By Arlene Shaner, Reference Librarian for Historical Collections
Some of the most engaging materials in the cookery collection of the New York Academy of Medicine’s Library are late 19th and early 20th century advertising pamphlets. Small books of recipes, histories of coffee, tea, spices, and other foods, and brochures touting the health benefits of one product or another offer a window into the changing tastes of the American public, new innovations in the mass production of foods, and the development of mass market advertising. A number of these pamphlets came to us as part of NYAM Fellow Margaret Barclay Wilson’s collection of books on food and cookery, donated to the library in 1929.
One charming example is The Little Gingerbread Man, published in 1923 by the Royal Baking Powder Company, located at 108 East 42nd Street in New York. Written in rhyme, the pamphlet tells the story of the land of Jalapomp, where baking has been declared illegal because of the ineptitude of the cook. Poor Princess Posy, whose birthday is approaching, worries that she won’t have a cake. Alerted to the sad state of affairs by a little Flour Fairy, the Queen of Flour Folk sends Johnny Gingerbread and his friends off in a chocolate plane to save the day. Toting a tin of Royal Baking Powder and a copy of the New Royal Cook Book for the cook, the fragrant baked treats convince the king that baking powder and new recipes will set things right before they head back home to Cookery Land.
A tin of Royal Baking Powder features prominently in most of the pamphlet’s illustrations, and the cookbook appears as well. You, too, can try your hand at making some of the Royal treats, as almost every page also contains a recipe for baked goods, including one for gingerbread men. Readers of the pamphlet (or their mothers, since the book itself was clearly meant for children) could obtain free copies of the New Royal Cook Book by writing to the company as instructed on the final page of the story.
Although she is uncredited, the author of the pamphlet was probably Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote more than 20 volumes of the Oz series, a continuation the stories told in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its many sequels. The illustrations are attributed to Charles J. Coll.
Click the images to read the full pamphlet: