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1807 cookbook is delectable

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The brown spots, water stains and writing in LMC's copy of "Domestic Cookery" detract from its value.

The brown spots, water stains and writing in LMC’s copy of “Domestic Cookery” detract from its value.

Joe Rosson And Helaine Fendelman, Treasures In Your Attic

Dear Helaine and Joe: I have the second edition of "A New System of Domestic Cookery Formed From Principles of Economy and Adapted to the Use of Private Families," authored by "A Lady." It was published in 1807 by Andrews, Cummings, and L. Blake. It has some handwritten recipes in it, and the condition is fair. What are the history and value?

Thank you. —LMC, Lawrence, Mass.

Dear LMC: Vintage cookbooks are very popular with many people because they have unusual recipes and they sometimes offer a glimpse into the kitchens and dining rooms of the past.

The "lady" listed as the author of "A New System of Domestic Cookery" was Maria Eliza Rundell (1745-1828), whose husband was a member of the prestigious jewelry and silver-making firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. It is said that on a visit to one of her seven daughters Rundell was encouraged to create a compendium of the recipes and household hints that she had invented or used over the years.

So, at the age of 60, Rundell decided to take on the monumental task of compiling and editing the accumulated household wisdom she had acquired. The resulting tome was a true tour-de-force.

If her children wanted to know how she made "Orange Fool," it was in there. If they wanted a recipe for "Salmagundy," it too was in the book. If they needed to know how to manage cows, it was in there. She also included a recipe for a "water" that supposedly would prevent hair from falling out and instructions to the servants on how to remove ink stains from mahogany.

When she was finished, Rundell had created a book that is considered by many to be the first comprehensive domestic encyclopedia and cookbook.

"A New System of Domestic Cookery" was initially published in 1806 by John Murray in London and reached its 64th edition in 1840. It was first printed in the United States in 1807 in Boston by Andrews, Cummings and L. Blake, and the book owned by LMC is an example of the second American edition.

There were at least 15 American editions of this book before the 1840s, and now there are several 20th century reprints that are available, including one from the 1990s. During the first 40 years of its existence, it is estimated that as many as 10,000 copies of this book were printed each year, which, for the day, made it a very popular book indeed.

It should also be mentioned that sometimes this book was published under different titles, including "The Experienced American Housekeeper" and "American Domestic Cookery." Early copies of these books can be quite valuable, but unfortunately, we cannot suggest a specific price for the specimen owned by LMC because we are not sure about its exact condition.

We feel the insurance replacement value is probably in the $500 range, but the foxing (brown spots) we see on the title page is extensive and there is some water staining around the edge of the facing page that is very troubling. In addition, collectors generally do not like their books to have been written in, and this one seems to have extensive recipe notes.

If, however, the condition turns out to be better than we think, the value mentioned above could double or even come close to tripling.


Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of the "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can by mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.