Thousands of menus beginning with the oldest items in the collection from 1851. The collection is strongest for the period between 1890 and 1910. Organization is primarily chronological by date or range of dates.
The menu collection originated through the energetic efforts of Miss Frank E. Buttolph (1850-1924), a somewhat mysterious and passionate figure, whose mission in life was to collect menus. In 1899, she offered to donate her existing collection to the Library -- and to keep collecting on the Library's behalf. Presciently, director Dr. John Shaw Billings accepted her offer and for the next quarter century Miss Buttolph continued to add to the collection. Her principal method of acquisition was to write to every restaurant she could think of, soliciting menus. When letters failed, she often marched into a restaurant and pleaded her case in person. She also placed advertisements in trade publications like The Caterer and The Hotel Gazette, but just as often, published news of her collection prompted outright contributions of specimens from around the world. Three times between 1904 and 1909, The New York Times wrote about her and the collection, noting once that "she frankly avers that she does not care two pins for the food lists on her menus, but their historic interest means everything." Miss Buttolph added to the collection of more than 25,000 menus until her death in 1924. The collection has continued to grow through additional gifts of graphic, gastronomic, topical or sociological interest, especially but not exclusively New York-related.
NOTE: Some menus could not be imaged in their entirety due to their configuration (e.g. tied with ribbon or cord, stapled, etc.), their brittle paper, and/or their overall fragility.
Alejandro, Reynaldo. Classic Menu Design, from the Collection of the New York Public Library. (1988)
Greenstein, Lou. A la carte: A Tour Of Dining History. (c1992)
Heimann, Jim. May I Take Your Order?: American Menu Design, 1920-1960. (c1998)
NYPL. "The Menu Collection of The New York Public Library." (c2003) <http://www.nypl.org/research/chss/grd/resguides/menus/index.html>
Ryley, Alison. "Miss Frank's Menus." American Book Collector v. 7 (November 1986)