A Collection of 17,545 Menus From as Far Back as 1851

T he New York Public Library does it again — this time, with a collection of 17,545 menus from as far back as 1851 from various hotels and restaurants.

There are numerous ways to filter your search through the menus, which are sorted by decade from the 1850s through the 2000s.

The menus are apparently scanned in high resolution; so having them appear on your monitor or screen may take a moment or so — but the detail is worth it; and you can zoom in on it as well.

Dated Thursday, January 2, 1851, the menu from City Hotel in Hartford, Connecticut appears to be the oldest menu in the collection.

Menu From the Waldorf-Astoria From 1949 as One Example

Did you know that you could purchase a shrimp cocktail for room service during dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel — the = sign was apparently not yet used in the name of the hotel — in New York in Tuesday, December 27, 1949 for only $1.20? Lobster in its shell for dinner was priced at $2.20. Filet mignon sauté, Rossini and Lorette potato cost $5.75. Sauerkraut juice as an appetizer — try finding that today — was only 30 cents. Clocking in as what seems to be the most expensive item on the menu is the Grouse for two people for $12.00.

I have never heard of such menu items as Flageolets as a fresh vegetable; Lorenzo dressing for salad; or Palm Beach cake or Archiduc ice cream for dessert.

The charge for room service — which I stated recently that I did not care whether or not hotels offered room service anymore — was 25 cents.

As a bonus, here is some history about which I did not know: New York City was apparently undergoing a significant water shortage at the end of 1949, as these words appeared at the top of the menu: “Will you help conserve New York City’s water supply? Because of the continued shortage of water, we will serve you water only upon request. Thank you.”


I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the main — or flagship — branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and West 42 Street adjacent to Bryant Park when I lived in New York and attended high school in Manhattan. The front steps with the lion statues are iconic — you have probably seen them in many movies — and the interior is absolutely classic as a quiet yet great place to read or study.

That branch always had a vast collection — and now its digital collection is not only becoming more vast; but it is also accessible to anyone.

That means that if you enjoy viewing artifacts and items from decades — or even centuries — ago in order to witness a vestige of history, then viewing these menus might keep you captivated for hours at a time.

Source: New York Public Library.

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