Craft cocktails have been making a comeback, with many bartenders and exploratory imbibers referencing vintage manuals for inspiration.
We’ve put together a guide to some of the top rare and collectible cocktail guides for holiday gift-giving and entertaining season. All of these classic titles have been reprinted in the last few years as well, offering a newer and more affordable option for recipe collectors and mixologists if the signed, first edition is out of your reach!
1. The Bar-Tenders Guide by Jerry Thomas 1862 (Reprinted 2015)
Known as the first cocktail book, The Bar Tenders Guide was first printed in 1862 by Jerry Thomas, known as the father of American mixology. In 2015 this book was reprinted with a new title The Classic Guide to Cocktails.
2. Cocktails: How to Mix Them by Robert Vermeire, 1922 (reprinted 2015)
This book contains the first reference to the “sidecar” and other iconic drinks of the 1920s. It also features medicinal recipes, like hot toddies for colds and champagne for seasickness.
3. Bottoms Up: 52 Cock-Tail Spins for High Flyers by Two Knights and a Maid, assisted by John Walker and the Haig Bros, 1928 (reprinted 2013)
This rare Prohibition-era cocktail guide was cunningly crafted in the shape of a cocktail shaker and it is full of illustrations, recipes, and the anecdotes of celebrities of the time. It is a bit more scarce than a few others on this list! The reprints are nowhere near as lovely as the originals.
- The pictured first edition (including the original corkscrew) is listed by The Manhattan Rare Book Company, $2,600 (SOLD)
- This first edition has seen a bit more wear but is still sound, listed by Thomas A Goldwasser Rare Books, $750 (SOLD)
4. The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock, 1930 (reprinted 2015)
The original book was an iconic Art Deco publication and has been called “the most important cocktail book ever published” and a “foundational work of modern culture.”
“From Slings to Smashes, Fizzes to Flips, and featuring Art Deco illustrations, Harry Craddock was “the king of cocktail shakers.” The Savoy Cocktail Book contains humorous anecdotes on the origin of the cocktail and its purpose (“for the solace of man”), as well as “an elucidation of the Manners and Customs of people of quality in a period of some equality.”
“Behind every great bartender (literally) is a roughed-up, stained copy of The Savoy Cocktail Book…it’s been an industry must-have since its first edition” (GQ)
The repeal of Prohibition, which spanned from 1920-1933 in the United States, led to the publication of many classic cocktail books. Before Prohibition, cocktail books were geared toward professional bartenders, but in the 1920s and 1930s there was an emergence of recipe books for non-professionals mixing drinks at home.
5. The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book by Albert Stevens Crockett, published in 1934, (reprinted 2015)
This book is described as “Giving the correct recipes for Five Hundred Cocktails and Mixed Drinks known and served at the world’s most famous brass rail before Prohibition, together with more than One Hundred Established Formulas for cocktails and other beverages, originated while Prohibition was in effect. The whole flavored with dashes of history mixed in a shaker of anecdote and served with a chaser of illuminative information…”
6. The Official Mixer’s Manual by Patrick Gavin Duffy, 1934, (reprinted 2013)
Patrick Duffy was the chief bartender at New York City’s historic Ashland House for 12 years before Prohibition, and this book is his collection of hundreds of recipes from famous bars and restaurants in the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America.
7. Old Mr. Boston De Luxe Official Bartender’s Guide by Leo Cotton, 1935, (reprinted 2013)
Known as the “Bible of Booze,” Old Mr. Boston was published by the distillery of the same name in Boston, Massachusetts.
8. Cafe Royal Cocktail Book by W.J. Tarling, 1937, (reprinted 2008)
The first edition, also called the ‘Coronation Edition,’ is very rare and includes some of the earliest known recipes for tequila and vodka cocktails.
9. The Gentleman’s Companion by Charles Baker, 1939, (reprinted 2015)
Baker was a writer for Esquire and known for his turn of phrase and knowledge in food, drink, and travel. The Gentleman’s Companion was a limited series, with only 1,250 copies of the two volumes originally published:
- The pictured 1946 first edition is paired with the 1951 companion, and is listed by Burnside Rare Books
- Luckily, it’s been reprinted many times since. See all available copies
Amy C. Manikowski is a writer living in Asheville, NC.