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Menus and Photos 1851 to 1930

In a past Genealogical Blog, I had written about cruise lines, railroad and airlines menus and locating them online in a digital format.

The New York Public Library has an even greater collection of menus from restaurants, hotels, banquet rooms all over New York and other locations – also in digital format.

It is the Miss Frank E. Buttolph Collection of some 26,000 items ranging from 1851 to 1930. She was born in 1850, died in 1924 and made it her life’s hobby to collect as many menus as she could. It doesn’t mean she ate at everyone of the restaurants, but rather wrote a letter requesting a menu for her collection. She also contracted world-wide publications placing ads for any menu from anywhere in the world to be sent to her. She became very well known and had three newspaper articles written about her in the early 1900s. Having assembled so many by 1900 she decided then the full collection would eventually go to the New York Library. Even after her death in 1924, people sent in menus and other images to the library.

This collection online also holds many scanned images of photographs, magazine illustrations, fashions, maps, and other ephemera pieces of the times. Using the search collection box in the upper right corner, place any keyword, term, or name (a person or place). Here are some examples and how much was found. For the Santa Fe Railroad there are 27 images over different time periods. For the state of Florida there were 2,361 images and Maryland had 1,099 images. Names such as Jensen had 9 images, Williamson had 147, President Theodore Roosevelt and family had 406 images. The topics such as slavery had 1,446 images, the ship Titanic had 9 images, Civil War had 2,577 and baseball had 940 images.

The really most fascinating are the Buttolph Collection of Menus. Placing in the search box the year 1900, there are 2,803 menus covering railroads (such Southern Pacific), restaurants (Fifth Ave. Hotel and Battery Park Hotel in NYC), Presbyterian Church breakfast held at the New State House in Waco, Texas, as well as a banquet honoring Gen. Robert E. Lee held in VA.

Looking over the menus and seeing the cost is an eye-opener. A fine restaurant in the year 1900 in New York City serving a glass of beer cost 20 cents, glass of champagne was 25 cents, a full breakfast was 40 cents and a full dinner was 55 cents. Get a slice of chocolate cake for a nickel!

Putting in the year 1888 to search produced 3,220 images. There are many fine examples of wonderful art work, illustrations of people, gardens, water views, flowers and places of the eating establishment on these menus. Those menus for special banquets have photos or illustrations reflating to the person being honored.

So spend some time on this worthwhile database of digital images. Make sure to also bookmark it, you will want to return again. Each image includes a brief description and you can enlarge each image.

Photo: Lunch Menu on the Red Star ship SS FRIESLAND for Jan. 8, 1900 – hand written.

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