Over the last few decades, I have managed to acquire several relatively scarce pieces of culinary Americana, the Recipe Folder. Before the days of recipe boxes, these special recipe cases, basically a handy oversize "envelope" where the cook collected all her loose slips of paper with hand written receipts. I observed that it seemed to be the custom when sharing a recipe, that they were passed along folded in half. I don't know if there was a standard size of writing paper and envelopes, into which the recipes were mailed. Maybe each company had their own size. They are almost always folded.
Recipe Folders were often made of cloth, sometimes leather and usually quite decorative. The example on the left is 5 inches by 10 inches. The cardboard is covered with cream linen and is hand painted. The illustration is of a medieval man and woman at table, a period when it was customary to toss scraps (orts) onto the floor to feed household pets. Quite a tidy tie-in to the bits and pieces tossed into the folder.
Inside the case there is hand-embroidered edging to the flaps on both sides in which to hold the recipes. On the outside, there are remnants of a linen ribbon sewn midway into the spine to secure the contents.
Some of the recipes included are Coconut Cookies, Orange Cake, Macaroon Souffle, Cooked Salad Dressing, Delicate Corn Starch Pudding, Soft Form Bread and Butter Pudding, Stuffed Figs, Banana Pie, Sherbet, Creamed Oysters, Cheese Omelet, English Monkey, Baked Cheese and White Pound Cake. 9 sweet, 5 savory. Dessert recipes are collected much more often than the savories. There is much more to go wrong in executing dessert recipes than other dishes.
Another bonus within these folders, are the wonderful examples of 19th century personalized stationery from the recipe donors written in such a fine spidery hand. The author of the Bread & Butter Pudding has her Great Britain family's motto, Virtutis laus actio - 'Deeds are the praise of Virtue', the family creed of the Corbet, MacDougall, Rumbold and Tansley clans.
About 1900 recipe cards and the boxes into which they were collected, came into use. I once asked Jan Longone, Wine and Food Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan, if she knew when or where they originated. Through our discussion, it is believed they were created for offices and libraries and sashayed into the kitchen shortly thereafter. In 1913, the enterprising Fannie Merritt Farmer popularized their use by offering her Recipe Cabinet, an oak dovetailed wooden box filled with the Boston Cooking School recipe cards. That same year, Ms. Farmer took one of her successful book titles and in a very original presentation offered it as A Calendar Box of Good Dinners for Every Day in the Year. The index card dividers are the months of the year, each card for a day of the month. Tucked into the front of the box is a decorative little 16 page Index of Recipes. Very cleaver woman.