One of the fastest growing areas of the rare book world is vintage cocktail books. However, this interest is not confined to the used book trade. Publishers have also jumped on board and reprinted numerous classic books about cocktails and mixing drinks from years gone by.
There is now a choice for the book collector who loves a stylish drink or two, or three. You can opt for collecting first editions (which can be expensive), vintage copies of a certain age (which can be affordable) or modern reprints of classic recipe books (which are cheap).
Cocktail books offer an intriguing insight into a particular aspect of popular culture - drinking and the people and the places that serve drinks. History, such as America's Prohibition laws, art movements, such as the Art Deco style of the 1920s and 1930s, and the great drinking holes of the world can all be found in cocktail books from the past.
Cocktail books are also gloriously international. The language of drinking in style and fine company is universal. In fact, a vintage cocktail book collection should be as international as possible because bartenders in London, New York, Chicago, Miami, Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Buenos Aires all played their part in the development of cocktails.
There is a rough timeline in the history of cocktail books. The first important date is 1862 when the first American cocktail book appeared. Jerry Thomas wrote The Bartender's Guide, which is also titled How to Mix Drinks, and The Bon-Vivant's Companion. Thomas was a flashy showman, who toured the United States as a highly-paid celebrity bartender and pioneered the way for others.
The next important date is 1920 when Prohibition banned the production and sale of alcohol in the United States until 1933. Quite naturally bartenders abandoned 'dry' America and took their pouring skills to Europe where a new generation of drinkers welcomed them. European publishers also took up the reins of celebrating bars and imaginatively mixed drinks.
Published in 1930, Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book is considered to be the quintessential cocktail book from this era. Its Art Deco cover design is to die for. Craddock was an Englishman who poured drinks in the United States before returning to London when Prohibition was enforced. Craddock invented the White Lady and his famous book showcases the 'Gatsby' era like few others.
Cocktail recipe books continued to be published after the end of Prohibition as America's drinking culture made its official comeback. Unsurprisingly, few, if any, cocktail books were published during World War II but the genre revived yet again after the war.
There are several important factors in collecting vintage cocktail books, which should be carefully considered:
Condition - books and liquids are poor bedfellows. Stains and damage are commonplace for books kept around bars, bottles and careless drinkers. The presence of a dust jacket in fine condition can greatly increase the value of a cocktail book.
Scarcity - many cocktail books were printed (sometimes privately) in small quantities. Some were small-scale promotional items for a bar and never intended for a mass market.
Author - celebrity bartenders who worked at the most famous hotels and bars can lend credibility to a book's standing particularly if their recipes are particularly innovative.
Recipes - if you are only interested in the actual recipes then the modern reprints will do just fine.
Speaking of reprints. Take a moment to be sure whether you are buying a true reproduction of the original, including cover art and illustrations, or simply a book that reproduces the content. Almost all the famous cocktail books are now available as reprints thanks to print-on-demand technology. Martino, Mud Puddle and Mixellany are among the publishers that specialize in cocktail books.
Cocktails: How to Mix Them by Robert (1922) Martino offers a modern reprint of this classic, first published in 1922 by Herbert Jenkins. Robert was a Belgian bartender called Robert Vermeire, who worked at London's Royal Automobile Club, the Criterion and Embassy Club. Reprinted in 1940. Vermeire's book contains the story about how cocktails were born. It goes that an American offered his daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who could find his lost prize-fighting cock. When a handsome cavalry officer turns up with the bird under his arm, the gleeful daughter mixes a blend of drinks to celebrate and that was the first cocktail.
Cocktails by Jimmy, late of Ciro's London (1930) Ciro's opened on Orange Street as a private club in 1915, and was famous as one of the first London venues to host an all-black band. This book offers the Pegu Club cocktail and a White Lady. Jimmy may have been Jimmy Charters, bartender of the Dingo Bar in Paris and Ciro's in Monte Carlo.
Official Mixer's Manual by Patrick Gavin Duffy (1934) Duffy held court behind the bar at New York's Ashland House for around 40 years. This book was republished in the 1940s and 1950s, and a modern Martino edition now exists. It contains more than 1,200 recipes from around the world.
How to Mix Drinks by Bill Edwards (1936) This popular cocktail book contains all the classic recipes and has a delightful and very American Art Deco red, white and blue binding.
Café Royal Cocktail Book by W.J. Tarling (1937) Very rare and notable for its blue cocktails. Fewer than 25 copies were published by the United Kingdom Bartenders' Guild. Bill Tarling was president of the guild.
Bartenders' Guide by Trader Vic (1937) Several editions have been published over the years, including a modern reprint. Illustrations are provided by Helen Ann deWerd and more than a thousand recipes are listed, including 143 exotic mixed drinks. Trader Vic Bergeron is one of two people who claim to have invented the Mai Tai.
Just Cocktails by W.C. Whitfield (1939) Bound in wood, which is almost the ideal protection for a cocktail guide. Published by Three Mountaineers Press, this book has illustrations from Tad Shell and includes recipes from famous bars, restaurants and night clubs.
The Stork Club Bar Book by Lucius Beebe (1946) Founded by Sherman Billingsley, the Stork Club was a legendary New York bar loved by celebrities and the wealthy until it faded away in the 1960s. Beebe, an author and gourmand, wrote more than 35 books and was a famous drinker who coined the phrase 'saloon society.'
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury (1948) Embury, a 62-year-old tax partner at a Manhattan law firm, put aside his accountancy books and wrote one of the quintessential guides to cocktails in 1948. First editions are much sought after but later reprints are cheap and easy to find.
Ted Saucier's Bottoms Up (1951) For almost four decades, Saucier was the publicist for the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. His 1951 book (reprinted in 1962) includes more than 200 drinks and 12 illustrations of naked or scantily clad women by a dozen different artists. A modern reprint is available.
100 Cocktails: How to Mix Them by Bernard (1958) This mid-century cocktail guide shows how cocktails began moving from downtown bars to suburban homes. Republished in 1973.
And for fun, let's celebrate with 10 cocktails from novels: