This week’s feature is a cocktail item that we acquired back in 2013. About that time, I planned to write a post about it, but first I was waiting for it to come back from cataloging. Then I cam across it again, but I had written a recent post about another cocktail item, so the timing was wrong again. Two weeks ago, I pulled it from the shelves to display at an event in Special Collections and was reminded it was tucked away. Somehow, this week, the timing felt right. I’m happy to present Forty Famous Cocktails, probably published in the 1930s, either during Prohibition, or shortly after the ban was lifted.
As you can tell, Forty Famous Cocktails isn’t a traditional publication. It’s not a book (though it is in our catalog) and it’s not exactly a piece of ephemera that belongs Cocktail Ephemera Collection (which I hadn’t started building just yet). Rather, it’s a two-sided sleeve within a two-sided card. The outside sleeve features some outlandish caricatures with strategic spaces. (You can click on the any of the images above for a closer look.) In two the images above, when the inner card is flush, you’ll see phrases, images, bottle labels, and even eyes on the bartender, depending on which side you’re viewing. In the other two images above, you get a better sense of how the card is actually used. As you pull the inner card up, you can see a drink name appear under the word “Orders” on each side. Moving across card, appearing on bottles and in paintings, you can see the ingredients and the instructions for the drink.
Historic cocktail books are great and I love all of the ones in our collection. Seriously, you can’t ever ask me to pick a favorite–you either get a different answer every time, or just a strange look while I’m unable to make a decision. However, I think cocktail ephemera and interactive items like this one, which often times weren’t designed to live long lives (you can see some damage at the top of our card!), are equally important to cocktail and social history, too. (Note the directions for the Harvard state “Shake well and down with Yale.”) They can offer comedic or practical insight into the view of alcohol at a given era and a sense of what was popular. While Forty Famous Cocktails does contain recipes for still-popular drinks like the Whiskey Sour or Side Car, it also includes drinks rare (if ever) heard of today. When we bought this item in 2013, it was the first time I’d seen a reference to the Nassau Beach or the Serpent’s Tooth (I have seen recipes for the latter since, dating from roughly the same time period, but still not the former).
Our copy measures 29 x 19 cm, but there was another “edition,” for lack of better word, that was produced at about half the size, so I know there are other ones out there. However, scans can’t do this item justice, so if you’d like to see more, you may need to pay us a visit. We’ll be here and while we can’t promise you a friendly bartender with a cool cocktail waiting, we can promise you some friendly archivists, some cool cocktail history, and maybe even a little mixology advice.