Auctioneers steal our memories, and $100,000 in a Tesco bag

I live in New Zealand, and as my profile says, I have to get the vicarious experience of antique and famous commonplace books, notebooks, journals and the rest through the computer screen.  That’s why I am eternally grateful for the museums and libraries that upload high resolution scans of commonplaces online, giving an eye-opening experience of flicking through the book itself.  Yes, the book still needs to be accessed, read and – ideally – transcribed and metatagged, but at least it is there for the viewing.

That’s why it’s always a relief to see these rare items go to the ‘right’ place, such as Swansea University successfully bidding 85,000 pounds for a long-lost Dylan Thomas notebook toward the end of last year.

Snapshot of notebook sold in December 2014 at Sotheby's

Snapshot of notebook sold in December 2014 at Sotheby’s

Continue reading


Historical recipe books – huge online trove

The Wellcome Library has a huge collection of historical recipe books dating back to the 16th Century. The digital interface is fast, easy to navigate and the zoom function is smooth and user friendly.
Hours worth of goodies ready to look through, all free to download…

16thC Recipe book, handwriting and UPenn Library

I’m trying to decide what I like better about online commonplace books, the snapshot of daily life centuries ago, the new info you find from reading the commentary of what that person found most important to remember, or just looking at the art of the bound book, the handwriting and the structure of the work itself.

Continue reading

1940s recipe journal

Old cookbooks.  Not quite a diary, journal or commonplace book, but they have their similarities. If you pick up an old cookbook you’ll often find handwritten notes in the margin and the back, or you may stumble across one of these bound recipe books.

I picked this one up at a local market, and the newspaper clippings still inside date back to the 1940s.  The book itself was a bound Recipe Index and the owner has carefully added recipes over the years, but it’s well used and as you can see the cover is gone and some of the pages are loose.


In between recipes for home-kill rabbit, gelatin molds and casseroles, there are some great recipes that you’d be hard pressed to find in any modern off-the-shelf cookbook, like this one for a Ginger Beer Tree. They are a great slice of life from generations ago, and there’s something to be said about creating a recipe from someone’s handwritten note rather than a glossy page or a touchscreen.

If you get a good book it goes without saying the writer was a regular cook and that they liked the recipe enough to copy and keep it somewhere safe. You can buy cookbooks by the trolleyload, either new or second-hand, but if you want to find something “like Grandma used to make”, including tips and tricks that you wouldn’t find in a usual cookbook, you can’t go wrong with these books.

There’s a huge trend nowadays for minimalist living, homesteading and using natural products. Most of the ‘new’ tricks are straight from the old reference books written by the folk who made it through the Depression.

I’ll blog some good recipes in the future, I may even try them out myself before I release them to the world.