Frankenstein Book

Recently we acquired an interesting new addition to our ever growing scrapbook collection.  In 1869, Mary H. Hill of Nelson County, VA, somehow got her hands on a salesman’s sample book and proceeded to use it as a scrapbook for her favorite recipes over the next decade or so.  What makes her book stand out is its non-categorical nature.  The volume has newspaper clippings of recipes pasted on some pages.  Other pages feature handwritten recipes.  And the book itself is a repurposed salesman’s sample book.  So we could label this book a scrapbook, a cookbook, a salesman’s sample book, or a bit of all three!

Before this book became a scrapbook, it was a sample book for The Women of New York, or, The Under-world of the Great City.  Illustrating the Life of Women of Fashion, Women of Pleasure, Actresses, and Ballet Girls, by George Ellington, published in 1869.  Salesman’s sample books (or subscription books or dummies, as they are also known) feature excerpts from the books they were promoting, along with plates and a brief description.  The remainder of the pages of the sample book were left as space for the salesman to list interested subscribers’ information (names, addresses, numbers of copies desired, prices, etc.).  Unfortunately, Mary’s scrapbook has all of the front pages ripped out and only the blank subscriber pages remain.  She used these blank pages for her scrapbooking.  I guess no one in Virginia was interested in learning about women from New York!

Mary included some great recipes found in newspapers, as well as household recipes for items such as bleach and dyes.  Her handwritten recipes include how to prepare an East India pickle, apple custard, and tip top cakes.  Finally, at the end of the volume, Mary pasted a newspaper clipping about the unveiling of the Stonewall Jackson statue in Virginia.

If you’d like to learn more about salesman sample books, check out a description here.  There is an online bibliography that includes a portion of AAS’s holdings, but the most comprehensive search strategy would be to search the AAS online catalog for the genre term “dummies (publishing)“.  You’ll find records for well over 600 examples in AAS collections!

Published by

Tracey Kry

Assistant Curator of Manuscripts and Assistant Reference Librarian, American Antiquarian Society

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