If you’ve been around here much, you’ve probably figured out that I have a thing for vintage cocktail books (though I don’t have a thing for updating my bookcase list–that thing’s way out of date). I’m fortunate that I got into this whole cocktail thing somewhat early, because some of the volumes I prize most — a David Embury, The Gentleman’s Companion books, and a handful of others — were picked up while they were still available at quite reasonable prices.
Now, though, forget it — copies of rare books such as Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Guide are regularly spiking into the low four figures on eBay, and some of the most sought-after books — I’ve been on the lookout for Harry MacElhone’s Barflies and Cocktails for years — I’ve never seen for sale.
As I wrote in “Vintage Bar Books, Hot Off the Press” in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Greg Boehm at Mud Puddle Books is coming to the rescue. Boehm’s a collector himself, and has way more vintage volumes than I’m ever likely to have. Boehm decided to take pity on those of use who’ve wagered our mortgage check on a rare book on eBay only to have mashrooby swoop in and snag it, and scanned several titles out of his collection, produced high-quality replicas, and made them available to everyone.
The first five books come out next week: The Modern Bartender’s Guide from O.H. Byron; The Mixicologist by C.F. Lawlor; Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks by Charlie Paul; Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Guide; and, at long last, Barflies and Cocktails. A reformatted version of David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and a replica of Jerry Thomas’ original 1862 book will be out in October.
While there’s a lot to be said for owning original copies, good-quality replicas can provide all the information you’re seeking from these books, along with the look and feel that make the old guides all the more fascinating. I received review copies while working on the Chronicle story, and I have to say they have a really accurate presentation — the size, binding and colors are all right, without the fragility and wear you find in the old guides. These replicas even include the advertisements found in the originals, which are a good way to get a glimpse of the particular time and place as they were when the books were first published.
So check out my Chronicle piece for more info. If you’ve been looking for these books, they’re only available online for now, though they may also be at Tales of the Cocktail; you can find them at Amazon, or for a lower price at Cocktail Kingdom.