Now Open in our Ground Floor Gallery: “A Century of Dining Out: The American Story in Menus, 1841-1941”

From the Collection of Henry Voigt

April 26 – July 29, 2023

Menus can transport us back to the everyday life of the past, whether to a lavish banquet in the Gilded Age or a food-relief eatery during the Great Depression. Coming into general use in the United States in the 1840s when hotels and restaurants began to replace inns and taverns that served a limited choice of domestic-style meals, menus offered guests a greater variety of dishes and added an element of anticipation to the experience. While most menus were intended for short-term use and never meant to be saved, some were finely crafted by leading stationers like Tiffany’s and Dempsey & Carroll, whose artists decorated them with silk ribbons and finely rendered watercolor scenes.

“A Century of Dining Out” features 225 menus that reflect the first hundred years of their use in American society, ranging from restaurants and hotels to Mississippi steamboats, utopian communities, and grand estates. Highlights include rare examples from the haunts of Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman in New York City, eateries in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush, and special events such as Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball and Mark Twain’s birthday party at Delmonico’s. The exhibition is curated by Grolier Club member Henry Voigt from his collection, and an accompanying publication is available via the University of Chicago Press.

An online version of the exhibition is available, as are case images via Flickr. Register for related events via Eventbrite.

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