I'm not a menu collector, though I've got a very small suitcase of old ones, scribbled-on, crumpled, out of order--I love them. Menu Design in America, 1850-1985 zooms in on "the golden age of American menus" and looks delightful. (It is, coincidentally, due out just days before my birthday next month.)
Steven Heller, who writes the Visuals column for the Times and the wonderful Daily Heller column for Imprint, has written a history of the bill of fare, exploring the menu as exquisite design artifact, scrapbook souvenir and cultural anachronism, among other things. Along with John Mariani of Esquire and graphic design historian Jim Heimann, Heller has put together a collection of almost 700 menus.
When Heimann says, in his intro, that "the printed American menu holds a particular place in the realm of international collecting," I think of Miss Frank E. Buttolph, a serious collector who was featured in the Times back in 1906 for her 14,500 menus. Way ahead of her time, this lady.
Though the Times didn't quite approve of menu-collecting:
Rebecca Federman has a great blog documenting her work on the NYPL's collection, which was started by Miss Buttolph but has since grown larger (and to include more recent menus). If you'd like to look at the collection, which is awesome, just make a note of their rules. And meanwhile, a few more pictures from Menu Design in America:
images via Taschen