(Guest post by Special Collections 2015-2016 Graduate Assistant Sarah Iuli)
What’s for dinner?! For those dining out at the Massasoit House (Springfield, MA) in 1865, here’s what’s on the menu: oyster soup, prairie chickens with jelly, apple fritters, stewed tomatoes, custard pudding, and cocoanut drops, among other delectable dishes. This dinner menu is just one of many that belong to Henry Voigt, avid menu collector from Wilmington, Delaware.
Mr. Voigt visited the University of Delaware on Wednesday, February 24th and shared his menu collection with Professor Martha Carothers’s Visual Communication students. As Mr. Voigt explained, menu collecting is more than just a fun hobby of his; it is an avenue for historical inquiry. In his presentation, Mr. Voigt discussed the typography of American menus, spanning from the 1840s, when menus started to become a typical part of the dining experience, to the present day. Typographical design decisions, Mr. Voigt pointed out, give us cultural clues about who the menus were designed for, what social or political groups they targeted, and what kinds of values and customs people endorsed at the time. Design elements such as typeface choices, size, and placement; images and decorative embellishments; and even the kind of paper used to print the menu, all give insight into a continuously evolving American cultural history.
After Mr. Voigt’s talk, students were given the opportunity to peruse sample menus from his collection as well as some holdings from Special Collections. Professor Carothers’s students will be asked to use examples from UD’s collection of menus, cookbooks, and etiquette books as part of their typographical design assignment, and to draw on Mr. Voigt’s talk for inspiration.
Many thanks to Mr. Voigt for sharing his wonderful collection with the University of Delaware, and for those of you who’ve worked up an appetite, be sure to take a look at Mr. Voigt’s blog, The American Menu.