Spotlight on Cookbook Collectors: Interview Don Rahm

How did you start out collecting cookbooks?

My grandmother left me her favorite cookbook and a 50+ year old Lodge cast iron skillet as my special bequest. I still have both and use the pan frequently.

How many books do you have in your collection?

A little over 4,000. I am in the process of cataloging them due to a computer crash.

What is your cookbook specialization (do you collect a particular category or genre of cookbooks)?

When I started it was the Mediterranean cuisines and autographed ones. Now I just look for something that interests me.

Do you collect cookbooks to cook or to look?

Most are to just have. I have two bookshelves for using books and probably use 10% of those. I do use a copy of the book my grandmother left me. I just update the recipes to fit my current diet. Her copy is kept with the special books.

What is the most valuable cookbook in your collection and how much is its estimated value?

I have a copy of 'Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home' that is signed by both of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. I bought it from a man closing his mother's estate in New Jersey. She owned a bookstore. I paid $300 and turned down $500 a couple of weeks later. I also have a copy of Sophia Loren's 'Recipes and Memories' that is signed. I received it early in my collecting days, when I would buy boxes of unknown cookbooks at a very low price. The seller did not know the titles in the boxes.

What is your favorite collectible cookbook from your collection and why?

I have a first edition of 'Joy of Cooking' and a first edition of Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking.' I don't use either book, as I have several subsequent editions of both. At the time I purchased both, true first editions were hard to find. I also have two sets of a two pamphlet cookbook by Julia Child and used as a promotion by Dove soap.

Tell us about the best bargain you ever made for one of your cookbooks and where you found it.

Besides the Sophia Loren book, I have a copy of Mary & Vincent Price's 'A Treasury of Great Recipes' that is signed. I bought it on eBay and the seller did not mention it was signed. I paid $25 for it. At the time that was about the going price for unsigned copies.

Is there a cookbook title you are seeking but haven't found yet?

If so, what is the title and author and what makes it special? Right now my collecting is in a bit of a hiatus. I recently retired and am learning how to do that. I also am doing a considerable amount of home repair and remodel. I would like to improve my signed collection, which is about 320 books right now.

How do you display and organize your collection (on shelves alphabetically, by certain categories, dates, etc.)?

I have a group of shelves dedicated to the signed and valuable, another group to healthy lifestyle and eating, another group to pamphlets and serial books, (Good Housekeeping, Bon Appetit etc.) and the two bookshelves of using books. The rest of the books are not as organized as I would like, but that is next winter's project to alphabetize the balance.

Do you have any advice for someone interested in getting started with cookbook collecting?

Using my history as a guide, I would recommend three things:

  1. Upon receiving your first collectible book, start a catalog system and back it up. 
  2. Decide on a specific group of books you wish to collect. That will keep it more financially achievable. 
  3. Try to develop relationships with sellers. I have often had a seller offer me a book outside of normal selling practices. Many times this has resulted in an excellent book available at beneficial pricing for both parties.