DescriptionRobert Roberts. The House Servant's Directory, or a Monitor for Private Families... With Friendly Advice to Cooks and Heads of Families. Boston: Munroe and Francis; New York: Charles S. Francis, 1827. First edition. Twelvemo in sixes (7.75 x 4.75 inches; 197 x 120 mm.). xiv, -180 pages. Slightly later linen backing over contemporary, perhaps original brown paper-covered pasteboard; with paper spine label lettered in black. Likely original endpapers. All edges rough-trimmed. Boards damp-stained, thumbsoiled and rubbed, with discoloration from glue used to attach cloth; edges and corners worn, softened, with some small chips and gouges; upper corner of rear board bumped, bent. Spine slightly skewed. Linen backing soiled and glue-stained; seams at joints where backstrip lifted to repair hinges; label replaced or repositioned, with remains of glued paper near seams; linen beginning to fray slightly at ends. Edges of text block toned, roughened from handling and use. Repairs visible at hinges; endpapers, rear flyleaf damp-stained, foxed; free endpapers edge-worn, particularly front. General toning but remarkably little foxing and thumbsoiling throughout; evidence of dog-earing, tick marks in pencil. Second gathering loosening; pages 23-30, 47-54, 59-66, 119-126 (two pairs of conjunct leaves each) detached and laid in; small marginal hole at page 57-8, not affecting text; short marginal tears to leaves with pages 85-6, 149-50. Very good, when the nature of this publication is taken into account. Front pastedown with bookplate of cookbook collector Marcus Crahan, whose collection, including this volume, was originally sold at Sotheby's in 1984. Bookseller ticket of Corner Book Shop also tipped to pastedown. The shop specialized in rare cookbooks and was run by Eleanor Lowenstein, whose Bibliography of American Cookery Books, 1742-1860 is a standard in the field, and includes an entry for The House Servant's Directory.
The first book by an African-American writer to be commercially published in the United States, and the first cookbook by an African American. Roberts served as butler in the home of Massachusetts Governor and U. S. Senator Christopher Gore until Gore's death in 1827, and later in life he became a prominent Boston-area abolitionist. A well-loved and much-used copy that appears to have been owned by a member of a household staff, who marked numerous useful passages in pencil, including instructions for "Waiting on Dinner," a recipe "To Recover a Person from Intoxication," and a way "To Know Whether a Bed is Damp or Not, When Traveling." Longone, in American Cookbooks and Wine Books 1797-1950, wrote, "Although only two other editions of [Roberts's] book are recorded, some historians think this work was seminal 'in producing men of singular ability as caterers, and managers--rather than servants--of large households in three major Northern cities--Philadelphia, New York and Boston'" (p. 2); Lowenstein 107.
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