Menu collector Henry Voigt gave a fun and informative presentation on typography in American menus for Prof. Martha Carothers’s ART203 class on March 26. Menus started to appear in the United States in the 1840s and like a lot of ephemera, provide unwitting historical evidence (my new favorite phrase!); that is, ephemera–things that were not made to be kept (think posters, flyers, tickets, handbills, receipts)–tell us a lot about specific moments in time. We can learn about consumer culture, the audiences for whom events and objects were intended, design aesthetics, industries and trade, political and social movements, and social customs and values.
Mr. Voigt demonstrated to the two sections of Typography II the kinds of typographical styles and shifts in aesthetics that have taken place over the last 180 years with a survey of American menus from his personal collection. Students examined some of Special Collections’ nineteenth-century menus, and some twentieth-century examples from Mr. Voigt’s personal collection.
UD’s Special Collections holds a variety of cooking-related resources, including menus, but also cookbooks, etiquette books, receipt and recipe manuscripts, pop-up books, and more. Social customs surrounding food and eating can tell us a lot about who was there and why (was it an event or an everyday meal?); what did they eat (very fancy food or casual fare? exotic ingredients or home cooking?); how much did the food cost (was there a lot of prosperity at this time? what kinds of people could afford this?). And ephemera like menus show innovations in printing, the printing industry and considerations of cost effectiveness. The quality of the presentation, type, design, printing processes used, and paper can tell you about the venue and the audience too.
Thanks to Mr. Voigt for bringing in material from his personal collection to share with staff and students! Be sure to check out his blog, The American Menu!