Sunday, January 6, 2013

Notes on Books for Reenactors: Victorian

I started writing this for a friend, and it got to the point where I was writing at such length I figured I might as well share it all.  Here's a peek into my collection of books for reenactment - these are only books that I might bring along, not my favorite research tomes. (Though as primary sources, they're pretty good!)  This set is for Victorian/Dickens Fair - meaning sometime after 1855 or so.

Enquire Within Upon Everything
(the good, period-looking facsimile): 1978 reprint of a British 1856 original 0-214-20575-4 (Comes in this hilariously 1970s-Williamsburg-nostalgic hard sleeve, which is kinda handy actually.)

Contains recipes, hints on speech and grammar, first aid and medicine, household cleaning, card games, gardening, descriptions of the latest technologies on display at the Crystal Palace.
Including the Tempest Prognosticator (AKA Leech Barometer)!
 Makes a great bathroom book as the sections are interesting, short, and generally randomly distributed throughout the book (though the index is very very good).

Beeton's Every-Day Cookery and Housekeeping Book: 1984 reprint of the British 1865 edition ISBN 0-8317-6176-8 (Gallery Press)

A nice, enlarged edition (meaning readable without a magnifying glass) in a nice red binding suitable for display at reenactment sites. (Only two pages that give away its status as a reprint!)  Contains housekeeping instructions in the front, and alphabetized list of recipes in the middle, color plates at the end. (Also has period advertisements in the end papers!)
Desserts... oooo.

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management: 1982/1985 reprint of the British 1861 edition (end papers unclear on which edition is reproduced here) ISBN 0-907486-18-5 (Chancellor Press)

A really big, readable version of the book, grouped by subject matter instead of alphabetized. Bound in a sadly modern plasticized cover. (This was the one I wrapped in brown paper.) Beautiful color endpapers including a picture of Mrs. Beeton.

A portrait of the lady herself!
 Housekeeping instructions in the front, recipes in the middle, Bills of Fare, followed by instructions on the hiring of servants, their duties, some misc receipts for cleaning aids (blacking, grate-cleaner, &c.), home medicine, and then home lawyering.

The following three books are from the Cookbook Collector's Library: all really quite nice reprints of American books, but none of them have ISBNs that I can find. It looks like CCL may have either become "Favorite Recipes Press" or been a side project of theirs in the late 1950s through 1970s. FRP appears to be a vanity publisher now. Huh. Perhaps I'll enquire.

Housekeeping in Old Virgina: 1965 reprint (my copy is marked "Cookbook Collector's Library" on the spine, but Favorite Recipes Press on the inside) of the American 1879 edition

Red boards with gold-ish stamped decoration. Completely re-typeset in reasonably period but much more legible serif font.  If you search Google Books for this, you get to see the scanned magazine adverts for this collector's library as a subscription service. It seems like a lot of people bought, and then decided they didn't like this book, because there are TONS of them on the market on Bookfinder. The recipes were apparently collected from a bunch of housewives, making this the original Ladies' Club Cookbook. Recipes are divided into sections, and there's a section on cooking for sick folks, housekeeping and cleaning, and paints and dyes.

Dr. Chase's Recipes or Information for Everybody: 1970 reprint of the American 1866 edition, (if you look on there are a HUGE number of variants of this book out there).

 Period size (small), period style binding (green with gold embossing), period end paper advertisements (beautiful), but it is so painstakingly faithful a copy that the pages appear dingy from discoloration of the original, and you can see where something rubbed up against and stained the edge of the book, and thus this mark appears on the edge of the repro. Kinda amazing.
Contains a section on home beverage production (both alcoholic and non-) in a section called "The Saloon", medical advice, then information on various crafts: leatherworking (tanning, shoemaking, harnessmaking), painting (which seems to be all manner of decorative stains, etchings, and various house-furnishing operations), blacksmithing, tinning, gunsmithing, a short "jeweler's section", a farrier's section (various veterinary advice), cabinetmaking, barber's department, baker/cooking department, a long miscellany, a section on coloring, and two interest calculating tables and a glossary.
Not sure how much faith I'd put in the food recipes, since this guy was clearly not a cook in the main, and one of his recipes is for "Apple Pie Which Is Digestible".

Ladies' Indispensable Assistant: 1971 reprint of the American 1852 original.

Contains home medicine information including a section on medicinal plants and herbs, then some cooking recipes, a section on cooking for sick people, a section on various fun handicrafts (Berlin work, making slippers, beading, wire baskets, etc), a section on dyes and dying, etiquette for ladies and gentlemen, a section on beauty (mostly fashion, some cosmetics), then, of all things, a short chapter on keeping Canary-birds. Looks rather like something you'd send your daughter off with into the frontier.

So, speaking of books for the frontier, an extra one that I didn't have on hand at Dickens:
The Prairie Traveler: 1993 reprint of the original 1859 edition by Applewood Books. ISBN 978-0-918222-89-3

Brown paper wrapper, which might be period? The back cover unfortunately is undeniably modern, but I suppose you could glue another piece of brown paper over it.
I actually picked this one up at the Smithsonian Museum of American History at the end of a whirlwind business trip. If you ever played Oregon Trail as a kid, especially if you played the weirdly expanded version 2 in the early 1990's, you'll recognize a lot of the content in this book. While it's different from other books I mention in that is has no recipes, it does have a bunch of camp medicine info, plus valuable suggestions for outfitting wagon trains, the best time of year to leave, camp furniture, quicksand, stampedes, Indians, tents, and hunting.


  1. Reposting to try and make link work

    The introduction has a delightful display of competing 19th century prejudices, as the authors weigh the 'filthy' tendencies of Indian servants vs. the laziness of the Irish and lower class maids back home.... I mean, from a humanity standpoint it's disgusting and sad...but as a scholar, solid gold! :-P

  2. Gah, I guess you'll have to copy and paste. The book is called The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook.

  3. I skip all this research by simply ensuring that I make friends with historical reenactors that DO this research (and thereby have all the tastiest *nom nom noms*!).

    I am a stinker that way.