple of other early Australians are also worth keeping an eye out for, particularly in first edition: Mary Gilmore's The Worker's Cookbook; Miranda's Cookbook; Mrs Maclurcan's Cookery Book; The Kingswood Cookery Book; Margaret Pearson's Australian Cookery Recipes for the People; The Kookaburra Cookery Book
As far as more modern Australian cookbooks are concerned, Will Studd’s Chalk and Cheese and Banc both sell for around the $150 - $200 mark. Books like the first edition of Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion in good condition are now selling for more than their original list price and are worth hanging on to. Similarly Maggie Beer’s early cookbooks Maggie’s Farm and Maggie’s Orchard have become quite hard to find, making them quite collectible. First cookbooks by chefs and food writers who go on to become big names are always worth collecting – an example is the Marie Claire cookbooks which were edited by Donna Hay before she became ‘Donna Hay’. Probably less predictably, some of the most sought after cookbooks ( the main factor pushing up their collectability and value) are school Home Economics text books. In Victoria Cookery the Australian Way can push the $100 mark for the first edition in good condition. This is largely nostalgia-driven, people want the edition they had in school and seem prepared to pay it – copies on ebay can go for silly prices. The Queensland Home Economics text book Day to Day Cookery by IM Downes is another one which is sought after in its early editions.