Revisiting the History of Food & Drink Collection

So, for a little while now, two of us in Special Collections have been mulling over a History of Food & Drink Collection-related idea (pun intended, of course). I’m rather excited that this idea has stuck and we’re creating a new subset of the overarching collection. Back to that in just a moment! (Today’s post isn’t going to a feature an item, but I hope you’ll stick with us!)

There’s a long history the collection, some of which we’ve talked about on the blog before, but it’s been a quite some time. Today, in light of what else I have to share, it seems like a good time to talk about the current structure of the collection. Not to mention the fact that I’m working on some new paragraphs about all of our collecting areas (and sub-collecting areas) in Special Collections–which means I have nice, neat descriptions on hand!


Neil, Marion Harris. 1917. Ryzon baking book: a practical manual for the preparation of food requiring baking powder. New York: General Chemical Co., Food Dept.
Neil, Marion Harris. 1917. Ryzon baking book: a practical manual for the preparation of food requiring baking powder. New York: General Chemical Co., Food Dept.

History of Food & Drink Collection

If we take a step back and look at things from a larger perspective, the University Libraries are home to what we now call the History of Food & Drink Collection. (This had previously been known as the Culinary History Collection.)  To date, the HFD Collection, as I often refer to it, contains 4,900+ cataloged publications. I’m very pleased to say that number is actually over the 5,000 mark if you count items waiting to be cataloged or in process! About 30% of the HFD Collection resides in the circulating collection of Newman Library or in off-site storage and can be checked out for use. The other 70% is housed in Special Collections. In addition, Special Collections has 75 processed manuscript collections and another 40 more in the processing queue. All things considered, those are some numbers I’m proud of! Here’s what it’s all about.

The History of Food & Drink Collection consists of several focused subsets and a variety of other collecting areas. Subsets of the collection include the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection, the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection, the History of the American Cocktail Collection, and the Food Technology and Production Collection. In addition, the History of Food & Drink Collection contains publications and manuscripts documenting or representing early American imprints, Virginia/regional/southern cooking, food technology and processing, community cookbook, nutrition and dietetics history, household management, domestic/economic/social history, food customs and habits, and home demonstration/home economics history and agricultural extension. Materials from the History of Food & Drink Collection also overlap with other collecting areas in which Special Collections is particular interested, like local/regional history, the American Civil War, and science and technology history. We are actively engaged in acquiring new items that contribute to this collection and can serve as primary and secondary sources for research in a variety of fields that study aspects of food and food culture.

This section includes hotel and periodical cookbooks, and even a book on the history of WW I and II army dietitians.
This section includes hotel and periodical cookbooks, and even a book on the history of WW I and II army dietitians.

Subset #1:

Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection

Of course, the HFD collection started with the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection. The Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection is a group of 750 published works documenting more than three centuries of culinary history. It consists of the private collections of Dora Greenlaw Peacock and Laura Jane Harper, acquired by Special Collections in 1999/2000. The collection includes a wide variety of contemporary and historic cookbooks, community cookbooks, household management guides, and home economics/domestic science manuals. As a result, the Peacock-Harper Culinary History Collection represents many perspectives on the history of cooking, social and cultural practices, and food science. Although this is not a collection to which new materials are added, it was the inspiration behind the History of Food & Drink Collection and remains the core of the larger collection.

The whole slideshow can be viewed and downloaded here: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/faculty_archives/hertzler/hertzler_child_nutrition.html
The whole slideshow can be viewed and downloaded here: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/faculty_archives/hertzler/hertzler_child_nutrition.html

Subset #2:

Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection

Then, a few years later, a new subset of the collection arrived on the scene! Beginning in 2006, Special Collections received an endowment from Dr. Ann Hertzler to acquire publications relating to children’s cookbooks and items documenting nutrition history. The Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection contains more than 500 volumes. Highlights include manuals for young mothers, guides on proper eating for children, Virginia Cooperative Extension pamphlets, books designed to education children about cooking (and eating!), and themed cookbooks. Dr. Hertzler remained a strong supporter of and contributor to her collection and the History of Food & Drink Collection until her death in early 2014, through the continued donation of books and her personal papers. Today, the endowment continues to fund the purchase of new and historic cookbooks for children, publications focused on the raising, feeding, and nutrition of children and families, and storybooks that feature food products, food advertising, and food history.

Front cover

Subset #3:

History of the American Cocktail Collection

By the end of 2011, we were working on a new crazy idea: cocktails! There is a whole amazing history there and we wanted to find a way to be part of documenting it. As a result, we launched a new subset of materials.

The History of the American Cocktail Collection includes more than 125 cocktail manuals and bartenders guides, books on social activities and entertaining, and a variety of items documenting the history of cocktail ingredients, cocktail creation, and cocktail consumption, as well as around 20 manuscript collections. The collection also contains materials on individual spirits, the medicinal and alcoholic history of bitters, temperance/Prohibition, and advertising ephemera. The cocktail—and spirits generally—have played a significant role in American history, experience revolution, prohibition, and revival. We are interested in acquiring and adding books, manuscripts, documents, and occasionally artifacts, which contribute to the scholarship around the ever-evolving place of the cocktail in food and social history.

Scarff's nursery, fruit, farm seed, live stock, 1931
Scarff’s nursery, fruit, farm seed, live stock, 1931

Announcing Subset #4:

Food Technology and Production Collection

All of that brings us to today. As you may know, our university’s history is that of a land-grant. We were and continue to have a focus on agriculture. We have the Virginia Cooperative Extension. We have a food science program and courses in wine and beer. So, by late 2015, we were pondering a new scheme: a subset of the collection that would benefit researchers in these, as well as other areas.After spending some time working on a name and goals for what we want to accomplish and support with future materials, we are excited to share with everyone our newest subset of the HFD Collection.

The Food Technology and Production Collection brings together aspects of agriculture, Cooperative Extension, and the history of changes to the growth, production, marketing, sale, transportation, preparation, and consumption of food. We are interested in acquiring books and other publications, manuscripts, and ephemera that document the agricultural, commercial, and scientific lives of foods and how these processes have evolved over time. We realize that changes in the way we produce and consume foods occur organically, as a direct result of human interaction and advances in technology, and because of continuing changes within the cycle. Our goal is to help support research being done in the fields like history, food science, English, material and cultural studies, and human nutrition.


We are already on the lookout for new acquisitions that will fit into this subset (along with the materials we are always seeking for the rest of the HFD Collection!). At the same time, one of my goals for the summer will be identifying materials we already have in the HFD Collection that we can make a part of the Food Technology and Processing Collection subset, too. Hopefully, as I find some of those items, they will be features over the next few months, and place where we can all get to know the food technology and production a little better.

Apologies for the lack of a feature this week, but as the semester comes to a close and summer is before us, it seemed like a good time to share this exciting news about a new initiative! We hope you’ll come along for the ride and learn with us about where agriculture, Extension, food science, and food history collide.

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