Making money rise: Britain’s classic antique cookbook earns me a good crust

I’ll never forget my first antique book discovery. I was nine years old.

It was at a car boot sale in London – a flea market, as the Americans would say – and there in a pile of junk was a late 1860’s copy of one of England’s most beloved cookery books, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

I gladly paid the seller his £1 asking price and trotted home with my treasure – then more interested in the culinary aspect of “Household Management” than its value as an antique cookbook.

As a kid I was always in the kitchen, experimenting with cooking and baking, and later turned that love of food into a career as a professional chef. Mrs. Beeton’s Victorian instruction may have been more than a century outdated, but to me it was cheffing gold.

“Household Management” becomes a bestseller

First published in 1861, “Household Management” was then considered Britain’s singular guide to running a household, chock full of classic English recipes, marketing tips and how-to’s for every kitchen challenge. It quickly became a bestseller, and this wonderful cookbook is still in print today.

When I’d gleaned all I could from Mrs. Beeton’s catalog of recipes and had pored over the hundreds of pages of colorful illustrations of beautifully prepared dishes, I happened to mention to a local shopkeeper that I was the proud owner of an early edition of the book.

Before long, word got around to a fellow in the neighborhood anxious to buy a copy, and before I knew it, Mrs. Beeton and I were standing at his door. When he offered me £50 for the book, I was floored! I’d never seen so much money – and this for an old book? I was hooked.

From then on, my eyes were always attuned to book shops and car boot sales, watching for such forgotten antique books, loving their history and the stories that they could tell, simply by the number of years they’d traveled around, the homes they’d lived in, and the worlds that they originally came from.

Today, I love my work as an antique book buyer, but first and foremost, I’m an antique book lover.

Thanks, Mrs. Beeton.

 

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