<<< Continued from previous page

As publishing histories go, The Joy of Cooking has had a long and frequently stormy one. Irma self-published the first edition, using half of an inheritance ($3,000) collected after her husband's suicide. She contracted for 3,000 copies with a printer that had never previously printed a book but notwithstanding delivered a high quality product. The original title - The Joy of Cooking: A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat - was shortened to The Joy of Cooking for the third trade edition in 1951, and further shortened to Joy of Cooking for the fourth edition in 1962. Though the action format wasn't introduced until the first trade edition in 1936, the 1931 edition was innovative in another sense: Both its blue pebbled cloth cover and dust jacket were moisture resistant and, as stated on the back pastedown, could "be cleaned with a moist cloth."


Daughter Marion's initial involvement was confined primarily to art and design. She designed the silhouettes at the chapter heads and a remarkably striking, almost futuristic dust jacket featuring the patron saint of cooks, Saint Martha of Bethany, brandishing a broom and pot over some species of tri-tusked monster.

Due chiefly to Irma's promotional efforts, copies sold moderately well at first but slowed considerably thereafter, and by 1933 she found herself more or less at the same place she would have been had she never published the book - unemployed and broke. Undaunted, Irma prevailed upon several friends with connections to introduce her to publishing mogul David Laurance Chambers, then vice-president of Bobbs-Merrill. Initially, the book was rejected (and rejected by other publishers as well), but later, after being invited to do a revision on speculation, Irma succeeded in placing it for publication with Bobbs-Merrill, promptly committing one of the great blunders in publishing history - signing away copyright ownership of both the first private edition and all subsequent trade editions to the publisher. The kicker was including the first edition because this all but eliminated the possibility of Irma ever taking it to another publisher for a more lucrative deal. How many millions this cost her and her heirs we'll never know. What we do know is that the relationship between Laurance and the Rombauer's went downhill from here.

The first trade edition, issued in 1936 at 10,000 copies strong, was a significant revision/expansion of the 1931 edition, nearly doubling its content. Bobbs Merrill positioned it in the marketplace as a modern kitchen companion, distinguishing it from what were then, by a wide margin, the two best selling if obsolescing cookbooks - Fannie Farmer's The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book and The Settlement Cook Book. Irma's personality was much more evident in this edition as well - a factor that helped Joy stand apart from other cookbooks over the decades, most of which were committee produced and made necessarily dull reading by comparison. Five additional printings soon followed, and by the end of 1942, over 50,000 copies had sold - a modest but respectable showing that provided Irma with a comfortable income and, more importantly, inspired her to make a good cookbook better.

Between this and the second trade edition, issued in 1943, Irma placed another cookbook with Bobbs Merrill - Streamlined Cooking: New and Delightful Recipes for Canned, Packaged and Frosted Foods and Rapid Recipes for Fresh Foods. Despite its appeal to ever more modern developments in the kitchen, sales were disappointing. However, much of its material was incorporated into the second and later editions of Joy and seemed to produce a synergistic effect: Sales skyrocketed in the War years well into the hundreds of thousands; Joy became a bonafide best seller and would remain so. Also notable, the 1943 edition was Julia Child's first cookbook - a wedding present from her mother-in-law.

The War years saw strictly enforced government quotas on paper come into play, forcing many publishers to limit print runs or seek methods of working around them. Bobbs-Merrill was fortunate to outsource at least some printing of Joy to the Blakiston Co. in 1945 and 1946, explaining why some War-era copies possess the Blakiston imprint. [EDITOR'S NOTE: A 1943 copyright date appears on Blakiston copyright pages, not to be confused with its actual publication date.]

A post-War edition of Joy was issued in early 1946. This was printed from the same ca. 1943 plates, but since there were some minor revisions and additional content from Streamlined Cooking was appended to the end of the cookbook, in theory we could either catalog this as third edition or (with less justification, in my opinion) a second edition thus. A footnote: A short cookbook, A Cookbook for Girls and Boys, was issued in late 1946, but was not a resounding success. It was also to be Irma's last non-Joy effort.

The fourth edition, issued in 1951, marked the first significant participation of Marion, who not only spearheaded the introduction of how-to illustrations but also collaborated with Irma on more modern recipes, some of which reflected the recent development of kitchen appliances - for example, blenders, electric mixers, etc. Given Joy's continued success, it was inevitable that a book club would show interest in it, and the Book-of-the-Month Club offered the fourth edition as an alternate selection in 1953.

Sometime between the fourth and fifth editions, Bobbs-Merrill dropped the ball and let Joy go out of print. To forestall losing the copyright to Irma - per the previous contract, they had thirty days to issue a new edition or else - they rushed a new edition into print without a contractual agreement. Or, for that matter, Marion's cooperation (by now Irma's health was failing, and she was not longer actively participating). This edition was based on an unfinished, virtually un-publishable manuscript, and without Marion's assistance, revisions were left to hurried and harried Bobbs-Merrill editors who, to put it mildly, botched it. What has now come to be known as the "unauthorized" (1961) edition was an editorial disaster, and only Marion's determination to set things right as soon as humanly possible, not to mention a willingness to set differences aside with Bobbs-Merrill for a greater good, ensured that Joy would retain its lofty position among American cookbooks.

The result of her efforts was the acclaimed fifth (1963) edition, which became a go-to resource for amateur and professional cooks alike. A 1964 printing featured additional corrections, and new editions followed in 1975, 1997 and 2006, along with a facsimile of the 1931 edition in 1998.

< to previous article          

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

| Forum | Store | Publications | BookLinks | BookSearch | BookTopics | Archives | Advertise | AboutUs | ContactUs | Search Site | Site Map | Google Site Map

Store - Specials | BookHunt | BookShelf | Gold Edition & BookThink's Quarterly Market Report | DomainsForSale | BookThinker newsletter - free

Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC

 Subscribe in a reader


Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment