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In with the Old…Early American Mixology Books

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Large crowd celebrating New Year's Eve (New York City, c1907)
Large crowd celebrating New Year’s Eve (New York City, c1907)

Today’s post is written by science librarian and culinary specialist Alison Kelly. She has provided her expertise in a number of Inside Adams blog posts related to food history and cooking such as Early American Beer.

New Year’s Eve is just around the corner, so this seems like a good time to raise  a glass to a very small–but engaging–collection of books by American mixologists.  Most of these books have been sitting on the shelves at the Library of Congress for 100 years or more–but today, with the renewed interest in hand-crafted cocktails–they are more relevant than ever. I also like to think of them as a snapshot of American history from a time when ice was kept in iceboxes and the art of removing a lemon peel in one long spiral had not yet been lost.

Some of these books may be familiar:  The Bar-Tender’s Guide, or How to Mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks…  (1887),  by “Professor” Jerry Thomas. This book is the second edition of his How to Mix Drinks: Or, The Bon-vivant’s Companion, which was first published in 1862 and is generally considered to be the earliest book of cocktail recipes produced in the United States that we know of.

Liquor thieves from Illustrated Catalogue and Price-list of Chemical and Physical Apparatus, St. Louis, Henry Heil Company, 1891
Liquor thieves from Illustrated Catalogue and Price-list of Chemical and Physical Apparatus, St. Louis, Henry Heil Company, 1891

Another legendary mixologist, Harry Johnson, whose  New and Improved Bartender’s Manual  (1882) provides extensive practical information for the professional bartender, later stated that he had published an even earlier first edition, but no copy has yet surfaced.  Johnson’s book includes lists of what is needed for “a first-class saloon,” from many varieties of bitters, fruits, beers and mineral waters to an amazing array of equipment. For ice alone, the bar required ice picks, an ice cooler, ice shavers and scoops. Other necessities are funnels, a gimlet, corks and stoppers and liquor thieves (a tube for withdrawing or  sampling of liquids).

George Kappeler, author of Modern American Drinks(1895), and Jacob Grohusko, who wrote Jack’s Manual (2nd edition, c1910), were both well-recognized names in New York City.  Other authors are less well-known, for example Joseph L. Haywood, of Wilmington, Delaware, whose recipes in Mixology: the Art of Preparing all Kinds of Drinks(1898) hint at a connection with Wilmington’s  Evening Star newspaper.  Americus V. Bevill, a commercial traveler and self-described “agent for the western states,” collected various recipes during his extensive travels for the Barkeeper’s Ready Reference (1871).

Prohibition soon brought an end to this first age of mixology.  Some of the early practitioners moved outside of the country to work in Mexico, Cuba and Europe, or they were employed at private clubs in the United States. Others retired from the profession for the duration.  It would be some time before people were again interested in recipes for drinks with a venerable past and exotic names like crustas, sangarees, smashes, bowls, fizzes and flips.  Of course, most of these books also contain recipes for cocktails of all sorts, from a Spring Chicken (Bevill)  to a Crystal Slipper (Grohusko).

Cover from Harry Johnson's new and improved bartender's manual...(New York, Samisch & Goldmann, printers, c1882)
Cover from Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartender’s Manual…(New York, Samisch & Goldmann, printers, c1882)

For New Year’s, eggnogs and punches seem to be the favored drink.  Harry Johnson warns readers that his recipe for a “Bowl of Egg Nogg for a New Year’s Party” produces gallons of punch.  It calls for 20 eggs, 2 ½ pounds of sugar, 1 ½ gallons of rich milk, St. Croix rum and 2 quarts of “good old brandy,” and is enough for a good-sized gathering of 19th-century partygoers.  But I think that even if I owned a punch bowl massive enough to accommodate this rich recipe, I probably would not consider trying it out on a party of 21st-century health-conscious guests.

Whether you are a historian tracing the origins of a particular concoction, or you simply enjoy dipping into the language and old recipes, reading through these books is always interesting. To help you explore them, we have created the research guide “American Mixology: Recipe Books from the Pre-Prohibition Era.”

Happy New Year!

Comments (7)

  1. How can I get a copy of these books or be able to print copies of them? I would love to be able to read many of these books. Three generations of my family have been in the bar/tavern business.

    • Hi Larry, The Library of Congress has digitized a portion of the pre 1923 publications. You can access these digital copies various ways- one way is via the Internet Archive- links are provided to some of these in the blog post. However, I would suggest going to the Mixology Books Viewshare page and using the links provided for each title. You can print these out yourself since they are in the public domain. Another idea is to purchase reprints via print on demand services you can find with a web search or you can find out of print copies using a resource such as bookfinder Happy New Year 🙂

  2. Here’s something I think you’d enjoy:

    Southern Food & Beverage Museum/Library in New Orleans. Only recently opened; (in cooperation with New Orleans Public Library) we (NOPL) are still busy cataloging much of the Library’s collection.

    check it out!

  3. It’d be a delight if LoC could locate a copy of “Smacks and Smiles; how to mix fancy drinks and beverages” by C. Smith.

    It was registered with deposit of two copies in 1902 and I can find no other trace of it anywhere but bookseller announcements for that year.

    • Hi Dinah, Thank you for your comment/ suggestion. Our culinary/mixology specialist is on leave for the week. I will make sure she see your comment and I expect she will respond directly to you by next week. Cheers!

  4. Hello– this is clearly an old post, but I wanted to tell you that the view share project link you provided doesn’t link to what you think it does. Mature content warning!

    • Hi Chris, Thank you for visiting our blog and notifying us of the ‘dead’ link. Viewshare has been retired and we have moved the curated digital books to a Research Guide: American Mixology: Recipe Books from the Pre-Prohibition Era I will also update our blog post with a new link. Cheers!

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