Do you have a stack of cookbooks passed down to you from your parents or grandparents? If it includes a copy of Joy of Cooking, you might want to look at the year it was published — it could be worth thousands!
In 1931, a woman named Irma Rombauer decided to turn her personal collection of recipes into a cookbook titled The Joy of Cooking: A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat. She published it herself and her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, provided a delightful cover illustration of St. Martha of Bethany, the patron saint of cooking, “slaying the dragon of kitchen drudgery.”
Over the years, the title and cover design became the more simplified Joy of Cooking we know today (Buy on Amazon, $17.49), but the recipes and tips within have grown to an encyclopedic level. With more than 4,000 recipes, it includes classics like roast chicken and meatloaf along with more modern and multicultural fare like vegan desserts and traditional recipes from India, Thailand, Mexico, and more. However, it’s the colorful first edition that could earn you big money. Only 3,000 copies were released in 1931, making it an incredibly rare and valuable find.
Food journalist Anne Mendelson told Bon Appetit that these early copies can sell for anywhere between $1,500 and $15,000. Of course, the price tag depends on the condition of the book. For example, Rabelais Fine Books on Food & Drink listed one such pristine copy worth $15,000 as including the “exceedingly rare dust jacket” with a few minor tears and visible attempts at repairs.
Finding a copy without the dust jacket can still rake in a pretty penny. Bonnie Slotnick, owner of a renowned NYC cookbook store, told BA she had one valued at $4,000 despite the missing cover. It also included typos in a donut recipe calling for two cups of baking powder (rather than the more likely intended teaspoon or tablespoon measurement). As we know from coins worth money, errors like that can pay off in extra value over time!
You might also be able to cash in on later editions of Joy of Cooking from your collection as well. A quick glance at eBay listings shows versions from 1943 and 1952 on offer for $2,200 and $600. Raptis Rare Books currently has a 1941 edition on sale for $2,000.
If you’d just like to get your hands on a cheaper version of the 1931 for some fun in the kitchen, you can find facsimiles at more modest prices online (Buy on Amazon, $29.26). It’s also a good idea to make sure you don’t get fooled by one of these modern re-printings and think you’ve stumbled upon a goldmine first edition.
In any case, it’s clearly worth giving any old cookbooks you might have hanging around a closer look!