Determining Value of Old Cookbooks or Recipe Leaflets

Do You Own a Valuable Cookbook?

The Cook's Handbook Autographed by Gracie Allen (Wife of Comedian George Burns)
The Cook's Handbook Autographed by Gracie Allen (Wife of Comedian George Burns). Pamela Y. Wiggins

The reasons for collecting old cookbooks vary and many of them have nothing to do with food. According to the "Price Guide to Cookbooks and Recipe Leaflets" by Linda J. Dickinson (now out of print but available through online booksellers), the decoration or subject matter often has more to do with the collectible nature of these items than the recipes these books contain.

Genre and Subject Matter

"I found that paper books and leaflets with attractive covers were a very big part of the market. St. Nicholas Flour leaflets with Santa on the cover were in demand by antiquers who decorate at the holidays with old ornaments and such," Dickinson said.

Those interested in "celebrity memorabilia snatched up Kate Smith and Yul Brynner" illustrations, Dickinson added. Folks looking for soft drink advertising seek 7-Up recipe flyers and the like. Those who favor art deco themes will also be interested in books or leaflets that have this type of distinctive artwork in the design. In other words, crossover collecting is big in this area.

Rarity

As with collecting any other type of book, first editions and limited editions of cookbooks can also be worth more than subsequent printings. And, as you might expect, autographed cookbooks associated with famous individuals can also be worth more than unsigned copies.

Condition and Value

By and large, to be considered top-notch, cookbooks and recipe leaflets need to be in very nice ​condition. This means they should have no loose or soiled pages and clean covers.

Unfortunately, well-loved favorites that received a lot of use in the kitchen did not hold up so well, and they may have less than stellar pages in addition to worn covers and broken binding. For average, everyday books and leaflets, it’s wise not to pay top prices unless the condition is excellent. There are, however, exceptions to the condition rule in this area of collecting.

Some titles that have historic significance or those that are extremely old and rare will be valuable regardless of the condition. This includes handwritten recipe books or “receipts” as they were referred to long ago from the Civil War era, for example. These can be quite valuable even if they are soiled or discolored as long as the pages are still legible and not torn.

A copy of "The Federation Cook Book: A Collection of Tested Recipes Contributed by the Colored Women of the State of California," which interests collectors of Black Americana as well as cookbook collectors, is another example. These can be in marginally good condition, but due to their rarity and subject matter, worth quite a good sum. If you want the book more for its content than as a collector's item, reprints are available in the $11 to $25 range. 

Some titles, like "The White House Cookbook," that originated in the late 1800s are not that difficult to find, but they are not always in good condition. Find an early one that was not used much, and it can be worth $200 or more. This book was also reprinted decades later, and those versions can be found much more reasonably priced. 

Cookbook and Recipe Leaflet Sample Values

What are people paying for these vintage books that resided in most every kitchen of yesteryear? Here are some sample values:

  • "The Federation Cook Book: A Collection of Tested Recipes Contributed by the Colored Women of the State of California," circa 1910, sold for $510 on eBay in 2012.
  • "Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Volume 1, First Edition," circa 1961, sold on eBay for $275 in 2016
  • "Mrs. Beeton’s Every-Day Cookery and Housekeeping Book," circa 1893, sold on eBay for $175 in 2017
  • "Les Diners de Gala" by Salvador Dali, First Edition," circa 1973, sold on eBay for $875 in 2017
  • "Bush Family Cookbook, Signed by President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush," circa 2005, sold for $175 on eBay in 2016.
  • "The White House Cookbook" by Hugo Ziemann & Mrs. F.L. Gillette, circa 1903, sold for $269.99 on eBay in 2016.
  • "Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, First Edition," circa 1963, sold for $1,000 on eBay.com in 2017.
  • "The Mary Frances Cook Book, First Edition," circa 1912, sold for $550 on eBay.com in 2016.