Spotlight on Cookbook Collectors: Interview Sandy Bridwell-Walker

Cookbook Village, as part of its Spotlight on Cookbook Collectors interview series had the opportunity to hear from cookbook collector Sandy Bridwell-Walker. Sandy is an antique glass dealer/researcher located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. We feel fortunate to share her story and insights with our store customers and blog readers.

How did you start out collecting cookbooks?

I’m not really sure. As most people do, I had accumulated a few cookbooks to use, but then one day realized it had grown beyond that and was now a collection ... and continues to this day. The cooking section is always the first one I hit in any bookstore or used bookstore.

How many books do you have in your collection?

I’m not totally sure. I stopped counting a few years ago at almost 600.

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

I lean toward the vintage cookbooks, but also buy current books. I particularly like the books put out by local groups, churches, associations, etc.

Do you collect cookbooks to cook or to look?

Both – even my vintage cookbooks turn up recipes I try – although many are a little esoteric to actually use. And, while I do enjoy nice pictures in a cookbook, the words are more important. I can easily envision a picture of something in my mind – but filling in the missing blanks in text presentation is a tad bit difficult. I have been known to sit and read a cookbook front to back as if it were a novel.

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

That’s actually a tough question to answer. I’ve never really researched the value dollar wise of my books, but if I had to guess it would probably be one of my Vincent Price cookbooks. To me, the value of a book is in the inspiration and guidance it provides. And the memories it evokes. So, money aside, I’d have to say my most valuable is the notebook of my grandmother’s and mother’s recipes … to me, priceless.

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

Probably 'Eat, Drink And Be Merry In Maryland' by Frederick Philip Stieff – 1932. One of the things I like most about the vast majority of my cookbooks, is the insight it gives to society of that time. This book, in particular, is a wonderful commentary on not only the cuisine but the way of life in the culinary history of the area. Some of the recipes are a bit 'intriguing,' and the illustrations throughout the book wonderful.

From my oldest cookbook, 'Mrs. Owens’ Cookbook and Useful Hints for the Household' 1883, to my newest, each in it’s own way opens the doors to life of that era and not only what they ate, but how they lived.

Tell us about the best bargain you ever made for one of your cookbooks and where you found it (e.g., I found a Julia Child Mastering the Art of French Cooking at a garage sale in my neighborhood for $2.50. I took it home and opened it up to discover her signature staring back at me).

While not nearly as exciting as your example, probably the time I visited a used book store and walked out with 13 cookbooks, early 1950’s and older for the princely sum of $20 made for many enjoyable hours of reading.

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

Not really – until it leaps off the shelf and says 'take me home,' I don’t know that I 'need' it.

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

Actually a combination of both. The really old one’s are grouped, then the rest are first broken down into general categories (technique, ingredient, country, etc.), then by somewhat narrower category – i.e. Baking, then muffins, cakes, cookies, bread, etc.).

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

The same advice I give people who ask what to collect in antique glass – collect what speaks to you.