Historical Menus Reveal Cultural Past

The Henry Scripps Booth Collection of Menus is a fascinating glimpse into another era and the travel exploits of the leisure class. The Cranbrook Archives has digitized a portion of the collection, mainly menu covers, that can be viewed in our digital database. Menus are wonderful cultural documents that reveal economic, dietary, artistic, sometimes geographic and even literary information about an era.

Many of the menu covers have artistic renderings, some of them signed. The 1952 menu for the farewell dinner on the Queen Elizabeth has a reproduction of a painting of the ship, with the name “C.F. Hopkinson” visible in the lower right corner.

Farewell Dinner Menu for R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

Farewell Dinner Menu for R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth.
Courtesy Henry Scripps Booth Menu Collection, Cranbrook Archives

Doing a Google search, I found Hopkinson’s name in a blog post, written by the archivist in charge of the Cunard Archives (imagine what a fascinating archive that must be) in the Special Collections & Archives at the University of Liverpool Library. The blog cited C.F. Hopkinson in a discussion about land-based Cunard employees who served during World War I. The Cunard Line Staff Magazine was the source for this information, and the blog emphasized the importance of staff magazines in an archival collection, as company records rarely contain information about individual employees. The little information they presented on C.F. Hopkinson confirmed that he was an artist, even though employed as an accountant by Cunard. Moreover, the blog post elicited a response and additional information from C.F. Hopkinson’s daughter.

Charles Francis Hopkinson completeing bust of Samuel Cunard Courtesy Cunard Archiv, Special Collections and Archives at the University of Liverpool

Charles Francis Hopkinson working on bust of Samuel Cunard.
Courtesy Cunard Archive, Special Collections and Archives at the University of Liverpool

While there’s nothing earthshaking about the tidbit of information I found, it’s always fun to have a bit of serendipity in one’s work and to be reminded of what a small world we live in–and of the power of blogs!

– Cheri Y. Gay, Archvist

3 thoughts on “Historical Menus Reveal Cultural Past

  1. Yes, indeed. It’s interesting to be able to glean this much information from a single menu. Heretofore I didn’t think much of Thistle’s collection, except for an occasional artistic rendering (like this one) I find pleasing. And it never ceases to amaze me what one can find on the ‘Net with a little bit of time, an inquisitiveness, and an idea of where to possibly look—all mixed with a great deal of providence (I don’t believe in serendipity).

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  2. Cheri,

    You bring to attention the most wonderful collection items for us all to see and marvel at in your research for Archives!

    As a volunteer of many years, I’ve had the “pleasure” of learning about the Cunard Menu Covers and other memorabilia from the Booth’s travels by sea, and these collection items are among my favorites, they’re all so beautiful and rendered in such an appealing way! What a great memento also for travelers on the Cunard Ships!!! I’ll be interested in perusing the ones I haven’t seen through the digital database!!!

    Hopkinson was an extremely talented ship employee as you found showing him sculpting also!!!

    Amazing and thanks for another interesting Kitchen Sink post!!!

    Lois Harsh

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  3. I remember some framed menus in the Thornlea wine cellar that always fascinated me as a youngster, but I had no idea that my father’s collection of menus was so large! I perused the whole list and found one from the Fenton Hotel that showed Special Dinners for $1.00 – Those were the days! Great to know more about this collection and its preservation..

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