How to collect vintage cookbooks

How to collect vintage cookbooks

The reasons for collecting old cookbooks vary and many of them have nothing to do with food. According to the “Price Guide to Cookbooks and Recipe Leaflets” by Linda J. Dickinson (now out of print but available through online booksellers), the decoration or subject matter often has more to do with the collectible nature of these items than the recipes these books contain.

Genre and Subject Matter

“I found that paper books and leaflets with attractive covers were a very big part of the market. St. Nicholas Flour leaflets with Santa on the cover were in demand by antiquers who decorate at the holidays with old ornaments and such,” Dickinson said.

Those interested in “celebrity memorabilia snatched up Kate Smith and Yul Brynner” illustrations, Dickinson added. Folks looking for soft drink advertising seek 7-Up recipe flyers and the like. Those who favor art deco themes will also be interested in books or leaflets that have this type of distinctive artwork in the design. In other words, crossover collecting is big in this area.


As with collecting any other type of book, first editions and limited editions of cookbooks can also be worth more than subsequent printings. And, as you might expect, autographed cookbooks associated with famous individuals can also be worth more than unsigned copies.

Condition and Value

By and large, to be considered top-notch, cookbooks and recipe leaflets need to be in very nice ​condition. This means they should have no loose or soiled pages and clean covers.

Unfortunately, well-loved favorites that received a lot of use in the kitchen did not hold up so well, and they may have less than stellar pages in addition to worn covers and broken binding. For average, everyday books and leaflets, it’s wise not to pay top prices unless the condition is excellent. There are, however, exceptions to the condition rule in this area of collecting.

Some titles that have historic significance or those that are extremely old and rare will be valuable regardless of the condition. This includes handwritten recipe books or “receipts” as they were referred to long ago from the Civil War era, for example. These can be quite valuable even if they are soiled or discolored as long as the pages are still legible and not torn.

A copy of “The Federation Cook Book: A Collection of Tested Recipes Contributed by the Colored Women of the State of California,” which interests collectors of Black Americana as well as cookbook collectors, is another example. These can be in marginally good condition, but due to their rarity and subject matter, worth quite a good sum. If you want the book more for its content than as a collector’s item, reprints are available in the $11 to $25 range.

Some titles, like “The White House Cookbook,” that originated in the late 1800s are not that difficult to find, but they are not always in good condition. Find an early one that was not used much, and it can be worth $200 or more. This book was also reprinted decades later, and those versions can be found much more reasonably priced.

Cookbook and Recipe Leaflet Sample Values

What are people paying for these vintage books that resided in most every kitchen of yesteryear? Here are some sample values:

We get many requests at Cookbook Village from collectors asking about the value of one of their cookbooks or entire collection. There is no fast or simple way to derive the values of collectible cookbooks, but we are happy to share the methods we use to help you evaluate your own collection.

Does Age Really Matter?

Don’t Be Fooled by Inflation

Let us explain. You have an antique book that appears very rare. You look it up on Amazon, eBay or Abebooks. You see just one or two copies available. Wow, the prices are noted as $250. Great … you think to yourself you must have a winner. Wrong. You need to do your homework. Some book dealers list a book at an incredibly high price and others follow. A book’s value is the market value — not the listing price, but the sales price. You need to ensure you understand what your book has sold for in the past. Do eBay searches for Completed Listings. If you can’t find past sales, check for the average listing prices on a book comparison site (discussed in the next section).

Find Out Your Book’s Average Selling Price

What If Your Book Isn’t Listed Online?

If you are lucky enough to have a truly rare cookbook, you may not find it on any of the book sites noted above. We have been fortunate to carry several such cookbooks in our store over the years and believe us, these don’t come along often. Many sellers list their items as rare when indeed with some searching, you’ll see that the book is more readily available then what’s been indicated. A scarce or rare cookbook is generally in the antique category and even then, you may run into it elsewhere. If you see nothing like your own book, you may wish to take it to a professional book appraiser. Many antiquarian booksellers offer appraisal services. We should add that Cookbook Village does not offer an appraisal service.

Though we specialize in vintage and collectible cookbooks, we are not appraisers and don’t have the operational capacity to appraise books that come our way. We instead offer information on specific collectible cookbooks through our blog articles. Check the Cookbook Collectibility Reviews section of our Cookbook Collecting blog to see if we have information on your book listed.

Effective April, 2015, we are no longer able to answer questions below on the value of a cookbook or collection.

And many people underestimate the value that these old, collectible cookbooks have, for example Betty Crocker Cookbooks and Better Homes & Gardens Cookbooks, and have never even thought about selling them. There are many other old, valuable cookbooks of course. But for the purpose of this article we’ll start with these two well known cookbook publishers’ cookbooks. They’ll be easier to research.

Do you have any old Better Homes and Gardens Cook Books? How about Betty Crocker Cook Books from the 1950s, 1960s, or popular editions from 1959, 1961 or older? Pie or plaid covers? Betty Crocker New Picture Cookbook or Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cook Books or any others?

Maybe you do have some of these cookbooks now. Maybe you have some at mom’s or grandma’s house or even better at great-grandma’s house. Perhaps you’ve seen them at garage sales. A lot of old cookbooks can be valuable — worth a lot of money. Even those of lesser value may sell for ten times the original price.

Whether you have cook books with binders, hardcovers, plaid covers, or pie covers, you need to do a little research. You’ll need to know the title, year of publication, edition (usually printed inside the book in front) and condition, before you can come up with the TRUE value.

You can start by gathering as much of these facts as possible. If any of your old books have been signed by the author or in some cases the illustrator, that’ll bring up the price significantly. Then, first of all, go to Google and type in the exact title – for example, ‘Betty Crocker Cookbook’ and the year published, and see what comes up. Then try using the same phrase with cook book as two words. If you have a plaid or pie cover or other distinct cover, then try again adding ‘plaid cover’ or ‘pie cover’. Do it again and type in the edition if known. You may find some others for sale or that have already sold. Then try again with your variations and add the words – excellent condition, fine condition or good condition.

Next go to eBay and go to the search feature and then ‘completed listings’. Search by the category ‘cookbooks’ and the title of your cookbook and look for similar titles and editions. Only look at those that have sold, to get a feel for the price range. In terms of pricing, ignore the cookbooks that are still for sale. Many factors go into why they didn’t sell. Finding sold copies in these cookbook listings will give you a general idea of the range they’ve sold in. The binding, year and condition are just some of the variable factors. You can do the same with your Better Homes & Gardens Cookbooks. Then try some of the other old, rare, vintage or antique cookbooks that you’ve collected.

The deciding factor for price in every case will be the condition of the cookbook. Condition is everything. Handle your cookbooks carefully. Collectors and buyers expect cookbooks to have an occasional spot on them. If they’re fragile, handle them with white cotton gloves. Never put them in airtight bags or containers, because the moisture content in the pages will cause them to mildew. You can bag them but leave them open. In any case protect them.

So you need to decide on the condition of your cookbooks, find the price range of cookbooks that have sold on completed listings and then decide how to price your book. Be very wary of putting any old, rare, vintage or antique cookbooks on eBay for 99 cents or without a reserve price. You don’t want someone walking off with your precious book for just pennies. The sold cookbooks on eBay completed listings have a distinct advantage. You know what people are actually paying for cookbooks and current price ranges.

As for books that list the value of cookbooks, I have them all. But I find them worthless because the values do not reflect what people actually pay for cookbooks or the current prices, whether it is Betty Crocker Cookbooks, Better Home & Gardens Cookbooks or any others. And the cookbook value books go rapidly out of date as time passes since publication.

Besides eBay there are a lot of other ways to sell your cookbooks on the Internet or outside of the Internet. There is too much to go into in this short article. There are many other trade secrets. One easy way — there is a free cookbook listing service online, for old, rare, vintage or antique cookbooks where you can list your cookbooks for sale, yes free of charge. Collectors and buyers come to the site. You can continue to sell them using other methods and not wait for a buyer to make contact from the site. You can always have your listing removed from the site if it sells or you sell it another way.

You can buy and sell old cookbooks easily once you become familiar with one cookbook and you’ll probably be able to find more of them at garage sales. With this basic knowledge of how to sell cookbooks, you’ve just become a mini-expert on selling cookbooks. So go to your cookbook shelves now and see what you already have and start from there. Once you’re an expert on Betty Crocker Cookbooks and Better Homes and Gardens Cookbooks you can start researching other old, rare, classic, vintage, antique and collectible cookbooks.

Vintage cookbooks are kitchen eye-candy. They set high upon the shelves, in their colorful jackets, challenging modern gals to attain the skills acquired by the cooks that came before them.

How to collect vintage cookbooks

Oh, what beautiful cookbooks!

With all the recipes available online, why would anyone want a REAL cookbook? It is convenient to get recipes online, but all too frequently I forget to save them. Then I can’t find the exact recipe I used before. Also, you might think cookbooks contain old-fashioned recipes, but really, when it comes to cooking, there’s nothing new under the sun, only faster ways of doing things.

Around once a year, I buy a cookbook (or a recipe magazine) and make almost all the recipes inside. I make them one by one, and skip the ones that are unappealing to my family.

My favorite recipe magazines are Woman’s World and Taste of Home. Last September we worked our way through the Taste of Home fall dessert issue. My kids didn’t like all the pies, but they loved the sweet breads and cookies. I like Taste of Home because they have recipe contests, then publish the winning recipes with the winners’ pictures and a short bio. Fall is a great time for experimenting and breathing life into the kitchen with some new ideas!

Winter is also perfect for making comforting, hot meals. Several years ago I found the Gooseberry Patch Christmas Cookbook at a thrift store. I love their brand! The illustrations and font are so homey and gorgeous! The Spiced Pecans recipe is easy, and everyone loves it. The two women that created Gooseberry patch were next-door neighbors in 1984, looking for a way to stay home with their kids. You can read their story and sign up for their email with this link:

How to collect vintage cookbooks

My 2004 Gooseberry Patch Christmas Cookbook

The two “Oldie but Goodie” cookbooks in the collection are The Pillsbury Family Cook Book (1970), and Betty Crocker’s Cookbook (1978). They are stained and tattered, yet beloved. The pan pizza and quiche Lorraine recipes from these books have been among my go-to recipes over the years.

How to collect vintage cookbooks

These cookbooks are “oldies but goodies.”

The most unique cookbooks in our little house are the kinds that churches and businesses sell. One is a Beaufort cookbook from 1980 containing my favorite shrimp dip recipe. Unfortunately, I used salad shrimp for this recipe the last time I made it, and the terrible smell of those shrimp are burned in my memory! Two of the local cookbooks are from grandparents’ churches, and one is from my hairdresser’s salon.

How to collect vintage cookbooks

Cookbooks from churches and local businesses are the most unique.

Most vintage cookbooks cost under $3 in any local thrift store. The older Gooseberry Patch cookbooks can be purchased on eBay for around $4. Joy of Cooking (1943), by Irma S. Rombauer, sells for under $10 online.

I would love to own Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child- especially after watching the movie Julie and Julia. A blogger named Julie (true story) attempts to make every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook in a one-year period. I never knew how awesome and competitive Julia Child was until I saw that movie, or that she married late in life and adored her husband. You can read about her romance with her husband in her book titled, My Life in France. Her cookbook, Mastering the art of french Cooking, is a whopping 726 pages. Volume One was published in 1961, and Volume Two was published in 1970. The version I would like (pictured) costs at least $50 in today’s market.

How to collect vintage cookbooks

One of my books about Julia Child

Do you have a favorite cookbook? I’d love to hear from you!

How to collect vintage cookbooks

Use this link to read about other vintage items: Collectible Tins- Behind the Vintage

How to collect vintage cookbooks

Recipes from “Dainty Desserts for Dainty People: Knox Gelatine,” by Charles K. Knox Co., published c. 1915. Courtesy of the University of California Libraries. (Photo: Cookbooks and Home Economics / Internet Archives)

Not sure what to make for dinner tonight? Aspiring chefs or weary home cooks can find inspiration in recipes of the American past. Over 10,000 historic cookbooks are now available in the Cookbooks and Home Economics collection of the Internet Archive. From early European recipe collections which walk the line of food and medicine to 20th-century promotional recipes by Gelatin brands, these historic cookbooks have a recipe for any time, place, or occasion.

Chefs and historians can learn a lot about the tastes and expectations of past consumers through recipe collections. Gender and family roles throughout history become particularly clear while perusing historic cookbooks. In a cookbook dedicated to bachelors, one can find a recipe for Queen Victoria’s Toasted Cheese. While easy to prepare, it is not an ordinary grilled cheese. The jokingly toned instructions advise mixing grated cheese with ale and champagne for a hot dip that a bachelor in 1906 could prepare. Another yummy dish—Maple Custard—can be found in a cookbook devoted to new brides. This book contains ample advertisements for products such as condensed milk and sodas. New brides were clearly expected to do the shopping and cooking in the World War I era, when the book was published.

Mostly American in origin, the cookbook collection nonetheless presents a picture of a national cuisine which has been directly impacted by immigration. For example, the first American cookbook—American Cookery, published in 1796—contained many English recipes familiar to colonists who had recently separated from the British Empire. However, readily available American ingredients such as cornmeal and a simpler style of preparation appear in some distinctly “American” entries. Throughout the cookbook collection, influences of diverse global cultures can be seen in recipes. So, too, can prejudice and racism. These historic cookbooks are important documents for tracing the inclusion and exclusion of marginalized peoples from “American” identities.

If you would like to explore the Cookbooks and Home Economics collection, check out the Internet Archive.

Over 10,000 scans of historic cookbooks are available for free on the Internet Archive.

How to collect vintage cookbooks

“The country housewife and lady’s director, in the management of a house, and the delights and profits of a farm…,” by Richard Bradley, published 1732, London. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library. (Photo: Cookbooks and Home Economics / Internet Archives)

From early colonial recipes to 20th century brand promotion, you can explore the history of gender, consumption, and class through this extensive collection of historic cookbooks.

How to collect vintage cookbooks

“The oyster; where, how and when to find, breed, cook and eat it..”, by Eustace Murray, published 1861. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library. (Photo: Cookbooks and Home Economics / Internet Archives)

Among the strange recipes, you may discover some gems, such as Queen Victoria’s Toasted Cheese or Maple Custard.

How to collect vintage cookbooks

“A Bachelors Cupboard; containing crumbs culled from the cupboards of the great unwedded,” by A. Lyman Phillips, published 1906. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. (Photo: Cookbooks and Home Economics / Internet Archives)

Whether you are looking for your next challenging dish to attempt or you want to learn about the history of American cuisine, these cookbooks have a recipe for everyone.

How to collect vintage cookbooks

“The Bride’s Cook Book,” by Edgar William Briggs, published circa 1918. Courtesy of the University of California Libraries. (Photo: Cookbooks and Home Economics / Internet Archives)

An ‘Antiques Roadshow’ appraiser reveals which early American cookbooks and old appliance recipe pamphlets are your best investments.

Before you throw your old cookbooks away, it might be worth getting them appraised.

Antiques Roadshow’s latest season, which premiered this past Monday, will make a stop in one of America’s most beloved food cities: New Orleans. While shooting in the well-known southern travel destination and former Louisiana capital’s convention center last summer, Antiques Roadshow appraiser and Brattle Book Shop owner Ken Gloss revealed to Forbes that our old family cookbooks are worth more than we realize.

Gloss calls the world of cookbooks “a vast field” where items are growing in value. But you should know that not everything you’ve been keeping on your kitchen counters and bookshelves is going to fetch you a pretty penny. Collectors aren’t really after what you’re probably using regularly, like cookbooks from high profile chefs Ina Garten and Anthony Bourdain, or celebrity chefs Chrissy Teigen and Gwyneth Paltrow. Instead, your hidden investments will come from specialty cookbooks you’ve tucked away in your basement or attic.

According to Gloss, some of the earliest American cookbooks (dating back to the 1790s) are selling in the $1,000 range, while books from as far back as the 1400s and 1500s go for thousands of dollars. Some other pricey collectibles are glossy cookbooks about cake decorating from the 1920s, first editions signed by cooking legends like Julia Childs and Fannie Farmer, and even some hard to find recipe pamphlets once included with newly purchased appliances. Gloss states that although seemingly mundane, their high price tag is due to how these items serve as historical documents—about places, people, cultures, and, of course, the food of the time.

“[Cookbooks] offer a view into society at the time,” Gloss told Forbes. “What were the foods people were eating? What was available? How were they preparing them?”

So what happens if you’ve found a cookbook, but it has some wear or tear? Fear not. While butter stains might depreciate the value of a first edition from Charles Dickens or Virginia Woolf, when it comes to cookbooks, collectors know these books were often used, so stains increase the aesthetic appeal while also serving as a way to confirm their authenticity.

For a blast from the culinary past, the Internet Archive catalogued 10,000+ cookbooks, including over 200 vintage books on everyday Italian cooking.

With comfort food on the mind and practical family recipes in demand, the hunt for vintage Italian cookbooks can be an intriguing way to make cooking more fun. New cookbooks stir our appetites, but older cookbooks on everyday Italian cooking offer a different kind of food for thought.

So, what regional Italian recipes were trendy in the 1990s? What flour was recommended for baking taralli in Boston’s North End? What pantry items did Italian cooks swear by a few generations ago?

There’s no need to go anywhere to find answers to these questions. Thanks to the Internet Archive, a non-profit that started archiving itself after the birth of the World Wide Web, over 10,000 cookbooks from UCLA, the Prelinger Library and UC Berkeley are available for browsing. And the best part of all, they can be viewed for free.

Searching for “Italian” returns 200+ Italian cookbooks, from Renaissance manuscripts resembling royal treatises to sepia-toned covers of America’s first Italian-cooking TV personalities, like the Romagnoli family and Chef Biba Caggiano.

But the 1990’s celebrity chef classics are the most fun. Finally, no more table of contents starting with “soups.” Instead, we get catchy sections and cute family recipes, like “30-minute pastas,” with a daring puttanesca recipe from young Rachael Ray’s “30-Minute Meals.” Another treasure, Chef Rocco DiSpirito’s earliest award-winning cookbook, “Flavor,” and the Italian American cookbook he wrote with his mother Nicolina.

Moving past the memoir by Marcella Hazan, the variety of books on Italian cooking continues to expand. One translated book divulges the secrets of papal cuisine (with Pope John Paul’s favorite wine), while another promotes Gambino leader Joseph Iannuzzi’s “mafia” recipes.

But if this recipe collection doesn’t wet the appetite, there’s always La Cucina Italiana!

Collector-quality cookbooks & vintage advertising ephemera.


Collecting Vintage Cookbooks

Vintage cookbook collecting has been gaining in popularity in recent years, and a lot of people start with the cookbooks their mothers or grandmothers used. When you’re ready to broaden your collection, the many cookbook subgenres provide cooks and collectors with a wide variety of themes to choose from. General or basic cookery books were often among the first gifts a new bride received. Examples include the Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook and Meta Given’s Encyclopedia of Modern Cooking . In addition to recipes for all courses and food groups, they often contained instructions for beginner cooks, reference tables and household advice.

Specialized cookbooks might focus on a specific ingredient (poultry) a particular class of food (vegetables), or a particular cooking method (baking). Ethnic and regional cookbooks offer recipes themed around a particular country (France), region within a country (American South) or ethnic style of cooking (Jewish). Some collectors are particularly keen on fundraising cookbooks, so called because they were often assembled from recipes contributed by church or community members and then sold to raise money for an institution.

One particularly interesting area of collecting focuses on food and product advertising cookbooks. These ranged from small folded recipe leaflets that were tucked into product packages to illustrated magazines or small hard cover books available for a fee. Some endorsed a particular product (canned milk or baking powder) while others were offered by non-food companies, such as department stores or insurance agencies, as customer appreciation “giveaways.” In the late 1800s and early 1900s, when large printed cookbooks were scarce or simply too costly for the average household, many housewives relied on these little advertising cookbooks to guide them in the preparation of family meals, while also instructing them in the rules of table setting and service.

No matter what you’re craving, chances are there’s a cookbook to satisfy your appetite! Stop by The Cookbook Maven to see our current selection.